Christian Grajewski is a designer for the Volkswagen Future Center Europe, specializing in interiors. A job many aspiring designers strive for; however, what really caught my attention was the way he applied his knowledge of design and advanced design tools like Autodesk Alias® to work in a very non-traditional manner. Here is the dialog of our interview, I trust you will find it equal parts innovative and inspiring.
Ananda: Christian, can you tell me a little bit about how you got into the automotive design field?
Christian Grajewski: Sure. I didn’t particularly want to design when I was young, I just enjoyed copying comics and the fun of drawing which came with it. I left school with the begin of 17 to participate in an apprenticeship as a metal worker building lifeboats . When I was 21 I entered the community service during that time a close friend told me I should do something productive with my artistic skills. I then found a school focused on art which prepares students for studying at university. I got a place there and stayed for 1 year. I got to meet a lot of like-minded people from all over Germany. I remember thinking, “It would be pretty cool to study product design”. Until I went to that school, I actually had no clear idea about product design but I found out about it and I loved it.
Ananda: Were you able to get a formal education in design?
Christian: Yes, I applied to Hochschule Hannover University of applied sciences and arts and got a place there. I quickly realized that design is more than sketching. I had a really good time at University. During my 3rd semester a friend bought the Art of Star Wars – Episode I and I fell in love with it. I found a new interest and desire to create concept Art I tried to spend as much spare time as possible to train myself in it. At the same time I developed a very strong interest in Transportation Design. I got very lucky, because I found some like minded friends and we had the chance to learn Autodesk Alias® back in 2005. Our University was very focused on that, I am so grateful for it. I realized there was an opportunity for a career in automotive Design, so I pursued an internship at Volkswagen Design Center Potsdam. Then I applied for exterior design job, but I got an interview for the Interior position and was really happy to be awarded with a job in interior design. I was so happy to get a job in that Studio, because almost everyone I knew who was interested in Transportation Design wanted to go to Potsdam.
I did not realize until then that Designing interiors requires so much detail and so much work and that it made so much fun. Some People don’t really appreciate it, but for me, it was an amazing playground with a huge potential to create new ideas. The team of people and my boss I get to work with are super cool, extremely talented and the best people to work with So I felt in love with that job!
Ananda: How did you start designing these other creations?
Christian: I just kept doing everything on my own during the weekends, after work. Sketching and creating my pictures. I’ve kept that going over the years since I discovered The Art of Star Wars
Until finally, I decided to branch out and decided to bring my creations to another level. I contacted companies like Autodesk, Luxion and Pixologic in 2015. I asked for help, when I went to use the software I learned that Alias wasn’t so cheap. I wrote a couple emails, explained what I was trying to do, and everyone responded well. All I had at this point were my sketches. Nothing 3D.
I started sabbatical from VW with the beginning of 2016. I was already very familiar with Alias at that time. Because in Potsdam everyone was able to work as he liked and somehow almost all of my interior colleagues were able to work with Alias. This gave us over the years a huge benefit.
In my opinion, in order to visualize something in the Automotive world, you need the ability to do what you want. You can’t be limited to the polygon model where you can’t perform specific manipulations to your design – you’re forced to work within limiting parameters and the benefit of Nurbs modeling is just so much better, at least in my opinion. I continued learning Alias, I learned from contractors and colleagues, and we learned from each other.
Turns out, the Potsdam design studio doesn’t really have a sabbatical program, so after discussing with my manager, we agreed I’d have to formally quit my job, And they were so kind to give me a contract that I could start over in 2017. I am still very thankful for this opportunity.
Ananda: Wow, you really put it all on the line, didn’t you?
Christian: You could say that. The financial stuff was challenging, I spend all my savings and quit with a plan to restart at the beginning of 2017. I appreciate that I had a really open-minded boss. He knew how much I loved all that stuff and was really supportive
During my “time off” I hadn’t done anything for anyone else. ( I was just working on my own stuff not for anyone else ) I had the thought that if I don’t just go out on my own, if I don’t do it now, I may regret it later on. Money is just money, I will have my job back. I didn’t really have a specific goal, other than to create enough 3D content from all the sketches I did in the past and make a book out of it I did make a book for myself from that sabbatical and it is 450 pages thick. I still have so much stuff left in 2D and in my mind, that my journey isn´t over yet. On top of that, I am working with two friends on an attending Sci-Fi Novel , so everything I designed is based up on that story.
Ananda: Do you have a family to support or a anyone else that was affected by your decision?
Christian: Yes, I have been in a long-term, long-distance relationship. This actually made her happy because we only get to see each other on the weekends. She works as a nurse, and we were limited to only 4 days/month together. The time off afforded us more time to be together.
