The art of concealment

Allowing Audi prototypes to hide in plain sight.

A source of great frustration to professional car spotters, Audi has elevated designing prototype camouflage to a high art form.

18 August, 2020

It’s not just the world’s big stars and celebrities who so often fall prey to the long lenses of the paparazzi. Car makers too have long been followed, spied upon and photographed as they’ve been going through the long and arduous process of developing a new model, such is the voracious appetite of automotive magazines and websites around the globe.

Putting on a disguise has become just as commonplace for automotive manufacturers as it has for the celebrities, but where a baseball cap and dark glasses will do the trick for the human form, concealing the final shape and even dimensions of a new car requires a gust deal more thought and effort.

At Audi, concealing or camouflaging new and prototype models has become something of an art form, with the brand going to great lengths to design camouflage that not just conceals many of the design elements, but reveals enough to whet the appetite of professional spotters and car enthusiasts alike.

Marco dos Santos is one such Audi designer tasked with coming up with new ‘cammo’ designs as the brand produces and tests its new models. The idea, says dos Santos, is to reveal some elements while withholding the whole, giving a taste of what is to come but without spoiling the ultimate international reveal of the finished vehicle.

Where some manufacturers used to hide new models under something resembling bulky automotive body armour, Audi develops camouflage to suit each new vehicle, with some examples have become almost famous in their own right.

At Audi, concealing or camouflaging new and prototype models has become something of an art form

Audi designer Marco dos Santos.

Like military camouflage, the idea is to break up the lines, and to that the use of black and white is particularly effective

Like military camouflage, the idea is to break up the lines, and to that end Marco says that the use of black and white are particularly effective. Especially gloss white which tends to bounce light and make it harder to see detail, so that in a design like that of the recently revealed Audi A3 Sportback, designers were able to show some features while obscuring others. The bonnet of the disguised A3 Sportback demonstrates how the matt black for example allows some detail to be shown, while on the other side of the bonnet, the use of gloss white conceals it – showing some detail but not the whole.

‘Misleading the eye’ or creating shapes and designs that lead the eye in one direction where the tell tale design elements exists in another direction is an art.

With a distinctive ‘disguise livery’ like that used so extensively on the Audi e-tron prototype during its vast worldwide testing program, careful thought went into what would be visible to the world up until the vehicle’s international launch. The significance of the brand’s first all-electric series production model was not lost on the designers and in the end, the vehicle’s very name and logo ‘e-tron’ ‘ was taken and ‘electrified’ says dos Santos and then ‘spread all over the body’. The effect, particularly when combined with fluoro paint was dramatic and memorable.

Others too have stood out as works of art in their own right, like the Red Bull inspired livery of the e-tron quattro prototype when it took on the ‘Streif’ ski run in Austria with Mattias Ekström at the wheel. Or when the Audi A8 made one of its first public appearances as part of the Marvel Spider Man: Homecoming premiere, where a spider web design was used all over the flagship model to fit with the theme of the occasion as well as carry out its intended function. 

A lot goes into each design says dos Santos, and after the initial drawings have been completed and a mockup produced using photoshop, it ultimately comes down to a great deal of trial and error actually applying the design to the actual car. 

Does it show too much? Does it give a sense of the style without ruining the final reveal? What may have looked appropriate on the page or the screen simply doesn’t work when applied to a three dimensional vehicle.

“It’s a lot of hands on work and very much like creating a tailor-made suit,” says Marco dos Santos of the final ‘fitting’ required to get the design to work with the new car.

And of course, it’s got to look good and compliment the shape underneath. After all, images of this interim livery are going to be captured and beamed around the world no matter how remote the testing location. If you’re going to be in disguise, you want it to be a good disguise and keep the press and the enthusiasts guessing as to what exactly lies beneath.

“It’s a lot of hands on work and very much like creating a tailor-made suit”