At the Honda Design Center in Japan, designers need to frequently showcase their vehicle concepts and designs to management to get the green light, but they needed a better way to express “Koto-zukuri” – one of the “Strengths of Honda” focused on creating new experiences and stories around products. Working in partnership with Unity’s professional services team, Honda took advantage of Unity’s extensibility and Unity Scripting API to create a custom, simplified version of the Unity Editor. As a result, designers at Honda who have never previously used the Editor are now empowered to create exceptional interactive presentations of their car designs in a single day.
Based in Wako-shi, Saitama-ken, Japan, the Honda Design Center focuses on developing new concepts and designs for future Honda vehicles and other projects like autonomous robots. The Center’s Automobile Design Division has always been on the cutting edge of utilizing new technologies to improve their design and engineering processes.
Since 2019, Unity has worked with Honda to develop custom Unity Editor tools that enable its design team to easily create interactive presentations for their vehicle designs. Here are the results of this collaboration:
- Accelerated innovation by providing a self-serve, easy-to-use, customizable tool for Honda’s designers to create interactive showcases of their vehicle designs
- Empowered designers to save significant time by creating presentations in 1 day rather than outsourcing work to vendors and waiting multiple weeks
- Enabled the team to better showcase the Honda strength of Koto-zukuri within each design
Seeking a solution to design visualization challenges
A presentation at the Honda Design Center. Prior to using Unity, designers created simple real-time visualizations of stationary vehicles, like those shown here. (Image credit: Honda)
Honda’s automotive design team uses computer-aided design (CAD) software to bring their ideas to life. Creating vehicles with superior designs and styles is just one of the team’s responsibilities, however.
They also need to show how their designs adhere to Koto-zukuri – a Honda strength that means “creating new experiences through brand storytelling about the art of making things.” Every product they present needs to tell a story and show how it adds value to customers.
Honda’s designers lacked a tool that would enable them to visualize, present, and review Koto-zukuri with management, so they outsourced this work. Vendors would work with Honda’s designers to create high-quality photos and videos of their designs, but this was not ideal for a couple reasons:
- Lengthy production timelines – Designers need to iterate on and present ideas quickly, but vendors often require multiple weeks for production and cannot always make revisions in the requested time.
- Additional costs – Outsourcing these projects comes out of the team’s budget, and costs can add up through change orders as vehicle designs undergo rapid iterations at the last minute.
‘The best visualization tool’
A presentation made with Unity featuring the Honda e Urban EV, Honda’s zero-emissions electric urban vehicle
Honda turned to Unity to solve these problems in the early stages of design development. “We needed a solution that enabled us to visualize and assess our various ideas easily, in high quality, and at a fast pace,” said Sano Hideki, Automobile Design Division, Honda R&D Co., Ltd. Design Center. “Thanks to our collaboration with Unity, production time has condensed significantly, allowing us to dedicate more time toward ‘Koto-zukuri,’ which used to be difficult to do.”
Hideki shared how his team got an urgent request to create a presentation for a car model in development. With traditional production workflows, this would have been impossible to execute on a tight timeline.
“Instead of three weeks or longer, we can now create these presentations in just one day,” said Hideki. “Compared to our previous process, it’s surprising how fast we are able to achieve these results with Unity. We believe Unity gives us the best visualization tool that can be extended and adapted to our needs in the future.”
In addition to the ease of creating these presentations, Unity also offers additional flexibility in how the presentations are consumed. Unity can be used to create realistic renders and videos, but designers can also run the Unity project as a runtime application on supported PCs. During review meetings, they can adjust the interactive experience in real-time, showcasing the vehicles in different scenes, weather conditions, time of day, and more.
Explore Honda’s custom Editor
Honda extended the Unity Editor to meet the needs of its automotive designers with limited Unity expertise
Unity’s extensibility allows teams to extend the Editor to their needs using C# and the Unity Scripting API. Let’s dive into the custom solution co-developed by Unity and Honda that allows even novice Unity users to create interactive design presentations in a single day.
Different modes for different skill levels
Due to the importance, it places on high-definition and photorealistic visual content, Honda was an early adopter of Unity’s High-Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP). Unlike Unity developers at Honda, however, Honda’s designers lacked the technical know-how to take advantage of HDRP, as well as other tools and components such as Cinemachine, Timeline, NavMesh, and more.
Unity’s team in Japan worked closely with Honda to create a custom solution based on HDRP. The resulting project is accessed in the following ways:
- Simple Mode – This mode, shown below, makes extensive use of the Unity Scripting API, including custom inspectors and HideFlags, to present the users with a simple user interface for the Editor, hiding any components in the inspector or hierarchy that are not required. Options that are usually located in submenus or components are assembled into single custom components that simplify the user experience for Honda’s designers.
- Advanced Mode – This is the standard out-of-the-box interface for the Editor. This mode is for Unity developers at Honda who can work with the designers to utilize new features not yet available in Simple Mode, such as real-time ray tracing or creating a VR experience.
Simple Mode activates a simplified UI for accessing custom components for Honda’s designers
Rigging lets Honda’s designers easily set up tire rotation for their vehicle, including forward, reverse, left, and right movements. This shows the Honda e Urban EV.
As they design vehicles in Autodesk Alias AutoStudio and other programs, Honda’s designers can import these models into Unity as FBX files or as native CAD (converted with Pixyz Plugin). The vehicle components in Unity enable Honda’s designers to quickly rig a driveable vehicle and animate it (e.g., opening car doors).
The vehicle can follow predefined paths, drive automatically or be user-controlled. In the case of a user-controlled option, the new Unity Input System was used to allow the designers to easily configure the controls to their liking:
public InputAction steeringInput;
public InputAction acceleratorInput;
public InputAction brakeInput;
This component manages time, rain, lightning, fog, and other visual properties of the environment.
This made it possible to switch between the states for all shaders that used the same keyword with a single function call, for example:
if (lights) Shader.EnableKeyword(“_LIGHTS”);
It also includes a collection of more than 20 environment blocks that can be combined like Legos to create unique locations. Honda’s designers can create new environments directly in Unity using ProBuilder, or in other programs like Autodesk Maya.
The blocks are then managed in the Unity Editor as prefabs. Cinemachine Paths for vehicle movement and NavMesh surfaces for AI human character movement are also added to allow the designers to create animations quickly and efficiently.
Based on Cinemachine, the camera system allows users to easily create both linear and dynamic (including user-controlled) camera sequences.
Configuring camera settings is accomplished using simple sliders
This component makes it easy to create animated, interactive human characters in presentations. Honda’s designers can quickly rig a human model based on Unity’s rich and sophisticated animation system (sometimes referred to as ‘Mecanim’).
Different movements can be assigned to the character; they can follow paths, walk automatically based on NavMesh components, or be user-controlled. In this example, Honda used stylized low poly human characters from Akishaqs on the Unity Asset Store.
The current version of these customized Unity Editor tools are focused on allowing Honda designers to quickly and efficiently create realistic and interactive design presentations. Moving forward, Honda also plans to create similar tools to allow their non-technical designers to utilize other powerful Unity features such as VR support, real-time ray tracing, material mixing, and real-time global illumination.