Back in earlier years, car companies had only to worry about professional spy photographers capturing images of their next model. The occasions when ordinary members of the public happened to spot and know what they were seeing were few and usually, they saw but could not record anything. The cameraphone changed all that and with it also came social media which had an image up within seconds and seen around the world within minutes.
Furthermore, with sophisticated editing software, it was also possible to ‘strip away’ simple camouflage like the black tape that was commonly used. Even in earlier days, some of the pros would try to remove camouflage and then sell their pictures to magazines as ‘scoop pictures’.
More sophisticated camouflage created
So for the carmakers, especially those in the R&D department which had to conduct tests in public areas, camouflaging prototypes required even more sophisticated approaches. Working with the design studio, they have come up with wraps with mind-bending patterns, squiggles, and swirls which cover almost every part of the vehicle except things like the front and rear lights which must be visible to other road-users for safety reasons.
The aim of these patterns is to confuse the eye and prevent industry spies from being able to focus on the vehicle’s features. While a general idea of the shape may be discernible even with the camouflage, some key elements like the design of the grille or the actual shape of side windows are still hidden.
Ford’s latest camouflage, inspired by the block pattern on the Bronco R Baja racer as well as mountain ranges, uses hundreds of blue, black, and white blocks in a pixelated pattern to break up the appearance of the underlying shape of the vehicle while it’s still under development.
The camouflage is being used on the next generation of the Ford Ranger at the moment. Designed by a team at Ford’s Design Centre in Melbourne, Australia, this camouflage pattern creates an optical illusion that makes it difficult to pick out exterior features in sunlight, while a reflective element helps hide the vehicle’s shape at night.
“We were asked to develop a camouflage that allowed you to clearly see that this is the new Ranger but not see it at the same time,” said Leigh Cosentino, Design Manager at Ford Australia. “The inspiration originally came from the Baja livery Ford has been using; as I’m a huge fan of motorsport it’s hard for me not to be obsessed with machinery like that,” added Lee Imrie, the Ford Australia designer who developed the successful pattern.
Not usual type of camouflage
According to Cosentino, the project was about more than just disguising key features in the sheet metal. “We wanted the design to be dynamic and exciting and build anticipation towards the reveal of next Ranger without looking like a derivative of military camouflage,” he said.
The design is dense at the bottom and then the pattern becomes scattered towards the roof. It ends up being a good camouflage, is visually exciting but also gives the pattern a sense of movement. It’s not the usual static type of camouflage.
“There’s no linework on this camo that aligns with anything on the exterior and that means you can’t see volume or shape or lines in the vehicle,” added Imrie. “My intention with this design was to scatter your eye so that you can’t focus on a specific line; and the colour patching adds to that effect.”
But there’s more to the pattern than just scattering your eye. While Imrie said he based the pattern on the Bronco R racer, he also took inspiration from the Next-Generation Ranger itself. “I started with squares rotated at 45 degrees, and scattered them throughout the page, attempting to make a reoccurring silhouette of a mountain top landscape which echoed the lifestyle orientation of the Next-Generation Ranger. When you stand back, it has a clear connection to a digitised military camouflage but with a connection to nature,” Imrie said.
The digitised pattern took the team 2 months to develop and test. It’s printed onto vinyl and applied in 2 stages taking up to two days to apply. The full-vehicle base layer contains the blue, black, and white blocks and is applied in the same way a regular wrap is. The second, reflective ‘layer’ consists of up to one hundred individual reflective elements hand placed on the vehicle.
If you’re wondering when the new Ranger will be seen without all the camouflage, Ford has confirmed that it will be this coming November 24.