Snow Helmet, Digital Workflow

Not exactly the latest, snow sports production work from 2012. Ski and snowboard crossover helmet. Polycarbonate thermoformed in-molded shell with BOA adjustment system.

This was the evolution of the previous model helmet that followed a clay-to-digital workflow. Clay sculpting of the prototype helmet shapes had been an integral part of sports helmet development. Although surfacing tools had been in place for a decade at least, sports companies did not trust them 100% yet, especially for helmets where very subtle variations are fretted over, akin to phrenology. Confidence in the fidelity of the surfaces throughout the previous hybrid workflow, digital-to-clay-to-scan-back-to-digital, allowed us to set this following model up differently.

Lightweight foam models were cut and others 3D printed to be fit-tested and matched with goggles during the confirmation stages.

This helmet model development was digitally based from the start, specifically because of the tools and workflow made possible by Rhino.

The overall volume was determined and the sketch work began. This method was to sketch on faded printouts and allow for re-importation, 1:1 scaling of the features.

One developed personal approach is the draw construction lines, a project-specific grid on the 3D, and use that as an assist for accurate 3D vent or feature sketching in non-planar views. The orthographic top and side views do not communicate an accurate impression due to curvature and perspective.

Once a vent design was selected, roughed into the CAD shape and then the 3D renders painted over to maintain a sketch mindset without sweating the finer surface details during review.

On to a more detailed 3D and renders, keeping the clay look initially.

And then the deep dive into the production surfacing, as minimal as possible given the details and transitions, molding considerations, venting and hardware, and fit system integration. Finally, after the first tooling test confirmation, the creation of different sizes/headforms maintaining foam thicknesses and fixed hardware constraints.


Nice. Love seeing process. Has the process flow changed since then? Do you ever go back to clay?

I love this traditional workflow of sketching over printouts. And overall project process is great. Thank you for sharing


Very nice. Thanks for sharing all of the iterations and refinement.

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One of my very first professional ID projects was a snow sports helmet. I also was learning Pro/D at the same time. Although we had a few ‘checks’ with the real world mainly for liner fit, our first look at what I had surfaced revealed that I had made a XXXL size. This was manifest in a very expensive (at the time) SLA model. I worked for free for a week or two.

Having the reference surfaces to start with (and I assume composite scans of competitors also overlaid) must have been a great help. Nice to see this whole process in detail. Cheers

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I loved the process of working with clay. Sadly this was the end of that era for helmets for me. Direct 3D modeling was proven and the ability to print a proof across the world on a 3D printer was too convenient and streamlined the process.

At the end of the clay process, the previous helmet, I had the controls and back and forth to maintain thickness, orientation, shape verification with templates inside and outside.

Some CNC cut templates that registered the headform ( donor known helmet ) and guided a CAD shape model into clay. Some rough starting point images below.

The thickness of the foam was precisely monitored throughout by this stage of helmet manufacturing, all of the testing standards lines, goggle fit and venting are built in CAD and drove the shaping, including factoring in the strap anchors, etc. There were a lot more uncertainties 10 - 15 years ago that would have to be fixed by the factories after testing, which often conflicted with the vision.


It’s so refreshing to see the photos of the dirty process of making real things vs. the shiny renderings of stuff that never will exist that is so prevalent on social these days…

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I spent the past few years at a helmet brand and watched their physical to digital process evolve significantly. For a long time prior their process was normally:

  1. 2D sketch, but only if the designer wanted to and/or felt it was helpful. Some of the more seasoned designers jumped straight to 3D sketching.
  2. 3D sketch as ~50% scale yellow foam models, which we called “eggs.” It was unreal how quickly some people could crank these out.
  3. Translate the chosen foam egg to full scale clay, built around a physical head form.
  4. Translate the full scale clay to digital, production-level surfacing.

This was all well and good, but that Step 3 was always a doozy. It can be extremely frustrating and time consuming to rebuild and rescale a design simply by eyeballing it, and there was a ton of time wasted wrestling with the initial full scale clay to get it to look like the chosen egg. The team had tried many of the scaling techniques used in automotive modeling, but those could only do so much on such a small object (relative to a car) before the designers had to revert back to simply scaling by feel.

Shortly after I arrived, however, the team developed an accurate and efficient 3D scanning process and became so skilled with the yellow foams eggs (which were at that point were first being CNC milled as slightly oversized blanks to save time) that they started tweaking the full scale clay process. It went from a 100% hand model to a hybrid physical-digital process of scanning the chosen egg, scaling it up, tweaking the inner surfaces to fit a digital head form, 3D printing at full size, and refining by hand with bondo. These models could be worked with on and off a head form, handed over to the engineering team much sooner than before, and were even accurate enough to fit on real people by adding production liners and fit systems from other helmets.

Final digital surfacing still had to be created from there, but even that process was sped up significantly by the accuracy of these hybrid models. All in all it was a drastic uptick in process efficiency.


I think I know some of the people in your #2 and they were real artists with that medium and industry. Why would they prefer 50% scale models to full size?

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:rofl: couldn’t help it.

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It’s just significantly faster and less resource intensive working at that scale and in that material than at full scale clay. Just like a 2D sketch, you can get away with a certain roughness or lack of complete detail and refinement at small scale foam that you just can’t at full scale clay. The best of the yellow foam carvers could crank out a complete set of ideation concepts in less than a week whereas the same number of concepts in full scale clay would probably take a month or more.

The foam era was such a critical period of ID form dev. history.
Glad that it is done and dusted. :rofl:

(other than reducing breathing problems)

If you aren’t blowing your nose with pink dust coming out are you even a designer?

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I love the smell of warm Chavant clay in the morning, smells like creativity.

Never did the foam. The most inspiring design show I have ever seen was “This Side Up” in 2007 in Zurich. Cardboard models and process from Konstantin Grcic.

Physical modelling has a place, frequent 3D printing fills a lot of this.