Ananda: Ok, so help us understand, what is it that you ended up creating and working on during this time?
Christian Grajewski: A lot actually, Vehicles, aircrafts, creatures, props, characters, robots and so on. The animals were really important to me, I thought a lot about them. I wanted to create something new and unique a mixture between automotive surface treatment and natural credible organic shapes.
My idea for the vehicles was to keep them very simple on first glance but more complex at a closer look. I always had those unique Star Wars concepts in mind, I tried to do something similar without copying them. During the design and modeling process I was also working on the story development for the attending novel.
Ananda: How do you create?
Christian: I love to look at animals, anything that surrounds me. I often take trips to the Zoo. Or when I am hiking I try to observe nature very well. A lot of times I have a creature from Earth on my mind as a starting point, and then I just follow my ballpoint pen. I never have the final picture on my mind. The new creation just comes when I’m drawing. It’s not that I don´t have an idea before I start, I just don´t know how it looks until I finish my sketch. . It’s a relationship between sight and view, it’s quick and simple When I am designing an aircraft for example, I do some research, give myself some ideas what it has to fulfill and I think about the production methods as well. I try to give them a certain credibility. A friend told me once that airplanes have all those surface mistakes and don`t look so perfect. I told him, our 3D printing technology evolves so fast, that in the future those aircraft will look perfect! So it starts with a ballpoint pen sketch and evolves into a 3D model on the computer. I don´t try to make fancy sketches anymore, I love them but it takes to long. I try to make a simple side or top view, figuring out in my mind how the volumes are working and start over in a 3D model. When I have the first volumes, I do some screen shots and paint on top of them. This is the time I don`t use my ballpoint pen. After that I jump back into 3D and do my changes. From that point on, my models becoming more and more detailed.
Ananda: Have you ever started your creation on the computer?
Christian: Yes in the past, but I try to avoid it now. I just love to sketch with my ballpoint pen, I do not need a power supply for it. My hand is easily connected with my brain. It works the best for me.
Ananda: So, what is life like for you now?
Christian: On the weekends I have a long commute, between 3-4 hrs, and I find myself drawing all the time… outside or inside… whenever I feel like it. I also have some weeks where I create nothing at all, because I don’t feel like it. When I’m ready to draw, I can do it anywhere. Since I am back at my job in Potsdam I decided to work just in Part-time. I have one week of a month so I can focus on my ideas.
Ananda: How do you find fulfillment in your work?
Christian: my greatest satisfaction comes from the process of creation itself. I would sketch and create, even if I couldn’t show it to anyone. I do it just to get everything out, and it’s a bonus if I can help keep people inspired. Creating gives me freedom, like the ability to make something 3D. The freedom to create just what I envision is the most important thing to me. After I decided to publish my designs, I got a lot of good feedback, especially for my creatures. That felt actually pretty good, because the feedback I got was what I had in mind when I created them.
Sketching and creating is so important to me, I remember someone saying: “ask yourself, if you were the last person on earth, what would you do?” I would do this, without a doubt.
Ananda: Has your family always been supportive of your design efforts?
Christian: Everyone in my family and circle of friends is and was super supportive about that. Everyone was really happy for me, that I took the chance to do my own thing. I can always ask for help, that means a lot to me.
Ananda: Christian, if you could offer any advice to the readers, what would it be?
Christian: I worked over 8 years for every single brand in the VW Group now, I learned so much but after a while I needed to do my own thing. I just wanted to do what I thought is the right thing. So, If you have a dream, try to live it. In the end it is easier than you thought, even if it is about a simple question, asking for a software support. When you do it, plan a daily routine in advance, this will help a lot and stick to it!
Another thing I would say: “learn from everyone, don’t think you are already the best. You will never be the best.” Stay humble! I see a lot of interns or people who just started in the industry thinking they are already the best and don’t invest in themselves. If you are in the creative industry you have to be willing to learn. . Learn from everyone and respect everyone all the time!. Even if you are good at something. Learn something else, never stop learning.
After my time with Christian Grajewski, I continued to admire his work. The emotion it triggers by simply observing his creatures is hard to describe. It’s moving. It’s familiar, yet foreign. It’s intimidating, yet intriguing.
I left this interview asking myself, “am I passionate enough to quit what I’m doing to pursue my dream?” We all have thought about that … and there are few of us who are living our dreams, but for the rest of us, would we have the courage to do so? I appreciate that Christian was open to sharing his inspirations and aspirations with me. Let’s all go out and do what truly makes us happy, while creating something with intent and passion.
Visit Christian’s website at www.