We heard, via Twitter, about a website that totally transforms your car for just a few dollars. Intrigued as our house mascot Golf GTi was just about to go to the bodyshop to get a couple of panels repaired and a new lick of yellow paint. How could they do it for the money?

We delved deeper to see how it could be possible. Autemo.com is the site, beautifully laid out yet functional, it’s mission to virtually transform cars. No sheet metal gets cut, no bodykit riveted, no trick paint spayed; it’s all done in Photoshop. Fancy turning that rusty old Nissan into a Tokyo drift dreamcar? That cooking Chevy into chopped chariot? Test drive the mods you are planning for your ride before committing to the bodyshop. When your pimpmobile hits the spot you can convert your car for real reassured your facelift will be more super-car than super-shed.

Go to Autemo, read the intro, take the tour and decide what sort of look you are aiming for. Then simply upload a photo, select an artist, and commit a derisory AUD $30-$90 to get the car of your dreams. You get to watch progress as the artist uploads WIPs (Work In Progress) photos, and you can comment and request changes. It’s a virtual chop but with real interaction with the artist.

Naturally, you can just get your mods done for fun, your wall or a gift for a car lover. But site admin Bjoern Fredriksen says that most comissions are tests before real chopping, and that artists often get approached by tuners and car companies eager for ideas. The artists are never going to feed a family on earnings from the site, but use the site as a portfolio, or vehicle to design work within the industry.

Our brief to the artist: “Hi, we’re after a mod to the yellowwheels.com Golf GTi that is a mascot for our website. We’d like large YW logo plus website name to appear. Style: We’d like to give you a free hand, but remember that we want it to look classy as well as outrageous. We don’t want too many fussy slats, and loovres. Keep it smooth and concept car like. Styling cues are RUF Porsches, BMW’s new Vision concept, Lamborghini’s Reventon. Wheels could be F1 style, arches Porsche 911 Turbo. Body possibly coke bottle. PS the car is about to go into the bodyshop to have dents and scrapes painted so apologies for the dirty state of car in the photo.”

Here’s a gallery of some completed projects

[Gallery not found]

We uploaded a deliberately ordinary photo of our VW Golf GTi MK3 “Colour Concept ” special edition, with tricky reflections and dented doors to fully test the artist’s metal. the first wireframe WIP followed the brief well stylistically, but nothing in the design hinted at the origins of the car. We requested they retain the Golf MK3’s trademark headlights. This okayed, the bodywork was “sprayed” and background added. The design looked clumsy with rough rims, no proper shadows or reflections to convince the eye. Once the wheel arches were muscled up, shadows created and a bonnet power vent added things were looking up. At this point disaster stuck, as chosen Artist Jack Darton, had to duck out of the project for personal reasons. Unperturbed, the site’s admin found us a replacement to take over the project and progress resumed seamlessly with Emil Börjesson, aka Algeroth. We requested a change to the side windows to bring them back to the slightly more rounded shape of the golf, and restoration of the lip just below. By WIP 12 things were looking hot. By WIP 18 all the fine tuning was paying off and the image looked real, but WIP19 took it too far; overzealous shine had to be cut back. A few finishing touches, and all that needed fixing was the background. We then downloaded the finished photo: a 2000 pixel Jpeg, sufficiently large to print a decent A4 size in a magazine or poster for your wall.

All in all, this was a pleasantly unusual, and quite personal, interactive web experience. We stayed logged in, and exchanged over 100 messages during the virtual build. We went in without any preconceptions and were blown away by the results: highly recommended.

We pitched a few questions to site founders Bjoern Fredriksen and Mark Farrington:

1. How long has the site been going ?

Since 28th of August 2009 we’ve been open to Artists, so that makes us, nearly 4 months old now. In October, two months after the initial launch we opened our doors for client projects.

