Harald Belker is a force of nature in the area of automotive design with a list of design credits that include the Smart, the Batmobile for the Warner Bros. Batman and Robin film, and the futuristic cars of Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. He has over 30 movies to his credit, including vehicle design for Armageddon, Inspector Gadget, Cat in the Hat, Tron Legacy and Total Recall 2012. In this new interview series, we discussed the influence of science-fiction movies on the future of mobility.
Dear Harald, you have been designing Cars for famous blockbusters such as Batman & Robin or Minority Report. What are the main differences in movie cars and real cars for our everyday life?
The main difference is in mass production. Movie cars are story driven and look a certain way; they do outrages things from time to time. Cars that are mass produced need to meet high safety standards and consumer concerns. Designing a movie car takes weeks, because that is all the time they will give you. In production, you have several months with lots of moving details at a time until the final product is perfect and everybody from management has provided their input! For movie cars, depending how involved the director/ Regisseur is, it can be all up to the single designer.
You are also working as an automotive and product designer: What elements known from fiction movies will soon be implemented in our own cars? To what extend is fiction influencing reality?
One of my biggest projects was Minority Report. In this version of the future, we spent a great deal of time on the future of mobility; self-driving cars and vehicles. Sound familiar today? The Meg-Lev system was developed to show how an Inclosed computer driven traffic system could work. Not necessarily going up and down of buildings, but how traffic is controlled, how people who would not get into a bus could take advantage of mass transit, but get their own capsule to drive them around.
If we get self driving cars one day, this could eliminate parking on the street or waiting at long traffic lights. All will be directed by software and a system that would allow us to use cars much more efficiently when being driven around town.
Disruption is happening rapidly in the mobility field. Has your daily work as an automotive designer changed a lot during the recent years due to new innovative solutions in the mobility world?
Not really. My work is to design cool shapes for different cars/toys or products. I work with people who work on new innovations in technology, but they need me to just make it look great.
Regarding car design: Experts assume that autonomous driving will highly affect the design and usability of modern vehicles: how do you think autonomous cars will look like inside and out?
Once we cross the threshold of being 100% autonomous, cars will not have to look like the cars of today. We might go back in time to make them look like the original horse carriages. It will be about the people sitting comfortably. All the things that deal with driving it will go away. Impact zones will not be an issue anymore because the human error has been taken out of the equation. The greatest thing will be that a vehicle requested for your specific need will show up right at your door when ordered on your smart device; if it is a single seater or four seater, if you need to transport large objects that require a truck bed, etc.
You have also worked with Anki, one of the exhibitors at New Mobility Word, showcasing the intelligent, action race game Anki OVERDRIVE, which is connecting online and offline. How did you work together with this innovative robotics and AI company?
I was hired to design their miniature robotic cars to look unique, slick, and real like today’s cars or even vehicles that can be possible in the near-future. There is still a great emotional bond for kids and adults to play with cool looking cars. The amazing robotics technology, introduced by Anki, was the reason for its success. The look of the cars was the eye candy. Working together with Anki was nothing short of being great. At any time, the excitement for the product was contagious and pushed me to make each car better than the previous.
About Harald Belker
Harald Belker has been involved in the design field for over 27 years. After graduating with honors from the Art Center College of Design, Belker fell into the dream design job of designing cars for Porsche. From Porsche, Belker then moved to another iconic automotive company at Mercedes Benz Advanced Design in California, where he worked on the Mercedes Smart Car as well as the ‘S’ and ‘M’ class models.
Though Belker’s early work centered on the design of cars, he gained a taste for entertainment design when he was offered the opportunity to design the Batmobile for the Batman and Robin movie. A glance at Belker’s body of work shows a great range of styles.
He is head of industrial design at Anki,Inc., a consumer robotics start up company located in San Francisco. The challenge to design Race-cars for a company that was on the cutting edge of innovation was for him the perfect marriage of style and technology.