Kris Horton on Next Gen Vehicle Design
Kris creates life-like computer renderings of custom vehicles. Combining state of the art technology with his creative inspirations. He’s a Ford Award winner and has contributed to numerous SEMA Show project builds. He took the time to tell us a little bit more about exactly what it is he does, and how SEMA has changed his business.
1) Can you tell us a little bit about the process you take when developing a rendering? Are there any rituals in your process you undertake to get inspired (ie listen to specific type of music, use a standing computer desk, etc)?
I always say that I’m not very “artsy-fartsy” as one of my favorite instructors used to put it. I don’t have a specific process for getting inspired and as clichéd as it may sound, I believe that an artist should be able to be inspired by anything and everything around them. Listening to music is probably one of the best ways I can clear my head and focus, but sometimes it takes going for a walk or a swim to get my head in the mood to work on a particular project.
When working with a client, I try to get a list of likes and dislikes together early on to work with. Some clients come to me with a clear-cut idea of what they want and they just want to see it visualized. Some come to me with a vague idea and ask for my advice on various aspects of the build. It’s always different from one person to the other and it keeps things fun and interesting. Some of my regular clients (typically shops building multiple cars) and I have a shorthand where they can say “the usual door handles, the one color we used on that one car, and these wheels” which is awesome. From that point on, I develop a 3D wireframe model of the car for the client and over the course of the project I customize it and add the details that make it unique to their build. The finished product is a nice polished rendering that will hopefully be an accurate representation of what they plan to build.
2) Is there friendly competition with the "Pen and Pad' guys? Are there any artists on the scene that inspire you?
When I first started in the business I thought it was a competition (friendly, or otherwise) and soon realized something that’s really great about what we do: everyone’s taste is different and there is an artist out there for everyone. I was 20 when I started doing renderings professionally and can remember always taking it personally when a potential customer would decide to use another artist. That changed after a little while as I realized I wasn’t always necessarily the best fit for what the client was looking for. I also have a tremendous amount of respect for the traditional artists.
I’m a huge fan of Tavis Highlander, Brian Stupski, Gary Ragle, and Sean Smith’s works. They’ve brought a great deal of style to the custom car scene and produce some beautiful work. I always look forward to seeing their work brought to life by some of the awesome shops they work with.
3) What does the SEMA Show mean to you, being a person whose business essentially revolves around projects for the show?
The SEMA Show has had a tremendous impact on my life, personally and professionally. The first time I attended the show was in 2003 because I had designed a truck for Bully Dog Technologies. They were kind enough to have me out and that trip really hooked me. The next year, my dad and I built a Chevelle for the show because I thought it would be the coolest thing to have a car in the show. Seven projects later and I still think it’s pretty awesome having a car featured at the SEMA Show. It comes with all kinds of stress, late nights, and blown budgets, but no matter how much we say “I’m not doing that again” we always do it again the next year. The SEMA Show itself is always a wonderful opportunity to see industry friends and colleagues that we don’t get to see very often. We all lead busy lives and have busy careers, but it seems that one constant for many of us is the first week of November ever year.
4) Can you describe what it feels like being able to walk the show and see all of the projects you have contributed to?
It’s a truly awesome feeling knowing that a group of people have been working months (sometimes years) on something I helped design, but it’s even better getting to see it in person. I love taking time to talk with the builders and see how they interpreted things in my designs and translated them into metal. In fact, a few times I’ve walked by a car at the show, stopped, and realized it was a car I had designed some time ago. That’s always fun, getting to see something I didn’t expect to see at all.
5) Is there any industry advice you would give to 18 year old Kris Horton?
“Buckle up, dude, it’s going to be a fun ride. It won’t always be easy and you won’t always feel like it’s all worth it, but in the end, you wouldn’t trade what you do for anything.”
I’d lead with that anyway, because it’s absolutely true. I would also tell him that building strong, lasting relationships is vital to surviving in the business. While it’s a large industry, it exists in a very small world. Everyone knows everyone it seems and there are very few degrees of separation between any of us, especially those of us who have been around for a decade or more.
I would advise him to be careful of which bridges he burns, but not to avoid doing so altogether. Sometimes you simply need to cut ties and avoid people/companies that affect you in negative ways. Always look at it objectively and make sure you’re not creating bad blood with anyone though. I’m guilty of it – I believe we all have been at some point or another – and it’s a tough lesson to learn, but it is an important one.
I’d also tell him to take care to communicate well with clients. Frankly, I’d tell myself that at any age because it’s something I continue to work on to this very day. Being able to communicate with your clients is hands-down the most important skill a designer can have outside of actual artistic ability. The better you communicate with them, the less time you spend trying to interpret things and the quicker you arrive at a successful finished product.
Oh, and lastly, I’d say “Don’t get cocky, kid.”