Daniel Simon once drew cars for Bugatti, but even that job left his imagination wanting. In his 2007 book, Cosmic Motors, about a world where car and spacecraft have blurred into a single machine, Simon dreamed of fission-powered turbines, phase-change polymers, and "drive-by-mind" controls. Hollywood came calling, and Simon found himself building fictional vehicles for movies like Captain America, Oblivion, and Prometheus. He's just released the first of three books in a series dubbed The Timeless Racer: Machines of a Time Traveling Speed Junkie, about a driver competing across centuries. Episode one, set in 2027, follows Vic Cooper, the time-hopping 'shoe driving for the fictional Masucci Racing team. Michael Frank talks to the author about his incredible renderings and mining the old to envision the new.
GAS-TURBINE HYBRID "The history of motor racing is littered with trials using gas turbines. STP had turbine cars, and Lotus nearly won with them at Indy. With the Masucci team, I pay a bit of homage to Colin Chapman, who was always experimenting. Plus, I just love the look of the dual jets out the back!"
SMART COMPOSITES "Think of memory-foam mattresses that actually conform to outside forces. Now, imagine a skin on the car that could change shape according to wind strength. Right now, every material is rigid and fixed, but if you look at how nature responds to force, future materials might respond to surface tension in the same way."
360-DEGREE SCANNER WITH TRACK RADAR BEAMED TO THE DRIVER'S HELMET "This comes directly from fighter jets. LMP1 drivers get nauseated looking at in-cockpit cameras [for blind-spot detection].
So I thought, why not a system with the map of the track 'live' via head-up display, so the driver can see nearby cars and whether he can take a corner at the apex or if he's got someone pinching in?"
HYDROPHOBIC GLASS "Aerodynamic drag on those huge LMP1 wipers is absurd, and my drivers deal with both rain and oil. I was fantasizing a way to have all of that melt away. I have no idea how it works, of course!"
Imagine a car "skin" that could change shape according to wind strength.
IMAGINARY TRACKS "These were fun. I have fastest lap times [for each track], and I had to run real numbers, to consider whether the turns were banked or not, think about car setup and tire wear—even the g-forces involved. The South Africa track originally had this massive, mile-long, continuous banked circle, until I realized the g-forces would kill a driver. So that got modified."
THE REAL WORK OF SIMON'S FAKE CARS
Creating cars in massive, 500-gigabyte detail required thousands of hours of 3-D modeling. "We modeled everything in 3-D, every screw," Simon says. Wildfactory, the company that made the Tron Light Cycle, then did rapid prototyping. Why bother with 3-D models for 2-D book images? "Because computers aren't perfect," he says. "The computer says the shapes are okay, but you miss things. Also, I want to do scale models for sale, so it's not good enough to do these just for the printed page." The characters you see next to the digital creations required a similarly labor-intensive approach. Simon designed costumes, cast models, and oversaw several real-world photo shoots. At the end of the process, he had fully fleshed-out individuals; using Photoshop ( lots of other software), he made the cars look like they were on track, placing his heroes and sultry models alongside. ($49.95, )