Interview With Mikael Lugnegård

by Waikit Chung on July 3, 2009

Mikael Lugnegård is a Swedish industrial designer, graduated from the Umea Institute of Design, and worked as a lead designer for Duke Dynamics (BMW styling), as a concept designer for von Braun Sports Cars and as a sketch teacher at a number of Swedish design schools. He has also produced his own educational material and is now spending all his time in educating students about different ways to visualize ideas, design and just being creative and having fun.

Mikael, thank you for spending some time to provide for this interview.

My pleasure Waikit!

Could you please tell us more about yourself?

Sure, I´m 30 years old and live in Umeå/Sweden where I have my design studio. I´m a pretty ordinary guy, loves cars, concept art and photography. Goes to church pretty often and washes my car every two weeks….;-))

Your work from your portfolio is mainly concept art work. So should we call you a concept artist instead of industrial designer?

Indeed we should!! I would definitely not label myself as an industrial designer, that title is way to narrow for me and my creativity. I think it´s very important to remain open to new challenges and new ways to expand and express our creativity. Even though I was trained as an ID, I found that it did not let me express my creativity in a way that suited my creative process and my goals. I´m a very visual designer, and I don´t really care for the ID process with interviews, research and so on. I´m not really that problem oriented in my design. Guess I´m more of an artist in the traditional sense.

You are really a master in drawing and painting techniques. How did you become so good at it? Is practicing a lot the only key to success?

Practice is without a doubt the key when it comes to this kind of craftsmanship. But I have found one other personal quality that is just as important. Passion!! You really need to love this stuff otherwise you won´t have the endurance to develop your skills, have the energy to experiment, spend long hours on intricate renderings etc etc. Passion is KEY. Sure practice is essential, but if you lack the “internal fire”, the passion, your work will never be as charismatic as it really could be. It´s very easy to see if people love what they´re doing by just looking at their work. Just look at Slatan and Ronaldo, they love football and we love to watch them play. It´s the same thing with design. We love to watch passionate designers at work.

If you REALLY love doing concept art, renderings and just sketch overall, that will show in your work and people will be attracted by your art and design.

What projects are you working on now and can you tell us a bit more about it?

Right know, as we speak, am I doing a couple of personal project (summer time). I´m trying to learn more about the wonderful art of “matte painting” so I got a few of them lurking around. It´s really a great deal of fun to work with photo realism, huge environments, beautiful skies and scenery. It really appeals to the artistic side of me. I love architecture and beautiful environments, enormous cityscapes and rugged, rusted warehouses, harbors and vast, misty mountain areas….so matte painting feels like a good skill to develop, and above all, it´s very fun!!

At the moment, ideas are literally pouring out of my head so I have been trying to find a smart way to collect them. I have built this massive tank that I have tried to connect to my brain and soul, but it´s been quite a hassle to get the electronics to work smoothly…joke ;-))

No, for real. This is almost a problem for me….I got to much stuff in my head that I want to do, want to develop, want to learn…..but the day only have 24 hours and I really need my beauty sleep to be able to function properly.

Beautiful and interesting images has always fascinated me. To develop that skill one step further I´m working hard on my photography skills. It´s a great way to learn and practice composition, light and visual storytelling.You really train your eye to see new images, to see the light and abstract compositions in a new way. It´s almost like meditation for me to grab the camera and tripod, take the car to a place with beautiful nature and just zero-out your mind and let the eye start searching for interesting motives, light, images, stories and just a flower or a bug that makes your mind wander away.

I´m always trying to learn new stuff and develop my skills, therefore a couple of my personal projects involve pretty intense 3D (must-know if you really wan to see your ideas come to life). I love the fact that you can realize a design within a few days and make it looks so real and complex, it´s been a huge boost for my creativity.

I´m also refining my work flow from more 2D based to 3D oriented. I love the process of taking a simple sketch and creating a 3D representation of that, it´s very challenging. Currently I´m a Maya user, but 3D Max is starting to replace it since I only use a fraction of Mayas functionality. I simply don´t need all the buttons and gadgets in Maya (great app though).

I began working on my first character a while ago, and it´s been a great ride.

I´m a huge fan of football (not soccer), so I kinda designed an armour based on the aesthetics of some clean quarterbackish protection padding. Still in the pipeline though.

I´ve also begun to sketch on a brand new design for a extreme GT concept (more on that process further down). The focus is to 100% on the sculptural characteristics and values. I want it to be as pure as possible in it´s aesthetics. I usually add a lot of details and mechanical gadgets, but this time it´s gonna be a very refined and mature design.

I started out by making the simplest of sketches, then jumped into Maya and created a mesh that kind of represents my idea. The mesh is very simple but effective to work on. It allows me to tweak the proportions and surfaces very easily. I haven´t come very far on this one, but I just felt like mentioning it.

