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Forward with Ford 2011: Designing the modern car

During last week's Forward with Ford conference in Dearborn, Mich., the motor giant unveiled the cutting-edge tools that allow its designers to create the cars of the very near future.

DEARBORN, Mich.--The car design game has come a long way since the pad and paper Lee Iacocca and his team used to design the first Mustang in 1964. To show the high-tech tools that give birth to cars these days, Ford Motor Company rolled out a look behind the scenes at its 2011 Forward with Ford conference here.

A major theme for the design portion of Forward with Ford was the automaker's focus on the "global convergence of design," or the concept that social media and other world-shrinking technologies are merging concepts of design expectations and preferences among consumers. Cars must look as good on French roundabouts as they do on American freeways, and the qualifications for that motorway beauty are becoming increasingly similar from consumer to consumer and country to country.

Therefore, Ford (and other carmakers') design tools must not only be high-tech, but uniform and interchangeable between the company's multiple international design HQs.

To that end, Ford shares a suite of proprietary software products similar to the 3D design, animation, and rendering tools used by big-budget Hollywood animation operations like Disney and Pixar. Those software kits allow Ford designers and engineers to build a car from a pencil sketch, through 2D computer art, to the 3D animated world to a final full-size clay model made to precise specifications. The entire arsenal of tools allow for a visually perfect representation of a car--inside and out--before it ever exists in its full, motoring glory.