I love cars. As long as I can remember, I’ve loved them. As a boy of 14 I purchased my first car, long before I had a driver’s license and I had my 2nd car, a 1971 Firebird, the very next year. Even though I never got to drive either of those cars, it instilled a passion that I still hold on to.

Fast forward to today. (Many, many years later) In the past 5 years I’ve been privileged enough to drive some cars and run on tracks I never thought I would – from a Dodge Viper to a late model stock car, from Lime Rock to Thompson Speedway. I’ve been to race shops ranging from Newman-Haas to Jr. Motorsports. And now thanks to iRacing, I get to build 3d replicas of some of these great cars. As a car enthusiast and artist, I’m living the dream.

While my job may not be as glorious as being a driver for the cars I create, it’s one I enjoy very much. And while the only similarity between reading about what I do and reading a good novel is that they both can make you sleepy, I would like to give you some insight into what goes into creating the 3d cars that you see on the tracks of iRacing. So sit back, pull up a chair and drink lots of caffeine. This could take awhile.

I would like to give you some insight into what goes into creating the 3d cars that you see on the tracks of iRacing. So sit back, pull up a chair and drink lots of caffeine. This could take awhile.

Before I set off to write this blog I went digging for some notes I had taken during our first company meeting where we discussed what we were hoping to build with iRacing. And while a lot of the stuff I had written sounded really ambitious, at least in the context of where we were back then, it’s nice to see that we have mostly kept to that initial game plan and the future is getting better every day. One of the places where we deviated is of particular interest to this blog though. Polys (short for polygons) are the building blocks of a 3d model, and the more you can use the more detailed the models can be. In NASCAR Racing 2003 the poly budget for a car was right at 1000 polys. Our projections for iRacing: 1600-2000 polys. While that’s double the poly count, it’s “extremely” low by today’s standards. Thankfully those numbers didn’t stick and we have gradually increased the detail over the years from approximately 10,000 polys in our Skip Barber car to right at 26,000 for the Dallara.

The amount of detail we get for art reference today is incredible. With laser scans, cad data provided by the manufacturer and thousands of digital photographs, we are able to see things today in a lot higher resolution than ever before. Once I receive this data it’s time to start the modeling process. Unfortunately there is no easy button for this, so models are still built the old fashioned way in 3d Studio Max.


Different configurations lead to more realism

First we start by building a high poly model of the exterior of the car as well as the wheels which will be used for the normal mapping. High poly models tend to run around 500,000 polys or more and make a really big difference in the car’s appearance once complete. The time for this varies as each car is unique. For instance, on the Dallara we had to build 3 different nose and rear wing configurations based on different tracks. This is in stark contrast to the VW which was a fairly simple build.

Moving on, next we go about reducing the polys of the model to something much closer to what will be in the final release. Even with the increased poly budget, we still have to make tough decisions on how much detail we can retain and still maintain acceptable frame rates. As hard as it is to make cuts, it has forced us find creative ways to keep details high. One of the things we have done is create custom shadow models for the cars. By taking items such as the rear axle, exhaust, and other items under and around the car and making it so that they don’t cast shadows, we’ve picked up a nice performance boost with an almost imperceptible visual difference. This is just one example of numerous tricks we’ve picked up over the years.

Advancements in modeling techniques allow much more detail

Advancements in modeling techniques allow much more detail

On a side note: One of the more frequent criticisms with our cars has been with the tires. While the laser scans and cad data we receive gives us incredible detail to work with, round tires can eat thru our poly budget before you can say Mangler. Believe it or not, one tire on the Dallara has over twice as many polys as a complete car did in 2003. That said, we continue to try and find ways to make them look better and we have even gone back recently and added more polys to some of the open wheel cars such as the Formula Mazda. This, unfortunately, is a never-ending process of trying to find a balance between performance and beauty.

Next it’s on to the cockpit. This normally ends-up being one of the most time consuming parts of the modeling process mostly due to the fact that resource for the cockpit isn’t always as good as it is on the exterior, and since the cockpit of the car is what you will see most of the time while racing, more time is spent trying to make it as convincing as possible. As artists, we cursed the day that they made the cameras inside the cars more adjustable. There was a time when we could leave out parts that weren’t visible from a fixed point of view that now, well, aren’t always as hidden. Advancing technology isn’t always your friend.

Some of the first cars we built used separate sets of lower resolution textures for the exterior cockpit (seen in replays) and much higher resolution textures for the driver’s view. We have since changed the modeling process so that we can make use of those same higher resolution textures for the exterior view as well. This not only gives us much better visuals, but it uses less texture space and also speeds up the texturing process. Anything that speeds up Brian Simpson is bordering on miraculous. (smile)

Well, that about wraps up this blog post. While I could write on and on about creating the damage models, LODS (levels of detail) and other mind-numbing things, I think it’s time I get back to work on what really matters: getting this Mustang FR500s completed. In the future I hope to find a ghost writer to do these for me, but should that not happen, well, there is always caffeine.

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great story, not boring at all.. guess that means i’m CAR CRAZY too.. haha

Randy R
February 17th, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Definitely not boring. Your in the company of other chronics. Things like damage models and poly budgets make for a great read. 🙂

Thanks for the post!

Kevin K
February 17th, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Great post John – love those screenshots too.

Sam Hazim
February 17th, 2010 at 5:35 pm

hey John, this post showed up on my facebook news feed, and your name jumped out pretty easily 🙂 Hope all is well and glad to see that you’re still having fun.

