The challenge of creating a color that instinctively looks beautiful
This series gives a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the all-new CX-5 and introduces designers and engineers who played a key role in the process. In this fifth installment, we meet three members of the task group responsible for the new Soul Red Crystal body color.
Behind the lustrous transparency of this new red is a development team dedicated to the pursuit of the perfect color.
What the designer showed the team was a bright-ruby drinking glass
Keiichi Okamoto, a creative design expert, played a key role in the development of Soul Red Premium Metallic and Machine Gray Premium Metallic, two colors that symbolize KODO design.
Keiichi Okamoto, Color Designer
“I wanted to create the world’s most beautiful red, a color that people would viscerally feel was beautiful and that would immediately grab their attention. The CX-5 represents an evolution of the concept of ‘less is more’ that does not rely on character lines. This required a new red that would beautifully highlight the exquisite transitions in the body’s surfaces.”
In this belief, Okamoto put together a task team comprising people from development and production along with representatives of suppliers. The team then set out to develop a new version of Soul Red.
In developing the new Soul Red Crystal, Okamoto presented team members with three verbal images describing what he felt was required of the new color. First, bright highlights bursting with powerful energy like flowing magma. Next, transparent shadows with depth and clarity. And finally, a lustrous shine exhibiting detail and hardness.
But these descriptions were not enough for the team to grasp the image of the ideal color that Okamoto was aiming to create. To help illustrate what he had in mind, he showed them a bright ruby-colored drinking glass.
“I want a deep shade of red like the translucent red of rubies or of red glass,” said Okamoto.
‘Less is more’ proves true for color as well
The team members puzzled over Okamoto’s description before deciding that the only thing to do was to convert his vision and sensibilities into numerical values.
Takakazu Yamane of the testing and research department decided the best way to achieve this was with a high-precision optical measuring device designed to detect minerals in the earth’s crust from satellites. Although not usually used in color development, he got hold of the equipment right away.
Takakazu Yamane, Principal Engineer
Using this instrument, Yamane measured the ruby-colored glass and other objects representing the ideal color at the same place and from the same position and angle as Okamoto’s eyes, analyzed the relationship between the light spectrum and what Okamoto viewed and his response to it, and converted the results into numerical data on the red they should be aiming for.
“I essentially translated Okamoto’s vision of the perfect red into numerical values,” says Yamane. This detailed analysis enabled the team to match the characteristics of the ideal color to the way people actually perceive colors.
Analysis using the high-precision optical measuring instrument
There are many kinds of red.
When looking at a clear, deep red, most people sense a slight blue tone. But the team found with their optical measuring device that the color contains no blue pigment at all. The blue tone people perceived was no more than an illusion. Conversely, they found that other colors mixed with the red were perceived as muddiness. The testing and analysis thus led the team to conclude that they could not reach their goal by mixing colors to create their ideal. Rather, the key was to work to achieve as pure a red as possible.
“When you’re pursuing the essence, there’s no room for superfluous elements,” Okamoto said. "‘Less is more’ proves true for color as well.”
Aiming for the world’s best red with Japanese technologies
At this stage, Koji Teramoto of the paint technology group began development work for mass production.
Koji Teramoto, painting & planting engineering group
The greatest challenge he faced was how to formulate the color so it could be applied in three coats using Mazda’s environmentally friendly Aqua-tech painting system.
Machine Gray has a black absorption layer below the reflective layer in which high-brightness aluminum flakes lie flat. Letting the jet-black pigment beneath show through the gaps between the flakes creates a lustrous metallic look with high-contrast shadows.
Coat structure of Machine Gray (left) and a body panel (right)
The team could have used a similar technique to create their ideal red with luster and clear depths by applying a translucent red coating over reflective and absorptive layers.
But the final clear top coat would mean a total of four layers. This would require two passes down the paint line and increased environment impact, something the team was determined to avoid.
They came up with the innovative solution of combining reflection and absorption in a single layer, achieved by mixing light-absorbing flakes in with the high-brightness aluminum flakes to create a deeper hue.
Coat structure of Soul Red Crystal
The team carefully adjusted the shape and size of the aluminum flakes to achieve a visual texture resembling metal polished by a master craftsmen.
“The smallest particle the human eye can perceive from a distance of approximately 30 cm is about 25 microns. We tried to make the flakes imperceptible, by using flakes of 12 to 15 microns,” said Teramoto.
Sample color panels during development
The single-minded commitment and passion each team member devoted to the project led to a variety of new techniques and a new red with a rare translucent quality. The team included people from outside suppliers and Teramoto talked about how he shared his passion for the project.
A meeting of the task group including outside suppliers
“We invited them to join us in using Japanese technology to create the world’s best red color,” he said. “I talked about this with them on a number of occasions. As they are also involved in monotsukuri, I was sure they’d understand.”
This illustrates the passion shared by every member of the team as they tackled the challenge of creating a new color to symbolize KODO design.
Part 6 of this series will focus on “sub-design” of the all-new CX-5. The process of sub-design involves building beauty into places that go mostly unseen, such as the door openings and inside of the tire house.