This autumn I will start a new branch of my company. It will be called something like Lugnegård Design Training. It will be all about customized visual art training. There´s an evident need for a freestanding educational resource in Sweden. Now you have to attend a design program to get good training in sketch technique and advanced rendering. I want to make it possible for students and pro´s to develop their skills outside of a company or school. I know I would have loved this kind of opportunity back in school. There´s also alot of companies that would benefit from some specialized training in this field, just to make their portfolio and staff more resistant to competition. The latest and hottest work flow, Alias/Maya/Max->Hypershot,  is one of these work flows that many industrial designers would love to adopt but don´t have the time to explore.

We therefore plan to cover:

Sketching (analog/digital), rendering (analog/digital), Photoshop painting/illustration, 3d modeling & rendering using Max, Maya and Hypershot, digital photography and image retouching using Lightroom and Photoshop.

It will be targeted towards both individuals who like to get a massive boost in inspiration and skills, but also towards companies to educate them in new ways to visualize ideas and designs.

I plan to host a number of Workshops/seminars in Sweden in order to bring my training to a bigger crowd.

I´m really stoked about this project!  I think that a lot of students will appreciate this kind of individual training/coaching.

What is your most rewarding design work, the one that you are really proud of and why?

I think the styling I did for Duke Dynamics turned out pretty good.

But what I´m most proud of is actually not a design effort in it self.

The joy and satisfaction that I get when I see my students develop their visual skills really fast during my courses is wonderful. It is such a pleasure to walk into a class room and be able to feel the anticipation and excitement that literally radiates from highly motivated students. To walk in to that situation and know that you´re going to be able to inspire them, that you´re going to share techniques and knowledge with them that will help them on their quest….Love that.

You seem to be fascinated with futuristic vehicles and environments. What is influencing you to do those kinds of designs?

That´s an understatement Waikit :-D!

For me, creativity and inspiration is a gift from God. Creativity should never be restrained. Never. For me it´s about keeping my mind and eyes open.

I see new extreme vehicles everywhere, even in the design of my Nikon lens.

I see futuristic villas in the landscape while driving on the highway.

I see a new Cintiq when I look at the latest Samsung flatscreen…

I see a new painting in my head while watching a beautiful movie…

I see a brand new body work in the protective shoulder pads of football players…

Inspiration and influences come from everywhere.

If I got an idea, there´s nothing that will hold me back. If I got a good idea, I NEED to get it out!!! Even though I have a very very strong passion for cars, all good designers influence me to keep expanding my horizon. Just drop by at Conceptart.org and suddenly you want to start designing characters. Well if you feel like that, just do it!!

Could you please describe your general work flow: how you start from idea, to sketch and rendering and what techniques, tools and software you are using?

Sorry guys, but this will be a long answer, skip to the next question if you are not interested ;-))

I always start with the simplest of sketches, it´s never fancy or good looking. It doesn´t matter what technique I use here. It can be ballpoint, verithin, markers or Photoshop. Just be loose and creative.

I start by working on the overall proportions and silhouette on either paper or in Photoshop. This step IS crucial. Perfect proportions is everything. If you don’t get the proportions right…don´t bother. So many amateurs just scribble something down and starts to refine it and don´t realize that the car looks like a cartoon vehicle when it´s meant to be a sleek and sexy gt.

Ok, so I do a couple of sketches, usually like 3″ long. If I need I´ll blow them up on the copy machine and rework them just a little bit. I´m just trying to get the right feeling, the right curves and so on. Perhaps I throw in some details just to make it more interesting. Our brain is very creative and great when it comes to put stuff in context and to recognize shapes, small dots of ink can be read as an cog-wheel, some hydraulic-cylinders, a couple of parallel curves might be interpreted as oil-hoses….these are indicated details and can make a big difference when sketching.

When I got a sketch that feels interesting, that inspires me and makes me see images in my head I jump into Maya or Max and build a rough model, I usually spend between 2-8 hours here. I got the sketch as reference and just start to build something that matches what I see in my mind. Of course I remain creative during this phase. My sketch just acts as a starting point and a base. I rarely make detailed sketch before my 3D modeling begins, just don´t think it´s that necessary. My sketch is just a visual starting point, a place where I drop my anchor before the real design interpretation begins. Some designers prefer to sketch alot before going into 3d, I don´t. If my vision is clear enough I don´t want to waste time making drawings ;-)) (even though it´s fun).

When the model is good enough (usually no details at all) I freeze the smoothing and export it as an OBJ. The next step is to import it into Hypershot . Hypershot is a wicked rendering engine!! It saves me a lot of time and really gives my process a huge boost. Everything is so easy within HS. The only drawback is that you kinda need do buy some pretty expensive HDR images and matching back plates. But it´s well worth the cost if you look at the end results.

First of all I have a habit of creating a few evaluation renderings with a matte or shiny white shader, just because I want to see that the surfaces are smooth and so that I have a rendering which can act as a base for a form-evaluation with my client. But in this case is there no client……

Then I create a few different renderings with different materials, lights and so on, just so there´s something to play with within Photoshop.

