San Francisco-based Bradley “GMUNK” Munkowitz started out 15 years ago doing interactive design and motion graphics, but for more than a decade he has primarily worked as a design director. His cutting-edge user-interface work can be seen the sci-fi films TRON:Legacy and Oblivion. More recently, he won several top design awards for BOX (above), a short design and live-performance piece created with design studio Bot & Dolly

Always in demand, Munkowitz’s original and imaginative way of seeing things is evidenced by the design work he’s done for Buck, Engine Design, Prologue Films, Transistor Studios, Bot & Dolly and many others. Recently, he served as design director for two auto-related projects, one for Audi and the other for General Motors. Though similar software was used for both jobs—Cinema 4D, After Effects and Illustrator—the two spots are distinctly different and interesting in their own ways. 

“The GM project was very specific, create a user-interface dashboard design for Elmiraj, a new Cadillac concept luxury car, but for the Audi A3 Sportback project, we took a much broader and more abstract look at the features of the car,” Munkowitz explains. “In both cases we highlight certain things, but with GM we focused on graphics and UI. Audi is more about projection mapping and has a more surrealist palette, creating an illusion of optical properties and lenses while highlighting the features of the A3 within that world.”

The Audi A3 Sportback
Munkowitz was involved with Autofuss’ Audi spot from the start and played a key role in the concepting phase, which led to the award of the job. Inspired by the artistry of BOX, the spot features a man discovering the Audi A3 at an art museum. Through robot-controlled lenses, he is able to see four of the car’s features in augmented hyper-reality. The goal was to reflect the art and engineering embodied in their cars. 

As design director, Munkowitz headed up a team of talented graphics artists who tackled specific aspects of the spot. Like BOX, the Audi project used 3D projection mapping on moving objects to create needed effects. In this case, the technique transformed two robotically controlled canvasses into massive lenses. By projecting onto the circular panels held by the robots, the team was able to create the illusion that they were lenses made of glass and capable of creating distortions and refractions. 

In all, about 25 to 30 people worked on the Audi A3 Sportback project. Munkowitz was one of three directors, including Tarik Abdel-Gawad, the creative director on Box. Animations were all projected live during the shoot and captured in camera. To make clear that it was a projection, the team had an actor walk in front of the projector and receive light, casting shadows onto the canvases in parts of the film. Capturing the film live, with no additional elements done in CG during post, made the film feel much more real. “In sum, what transpired on set and was captured in camera is what was seen in the final film,” Munkowitz explains. 

Highlighting the A3’s Features
Jason English Kerr was the graphic artist assigned to the first feature explored in the spot, the Audi A3’s lightweight body. This was accomplished by showing a lightweight cage enveloping the car and pulsing with interactive light as it moved and highlighted the actual internal frame of the car. 

Michael Rigley was tasked with illustrating the A3’s four cylinders on demand, which showcased the car’s ability to selectively disengage two of its cylinders to reduce energy consumption. Rigley also led the development of the look of the lenses and built an After Effects comp that could be customized for each section. 

Ryan Chen highlighted the car’s LED headlights, which are easily adjustable for better navigation. The team opted to do this by pairing the headlight beams with a tunnel that could illustrate the direction of the beams as they moved. Christoffer Bjerre focused on the Audi A3’s connectivity, visually showing the cars integrated network and WiFi features. 

Robotics animator, Anthony Enos, directed the robots animations, creating all of the movement in Maya using the BDMove plugin. He used the Alembic file format to transfer the motion into C4D so it could be integrated into the C4D scenes. Once the data was seamlessly transferred to C4D, the design team created all of the content for each of the sections and brought the lenses to life. 

Ultimately, the renders from Cinema 4D were comped with the previously shot car plates in After Effects. Final comps were sent to the team on set, projected and captured in the final shots. “Importing shots from Maya into Cinema using the Alembic format was no problem because the format maps to the pixel, which was important because we designed all of the graphics in Cinema at 4K so everything needed to be synced so it wasn’t off when we projected it,” Munkowitz says. “Everyone looks at the piece and thinks it’s post, but it is actually incredibly tight projection mapping, and at 4K resolution, the graphics look incredibly rich and detailed.”

GM’s Elmiraj Concept Car
For this project, the General Motors Advanced Design Studio asked Munkowitz, to concept and design the driver console and touchscreen user interface for their Cadicac concept car, Elmiraj. 

