It's been years since I had the desire to model a cartoon car; I remember spending hours browsing all the images from the 3DTotal gallery looking for inspiration, and each time I laid my eyes on a car I would feel more and more inspired to make my own. That was how I ended up making plans to build a Volkswagen Beetle - also known as "Fusca", in Brazil.
At first, my basic idea was to build a destroyed police car, filled with bullets and guns. But as soon as I modelled the front hood and did a test with Maya's "mi_car_paint" from Mental Ray, I decided to make a red, curvy and shiny Beetle. I don't think there is any other car as round and curvy as the VW Beetle; cartoons are all about curves, nothing is straight or square, and so this car was the perfect candidate for this project because every piece of it is rounded.
First I made a drawing of the side view of my car, starting with a sketch of the average shape of the original Beetle. Then I started changing everything that I could, making it even more rounded. I exaggerated the sizes and worked on a stronger, curvier concept.
Once I was happy with the sketch, I jumped into Maya and started modelling the overall shape using basic Box Modelling techniques, with the help of lots and lots of splines to set up the proportions correctly, because I didn't have the top or the front view, only the side sketch.
Having these lines as a 3D reference for the overall structure, I started modelling piece by piece using box modelling techniques, taking advantage of Maya's Smooth Mesh preview.
To use the Smooth Mesh preview feature, just start modelling anything with polygons and then press the 1, 2 and 3 keys to view the low and high smoothed versions on the fly. Once you are happy with the object, you will have to convert the mesh: click on Modify, Convert, and select the option: Smooth Mesh Preview to Polygons.
The low polygon version of the Beetle ended up having a total of 10,819 faces, and a total of 232,000 faces once it was mesh smoothed on level 3.
After I had all the lines adjusted for a perfect idea of proportions and spacing, I started looking at my references and modelling the most important parts of the car, like the door, hood, trunk, front, and structure. The best approach when car modelling is to model separate pieces, just like it is done in a real factory, so you can achieve nice dents between pieces. Since this was a cartoony version of the Beetle, I decided to exaggerate the dents.
Once everything looked "right", I started modelling all the accessories and every little piece, like the tyres, windows, rubbers, head lights, turn lights, wind shields, door handles, plates, antenna and so on.