This is a topic I tend to repeat each year, though for a good reason. A designer who has no idea about the methods of production tend to produce expensive schlock.
That may sound a bit harsh to say, but sadly that’s a reality in many ways. A designer can be whoever, no matter the education, experience or overall knowledge of things at hand. There are many designers, very few master craftsmen with design as their main tool. What ultimately distinguish the two is application of knowledge. Experience can be argued to be a necessary element, but I would argue it is inherently required for a higher class designer.
To use an example from a product design side, customer works are good ones how things just sorta fall apart the moment you get an A4 in your hands with scribbled lines with no cohesion to them. Certainly it makes sense to the customer who drew it, but for someone who has make their design it may as well be Hebrew. A clean presentation of your design with all the necessary information is required.
While that’s enough for a random customer that just pops into your ‘shop and asks if you can make him a steel box, things are different in proper industrial environment. A designer who does not understand the methods and tools used to make their design a reality is, to be frank, out of his league. It’s easy to draw a box and send it forwards without a second though, 3D modelling programs make these things far too easy. However, the moment the worker gets the paper and has to create said box, questions arise. Will it be made from one sheet, with corners bent up and welded shut? Are all the sides separate pieces that need to be cut separately and then welded? Both of these are valid approaches, though only the other saves time, is effective and does not require excessive work put in. Bending would be the better answer here, despite it introducing rounded corners to the product. It’s faster and more material effective, saving money.
An overtly complex design that does not consider production quite literally costs money by forcing more work hours elsewhere in the machine. We can thank the engineers and mathematicians who have to calculate load bearings that keep designers’ “art” in check. You wouldn’t believe the sort of trailer designs I’ve seen.
Let’s apply this to mecha design in a way. Assume that we’ve given a task to sketch up some robot a company were to sell in limited quantities. The things we’d like to take into account in this scenario would be the relative simplicity of the moulds. This being a limited production, minimising production costs will carry long away. The more a mould gets used, the “cheaper” it is on the long run. For a limited production we need to be aware the amount of use the mould get. We can reduce the complexity of the mould by eliminating most, if not all, escape corners from the shapes. While this first seems easy, it’s something that can challenge even a veteran. We’d need to consider the spruces and their setting, and if we could re-use something the company has already produced, the better. Colour of the plastic used is a major factor as well, as certain colours and combination cost different amounts. The plastic itself needs heavy consideration, as not all plastics are equal when it comes to models.
To compare Bandai and Kotobukiya, there are numerous quality differences in both mould designs and used plastics, something that Bandai has fair few decades under their belt now. Revell, another major plastic model company, has seen little progress in how they create their kits for some thirty years now. Their injection kit technology more or less has simply risen in quality while keeping most moulds the same. Bandai’s approach is very much different, where they constantly re-engineer their models for modern age, as Gunpla is expected to be very poseable to the same extent as the robots in the cartoons. Not only that, but the emphasize on creating new moulds when necessary seems to be on the table with them, though old moulds will see lots of use whenever possible. That is not to say that Revell is a lesser company than Bandai when it comes to models. They’re simply playing different audience. One wants more accurate injections kits for vehicles and such, while the other concentrates on wanting to build their own toys.
All that said, in fiction this of course doesn’t matter, if there is no reason. Nevertheless, considering how most if not all series tend to get merch of their in some way, giving a thought how something could be done would be highly recommended. Even when CNC machines tend to be able to do anything nowadays, and 3D printing is becoming a more common thing by the year, ultimately overtly complex design only yield trouble.
The reason many 1970’s mecha look dead simple and lacking in bells and whistles compared to modern designs is because the production methods have changed and evolved. We are at a point, when it comes to models and such, that we can produce stupidly complex designs at a relatively low price.
However, that’s not the exact same tale everywhere. While productions methods do continue constantly, harsher limitations than what we have in plastic model industry are till in place. We can’t 3D print cards, for example. Foundries still need to produce the raw materials that can be put into use. There would be no reason to build a car’s frame by machining it from a solid block of steel or use a mould to make it whole. The best option still is to make it from bits and pieces shapen into proper form, then welded together.
As for character designs, well, that’s probably something I shouldn’t dabble into outside mentioning how excessive detail does not make a good design.
I wish you a merry Christmas, and hopefully we’ll back on schedule next Friday.