Josh O’Brien
February 17th, 2010 at 6:07 pm

it’s really nice to have this blog written by the staff!
definitely it’s not boring (and you know it!) 🙂

i would like to ask if you (or someone else) can write
more about the damage model. where we are now
and where you’re heading your efforts.

thanks a lot, John!

Alexandre Martini
February 17th, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Fantastic post. Thank you so much.

Arthur Hermont
February 17th, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Yes, we want a blog about damage modelling please 🙂

Samu Snabb
February 17th, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Hey Josh, long time no speak. Holler at me sometime on AIM. We can catch up.

Thanks for the kind words guys. Im taking notes and it looks like damage modeling will make it somewhere in my next venture into blogdom. 🙂

February 17th, 2010 at 11:42 pm

You did good john for your first article keep it up and cant wait for your next one.

Troy H
February 17th, 2010 at 11:55 pm

great work john. who dat

February 18th, 2010 at 12:29 am

Great blog John and congrats on the Saints Superbowl. That was impressive!

Lincoln Miner
February 18th, 2010 at 1:08 am

Don’t model the tires like that.
You should only model the rims and let the simulator model de tires and physics like bending rubber in high load corners. I hope for this day in iracing

February 18th, 2010 at 5:57 am

Great blog, John! As an experienced modeller, what advice would you give to someone interested in 3D modelling as a hobby? Are there any educational materials you can recommend? I know that 3DS Max is the defacto standard, but could someone learn the basics using Blender, for example?

Julio C. Chacon
February 18th, 2010 at 11:37 am

When I first started I luckily knew some people that were able to answer my every question (and I had lots)
But, a book I picked up early on really did help me a lot.


It is very well written and explains things in a very understandable manner. While its not cars, it gave me a great start.

As far as if you could learn using Blender or some other modeling software, Im sure you could get some of the basics, but I dont know how well it transfers over. Ive honestly only used Max. Good luck.

February 21st, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Check out academic versions of 3ds max, you can get max for 13 months for $90 if you qualify. (Or if you have a student friend who wants to help you out.) Also, http://students.autodesk.com/ has some really incredible offers for students, such as free software. Looks rad, makes me want to go back to school 🙂

February 22nd, 2010 at 3:02 pm

ya me to bro i liked the part where you had to make your on car and i had fun doing that………..

February 23rd, 2010 at 7:29 am

Are you the John Hughs that owned and raced a Lotus in 1982 -1985 with W.H.R.R.I in Southfield, MI?

March 15th, 2010 at 6:21 am

Sorry Fay, I am not. Ive pretty much been in South Mississippi all of my life. But it sounds like it would have been fun to swap shoes with him for a day. 🙂

March 15th, 2010 at 9:01 am

Sounds like fun. Now get back to work!

March 18th, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Very impressive article. Cool that you were drawing cars on paper for people like me waaaay back in the day – oh and letting me almost run one of your cars through a store front window when you tried to teach me how to drive a standard! lol Good times!

DeAnna Taylor-Welch
April 26th, 2010 at 11:34 am

yeah i guess i love cars to but i mostly like to draw and then paint the costom body paint job and then working on the engine because my grandpa has a 72′ mazda.

April 29th, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I didn’t need any caffeine at all!! Boring? Not at all! Very interesting. At least now I have an understanding as to what go’s into creating the iRacing car skins. I always thought to myself, “with today’s technology, why can’t they make the COT completely realistic?” Well, now I know. I’m just happy to have a guy like you doing this tedious work for all us die-hard iRacers to enjoy. iRacing is as real as it gets. Thanks for the story, without it, I’d still be wondering why it didn’t look more like video. Ahhh, framerate.

Mike Morency
June 2nd, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Great Read. I wish I had the software to do things like that. I’ve always loved the idea of creating 3-D computer models. Keep up the Great work!

Sean Ronsen
June 11th, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Awesome read John, as a fellow sim painter I am always amazed at the creativity that I see every day in the showroom forums. I have that desire and passion to open up my Photoshop CS2 and just play around with ideas that roll around in my head, then test those ideas by looking at your creation in the sim. Our creations would never make it without the awesome models you and your team have provided. I take my had off to you and your development team here at iRacing… awesome stuff!! John, can you give us an idea when the Williams F1 model will be released? I have been a big fan of the open wheel models and have played around with 3DS Max, used it allot for the champ car mod for rFactor.

Doyle (Zoll360) Lowrance
June 13th, 2010 at 9:08 am

I’m back! yeah! this is a super cool!

registry cleaner
June 14th, 2010 at 8:12 pm

am i allowed to take a vehicle insurance firm to small claims court? The insurance supplier refused my claim, (I would take the at fault driver to small claims on the other hand I’ve got no address to serve them or send a requirement letter). The additional driver was at fault but his insurer claims there can be a difference in our claims so that they have to take the word of their insured vs. my word. There’s no doubt that they acted in lousy trust and did not accomplish a proper investigation would this certainly be a valid claim in small claims court? I must have some to blame drivers insurance carrier (not my own) to small claims for your damages to my car.

January 2nd, 2011 at 8:57 am


I had the same situation. I would hope you have a police report. You can take the other driver to court. If you have the police report, which you can pick up from the police, you should be able to file a small claims court against them, That is what I had to do in my accident. The police report was the evidence proving that I was not at fault. Definetely possible. I won, without a lawyer, and the guy I sued even had a lawyer with him provided by the insurance company. I talked to the lawyer, he was angry that he was sent so far for a case he knew he was going to lose

January 8th, 2011 at 1:20 am

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