Design Your Own Car

Institution / client name: Spirit of Ford Museum
Project name: Design Your Own Car
Date: Summer 1999
Role(s): Interactivity design, technical soultion design, technical direction, programming


First screen in which the user chooses the base car design to start with: a hotrod, an SUV, a roadster, a pick-up truck, or a random combination.

We were asked to create a “Design Your Own Car” experience in which visitors were allowed to experience the creative process by freely changing any aspect of a car they desired. We were also to integrate our experience with FotoZap, a vendor selling retail kiosks that photographed people and printed and uploaded their pictures to a web site. Using FotoZap, people would be allowed to photograph themselves and both print their picture superimposed on their car design and upload that image to FotoZap

We were given 4 prototypical cars: a hot rod, an SUV, a pickup truck, and a roadster. Visitors combined parts of these starting points into an amalgam – their car design. We divided a car into three sections: front, middle, and rear, and allow the users to change the type, styling, and color of each slice of the car. Additionally accessories and engines could be added – although the engines were more of a nod to internal Ford politics than anything else.

The goal was to show the entire transition of the car on screen by coordinating the display of a set of pre-rendered still frames. We wanted to show transitions from any arbitrary combination of parts to any other arbitrary combination of parts. Given that there were over 4000 different combinations, this would require some trick to avoid having to create over 16 million different animation sequences. We created a finite state recognizer (FSR) to represent each individual transition that each slice of the car could make. Creating a transition from any overall combination to any other overall combination then became a task of following a transition map along a given path, greatly reducing the number of individual animations that we would need to create.

Having the technical approach in place, we then had to turn to the graphical approach that could be used. We said that the middle section of the car would be our standard, and we would have a defined connection between the middle and front sections and the middle and rear sections of the car that would be adhered to for each of the 4 types of cars, regardless of the stretch. Each graphical transition then became quite defined. The model type of the middle section of the car defined how the transition would look.

The coordination of the graphics then went as follows. To get from any state to any other state 1) remove accessories; 2) change color to neutral; 3) cycle front and rear sections of car to neutral stretch; 4) cycle front an rear of car to model type of middle of car; 5) cycle entire car to target middle type; 6) cycle front are rear sections of car to their targets; 7) cycle front and rear to target stretches; 8) change colors of sections to target colors; 9) add target accessories.

By carefully managing the possible transitions into a coherent map, we dramatically reduced the scope of work for the project while maintaining the full range of desired activity.


A car design viewed on FotoZap after it was automatically uploaded.

The Design Your Own Car kiosk automatically uploaded images to FotoZap, a combination retail / online photo booth service.

phone: 617-697-7527 — e-mail: ben@dubrovsky.name — ©2007, 2008, 2009 Ben Dubrovsky