2. What’s the most prestigious project you (as a site) have worked on ?

The mascot car for yellowwheels.com, no kidding:), we haven’t been around for that long, but this project have been an awesome one to contribute to. Except that, a project done for a guy in Melbourne who’s about to make those changes for real and feature the car as a project car in an Autralian car magazine (we’re now featuring a wall-paper version of that project on the home-page
Mazda tribute chop
3.How many artists are there ?

771 artists are registered so far, and our active user base from the last 30 days stands at 700, already making us the most active car design related artist community around. 

4. It is amazingly good value, they couldn’t possibly make a living out of it:  do the artists do it for the fun of it, or to build a portfolio, as part of their college projects? Do they get good spin-offs or offers of work from car companies?

The artists do it for a variety of reasons. Some of the guys freelance for car companies, or tuning companies, or do paid work for magazines from time to time around where they are from. Jack for instance does some work for www.oakleydesigns.eu, and might get introduced to the owner of Ascari for some possible design work for them, but this is only one example. Others are as you say university/college graphic design students with a passion for cars and car design.
Our focus right now is on getting the word out there about what we offer, not on getting absolutely top dollar for each job, so we will do good deals. In the longer term we do want to provide artists with a reasonable return on their time. After all, some of these guys are amongst the best automotive artists in the world.
Because we are giving a very reasonable deal, we’re also going to give the client an option to “send bonus”, whereby people can effectively give the artist a tip, or adjust for scope changes or additions to the project. Some of our clients have highlighted that this is a feature they would use as they were happy to pay extra for changes etc…
Ultimately, we do want to be able to pay the voulenteer admins for what they do to support the site, which will come with growth in size, superbly satisfied customers who come back, and charging a fair amount for the services.
Our most common projects at the moment are between AUD $30, and $90, which are mostly realistic renders for people’s real cars. You could equate that scale to an effort scale of between 1-6 hours of effort. Special items such as a concept car from scratch or really detailed specific work could be upwards of AUD $250. However, where there is an opportunity for us to promote our services as a part of doing a project we are definitely open to doing a special deal.
Artists are also do refer people they know to Autemo, and request the project assigned to them at a particular price (as long as that’s made clear in the project description, that happens smoothly).
As a part of our after-project artist questionaries we do check how long they spent on the project what they thought about the price and other things. What we learn from this, and the client after-project questionaries allow us to tune our quotes to satisfy both the clients and the artists.
5. What made you start the site?

As car artists ourselves, we felt that this was something we could do to help artists get paid for doing what they love, and do so in a way that they don’t risk getting ripped off. I’ve personally nded up not getting paid for work completed in the past.

We also saw it as an opportunity to help people who want to get their cars modified see what their car would really look like (i.e. is what they are thinking going to be hot, or not?). After all, it’s much easier and cheaper to change your mind before buying all the parts, than after it’s all bought and modified…
6. Do you have a chopped car yourself? If so what is it?

Not yet, I drive an Autemo colored green Mazda Tribute 2002, at least it’ll at least get some Autemo vinyls. Mark Farrington, one of the  other admins (and my co-founder) does though – images of his ride below:

“I’ve since had the crack in the front bar repaired and had it resprayed. Also got carbon fibre eyelids and tints now.

7. Where are you going with the site and what new services can surfers look forward to in the future?
A: At the moment we’re focusing on getting bigger, growing the userbase and enhancing the overall usability of the site. We’re also looking to establish long term relationships within the car industry who need graphics work on an ongoing basis, but might not need a full-time designer, or who needs extra capacity during peak periods.
Pretty soon users will see more enhanced artist profiles and bigger galleries, and more and more big name artists coming onboard. We are also looking at directly hooking up clients with local car tuning companies and workshops were they can get the work done on their car. This will make the whole tuning process easier for the client from start to finish. Also we soon will be providing full 3D automotive rendering services, not just 2D photoshop imagery.

The finished “chop”

Artist: Emil Börjesson “Algeroth” at www.autemo.com, original photo ©2009 Tim Andrew

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