When I´ve outputted some nice renderings I bring them into Photoshop. Now the real fun begins!!!! First I do some color grading to get the right feeling and atmosphere in the colors. I usually play a lot with some adjustment layers to get the right color. One other key element of my Photoshop work is to use different renderings and mix them using different blend modes. That´s an extremely effective way to get very nice looking finishes and colors. The surface colors that I get when blending, say 5 renderings, would be close to impossible to render.

To adjust my colors I to start with Curves/RGB to set the overall values, and then jump into the separate channels and tweak them. If I´m really anxious to get perfect colors at this early stage I convert my image into LAB format. That format will give me a whole new level of freedom when adjusting the colors, but that´s a separate article. Then I start doing some (usually) massive paint over. I basically continue to model, but this time with a brush. First I scribble down some very loose details and corrections that I wish to do on the model. Then those scribbles are refine to match the rendering. After a few hours of painting I begin to add textures to the image. This is the step that kind of brings the image to life and make it look somewhat real. This is where I add dirt, rust, concrete, details in reflections and so on. Love this phase, so creative!!

At this time I´ve usually created about 40-50 layers. I use a lot of layers because I need to be able to go back and make specific changes to details, light corrections and textures. I never flatten my work, never.

When I feel that the image is kinda done I might add some adjustment layers to unify the palette, to tie all the colors together (there´s a lot of different ways to do this). Finally I set the sharpness by making a “copy merged layer”, a layer with the complete image in it. I have a few tricks to get really good sharpness to my images, but that would take to many lines of text to describe. Now just throw it on the net and get some feedback!

Why did you become teacher?

Well, it pays good….;-))

No just because I really like to help and show new ways and make sure that people don´t get stuck. It´s a great privilege to be in a position through which you can leave a mark, an imprint on someones skills and development.

I also think that´s it´s very important to share your skills and be generous with others. You gotta pass it on you know!

What is great about teaching?

The feedback you get from students is second to none!

To teach others is the best way to teach yourself!

I love the spontaneous interaction you get when dealing with young people (even though I´m still pretty young myself)!

I really appreciate to visit new schools and try to understand why they do it the way they do. Every design school is different from the others. They are almost like small worlds that you need to understand before you can meet the students and understand their needs.

When you teach someone something that you are passionate about, that little “virus” will jump onto them and infect them as well. Passion is contagious!

What are the difficulties or challenges you face in teaching?

To be honest, in the beginning it´s was hard not to put on a show and just do cool and flashy sketches and impress on the students. That can work sometimes, it´s really depending on the situation, but it is generally not good if you really mean to help students improve their skills.

Preparations is very crucial. You need to prepare your classes like you prepare for a string concert. You need to practice a lot before you sit down with an entire class and sketch. It can be pretty intense and stressful to sketch in front of 15-20 people that watch your every stroke…you can give them massive homework.

Another question you need to ask yourself is: What level is appropriate for the occasion? How good are these students hat skills do they have? What degree of terminology do they understand?

You don´t have the same class with first year bachelor students as with second year masters, of course, but you still need to consider this. It´s very easy to forget that different programs and schools for that sake have different approach to visual communication. You can also put more pressure on master students. They are expected to have reached a certain level, so you really shouldn’t have to start with line quality….

The next issue is tool related. What kind of tools can you use in your class? Everyone always wants you to sketch in Photoshop, but you can´t start there. So you kinda need to know what tools (pencils, markers, digital) they already understand and what they need to improve. I usually start by giving my students homework that they present at the first session. This way it´s pretty easy to see which level they are at and where they need to improve. Then you can have a certain amount of flexibility and adjust the class to the current standards.

What is your plan for the coming 5 years?

– Establish Lugnegård Design Training with visual art classes in Scandinavia.

– Definitely break further into conceptual vehicle design!!!!!

– Break into matte painting, character design and photography!

Of course I´d love to see my company grow in many different ways and I hope to achieve that by continuing be creative and see new business opportunities that I can develop.

I want to meet many new interesting people and do fun projects together. I want to keep learning and teach others at the same time!!!

Thank you very much for the interview, do you have any tips for industrial designers who want to work as a concept designer?

The hardest question last, that´s not very nice Waikit  ;-D

If you´re interested in conceptual design I would guess that you you aint the type of designer that love research, problemsolvning, and getting your products on the shelf. Conceptual design is all about, that´s right, concepts. Concept design is a mind game. It´s about creating stuff that stretches our conception of certain behaviors and ideas. It´s about visualizing thoughts and ideas in a way that make people start thinking and dream.

Concept design is not about creating a finished product, it´s all about dreaming, and making those dreams look feasible…..

Thanks for reading!

For more info about Mikael Lugnegård, please check his:

– Portfolio Website @ http://www.lugnegarddesign.com/
– Tweets @ http://twitter.com/lugnegarddesign
– Blog @ http://mikaellugnegard.blogspot.com/

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

James March 1, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Again nice article, makes a very interesting read and your work is fantastic!

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