Working with a small team that included Conor Grebel, Jason English Kerr and Joseph Chan, Munkowitz’s goal was to feature the Elmiraj’s futuristic technology while showcasing the elegance and luxury of the Cadillac brand. General Motor’s Studio Interior Design Manager, Gael Buzyn, provided the concept artwork of the car, and it was clear from the onset that the team needed to emphasize the concept car’s aesthetic quality in the UI designs.

“They clearly wanted this to be a car for the future so people could see what’s in store for automotive UI,” Munkowitz recalls. Using the UI framework Buzyn gave them, the team created a fully functioning interface that also included features like an augmented reality navigational system and a 3D map interface. 

The Driver Console
The form of the driver console informed the look of the graphics the team created. The console’s two circular dials function as the central design element of the console and the main interface was built around that. Munkowitz and the others especially liked the idea of having all of the graphic commands relative to and emanating from the circular framework on the console, thinking that it gave the entire system a signature and iconic language that was specific to the design of the car. 

For the UI system, the biggest challenge was the augmented reality overlay in the console. In that mode, the driver is able to view the road ahead along with graphic overlays that highlight what lies ahead that they should be aware of. Had their been more time, Munkowitz says the team would have realized the full-blown concept and made the augmented reality overlay a part of the windshield. 

The HMI Console
For the pop-out HMI (human machine interface) console, the team created a fully interactive 3D environment for the map interface, including gesture control and interactive fly-throughs. Using Cinema 4D, the team created a fully three-dimensional navigation that felt as futuristic as the augmented-reality system. 

“As a design team, we were excited to create a fully immersive navigation system using a 3D language, placing line work and graphic touches to show the route from San Francisco all the way down to Palm Springs,” Munkowitz says. “It was exciting to be able to play in that space, and it felt very liberating to visualize a map in that style.”

Though Munkowitz’s user interfaces for science fiction informed this project, he and the team were aware that this UI needed to be functional, so the design is consistently clean with functionality and operability in mind. “With the augmented reality overlays and fully three-dimensional navigation system, this project definitely gave a glimpse into what’s in store for automotive UI in the future, and it was a very exciting design study for the team to be a part of,” Munkowitz says. 

Audi A3 Sportback Credits:
Client: Audi
Agency: Verba
Production Company: Indiana Pictures, Autofuss, Bot & Dolly
Executive Creative Director: Randall Stowell
Director: Chris Brown
Creative Technologist: Tarik Abdel-Gawad
Design Director: Bradley G. Munkowitz
Roboticist: Asa Hammond
Director of Photography: Joe Picard
Design & Animation: Christopher Bjerre, Ryan Chen, Jason Kerr, Mike Rigley, Anthony Enos
Editor: Ashley Rodholm
Assistant Editor: Ian Colon
Executive Producer: Micah Gendron
Producer: Yovel Schwartz, Alison Plansky, Anastassia Babanskaia
Engineers: Matthew Bitterman, Michael Beardsworth, Ian Sherman
Robot Operators: Matt McDonald, Aron Pruiett, Patrick Walsh
Projectionist: Phil Reyneri
Visual Effects Supervisor: Matt McDonald
VFX Artist: Ben Hawkins
Colorist: Chris Martin
Coordinator: Johnny Carroll
Production Supervisor: Geoffrey Sawyer
Assistant Camera: Dean Snodgrass
Talent: Ryan Waters
Electronic Lighting Designer: Tom Thompson
Gaffer: Frank Strzalkawoski
Key Grip: Dave Childers
Electric: Alyssa Moran, Oscar Ness, Mick Burns
Grip: Robert “Boomer” McCann
Best Boy Electric: Chris ShellenbergerBest
Boy Grip: Don Hendersen
VTR: Andy Neddermeyer
Touch Up Artist: Jim Edelhauser
Art/Fabrication: Bryan Dewe, Ben Golub
Wardrobe/Make-up: Lisa Zomer
Set Design: Sean House
Craft Services: Michelle Kitagawa
Production Assistants: Sean Servis, Dakota Smith, Christopher Scott, Scott Badovick
Sound Recording/Sound Design/Mix: Tom Disher
Music: Sizzer

General Motors Elmiraj Concept Credits:
Agency: GM Advanced Design Studio
Agency Design Director: Gael Buzyn
Production Facility: AUTOFUSS
UI Graphics Design Director: Bradley G Munkowitz
UI Graphic Designers: Conor Grebel, Jason English Kerr, Joseph Chanimal
UI Graphic Animators: Conor Grebel, Jason English Kerr
Producers: Micah Gendron, Katrina Lau

Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota