355. Auto Razzle Dazzle.
Oct 10, 2011 at 01:07PM

As most readers already know, I'm a car guy. When I was a kid I took great pride in being able to name any car on the road without getting close enough to read the names on the car. At one point, I could name the car off of the front or back, and even at night just by the headlights. Of course, things change and when you grow up, you get busier. But I still try to keep up with the new models.

One way I do this is to read Autoblog.com fairly regularly. They do a really nice job talking about the new cars and pretty much anything else auto-related. One of the things they do really well is posting new car pictures captured during various stages of development while the vehicles are being tested on the roads of America and elsewhere. The cars are usually heavily camouflaged in order to keep the major design and engineering cues as secret as possible, keeping the surprise until an official unveiling at a car show or during an online event. This isn't anything new, as traditional car magazines like MotorTrend, Automobile, Car and Driver, and the like have been covering these 'spy shots' for many decades. However, the camouflage itself is of extreme interest to me, and has been getting more and more intricate as photographers get more and more crafty. The subject combines design and cars, two of my favorite things. (I'm going to be using images form Autoblog's archives, so be sure to check them out over there.)

Razzle Dazzle:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:USS_Charles_S._Sperry.jpgIf you are new to automobile spy shots, the degree to which the cars are camouflaged will surprise you. They simply don't tape a tarp on the car anymore. The car is usually wrapped in a complete vinyl covering and printed in a wide array of black and white patterns—similar to what they used during World War I on navy vessels. Back then, this Razzle Dazzle paint scheme, was meant less for camouflage per se, and more for confusion. And that's exactly what the large carmakers are hoping for as well. To counteract this, there is a budding industry that attempts to capture the cars without the camo (or at least be the first). Brend Priddy & Company specializes in this, and contributes imagery to Autoblog on occasion.

The car camouflage is not an exact science however; as each manufacturer has their own take on the patterns they choose to disguise their yet-to-be-released models. The result is an interesting study of applied graphic design. I'm including some of my favorites below, but check out this interesting article from Vauxhall's 2009 Insignia testing.

Applying the Razzle:

Subaru: Subaru uses a precise pattern of swirls, each given a bit of space on a black background. Somehow the design plays tricks with your eyes, though isn't as thorough of a disguise as you will see from other manufacturers.

Audi: Audi's version of visual trickery comes in the form of white swirls on black. A weird mix of the Atlanta Bread Company's logo and the famous Starry Night painting by Van Gogh. You can see how the pattern makes it difficult to discern major visual lines on the car's body, even when standing still.

Lotus implements what might be my favorite, if not the most effective use of modern razzle dazzle. They take a checkerboard pattern and put a swirl in each resulting square. Something very pleasing about this, even if it doesn't quite disguise the shape of the car. Perhaps this is a more developed version of the car that is closer to production and as such less secretive?

Mini takes the theme of swirls and overlaps them, along with adding paint-dripping-esque design cues to the pattern in order to further obfuscate the viewer. It seems to work, though there is no mistaking this vehicle as anything but a Mini. This pattern is a favorite of mother company BMW and is seen often across their family of vehicles.

Land Rover is being super clever when test-driving the 2013 Range Rover model in Germany. At first glance you might think the image below is a low-resolution shot that has been made bigger, but then you realize that the pattern itself on the car is made to look low-rez, resulting in a weird eye-to-brain lost in translation kind of effect. The large swaths of black, white and gray do a good job of distracting one's eye as well; lending a crumpled paper affect to the entire form.

Cadillac uses an interesting series of black and white rectangles, cut and distorted by intersecting lines and shapes and composes what might be one of the more advanced efforts of disguise to date. Used on their upcoming small sedan, the ATS, you can see how difficult it is to discern some of the bodywork. You can also check out the effect when the car is in motion below.

Toyota Prius: This one is pretty complex. They take a hound stooth pattern and kick it up a notch with circular sections of warping applied to that pattern at key points on the car's shape. Again, you can still tell it's a Prius, but you would be hard pressed to make out any major design changes. (Please note the copyright on the image.) This hurts my eyes. The pattern, not the copyright.

Chevy likes to use large checkered-flag patterns, while occasionally covering their cars in black and white panels that resemble shards of glass. Both are seen below at different points of the new Camaro's testing timeline.

Opel GM-owned Opel is shown below using a shattered-glass type non-pattern to hide only the changed panels in their Zafira mini-minivan.

Ford is shown below disguising their new Focus ST, but since it's a car that has already been released, their camouflage doesn't need to be as extensive. The result is definitely one of the more odd implementations, and I'm not even sure it hides anything, and if so what. But it's worth a look. Below is what Ford uses most often, some variation of triangles randomly placed at odds with each other. Far below what is referred to as Ford's packing peanuts pattern.

I'm not sure how this new knowledge will help you out, or what we can do with it in terms of design and conceptual advancement, but I find it interesting. Hope you do as well.


Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
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