Mark Trostle — Head of SRT, Viper, Mopar and Motorsports Design — is the chief judge of the Detroit Autorama Design Competition. It was the design contest at the Detroit Autorama that stoked his interest back in the 1980s, and he’s paying it forward by resurrecting that contest nationwide for high-school automotive artists. He gives us a taste of what winning the contest did for his career, and provides some advice for potential contestants to think about in drawing their own entires.
In the late 1980s, Mark Trostle did what a lot of car people did: Instead of paying attention in class, he was drawing cars in the back of his notebook. Like the class clown that ends up starring in a Hollywood blockbuster, Mark Trostle took a habit that a lot of teachers and counselors criticized, and turned it into a career designing some of the greatest cars on the entire planet.
Years later, Trostle is responsible for the design of all of the supercars that SRT builds, from the Viper to the unique design elements that allowed the 2015 Dodge Charger Hellcat to punch a hole in the air at a certified 204 miles per hour.
But back in those days, Trostle was just a kid in high school, sketching car designs in his text books. “When people think about automotive design,” he says today, “they always think about engineering. They never think about the artists who style cars.”
When he told his high school guidance counselor that he was interested in automotive design, she almost talked him out of it. “Oh, you don’t have the math grades for that,” she said, assuming that Trostle wanted to be an engineer, rather than an artist.
It’s a familiar story: Bored kid in high school finds that one teacher that recognizes some bit of potential, and points him off in the right direction. Movies have been made about it. For Mark Trostle, that teacher was Richard Saunders, his art teacher, who had spent time as a clay modeler at General Motors.
Mr. Saunders told Trostle about the Autorama competition and encouraged him to enter.
“It was the first competition I had entered and the only one. I know other guys in my art class entered. I wanted to win,” Trostle says.
On November 15, 1987, Mark put pen to paper to draw this car. He drew it in a day, and submitted it with hardly a thought that he’d win the $1,500 scholarship to the Center for Creative Studies, the contest’s grand prize that year.
“They called on a Saturday morning and told me I won,” he says. “I’m like, are you kidding? Then it was, wow, this is for real. It really raised the bar and helped set into play my whole career.”
After he won the contest, he paid close attention to the kids that won it after him, but by the very early 1990s, the Autorama quit holding it. “I put it on my bucket list,” Trostle says, to re-establish the contest for high school students in the modern era.
Three years ago, he began talking with the Detroit Autorama, asking for some space to hold the contest. That first year, the contest was limited to just schools in the city of Detroit. “We had modest enthusiasm, and it was a little tough to get the word out,” he says. For last year’s contest, the pool of students expanded to anyone in Michigan.
The overall winner from last year, Alex Fischer, from Stoney Creek High School in Rochester, Michigan, is currently enrolled in the Transportation Design program at the Center for Creative Studies.
Ninth grade first place winner Branden Taylor of Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School, Detroit, Mich.
Twelfth grade second place winner SooJin Lim of Troy High School, Troy, Mich.
“This year, we wanted to go big, so we took it nationwide,” Trostle says. The contest offers high school students a $60,000 scholarship to the Center for Creative Studies, where Mark Trostle and Senior Vice President of Design Ralph Gilles honed their craft.
The deadline for entries at Chrysler Group’s Product Design Office is Jan. 23, 2015.
When Trostle looks at the design he submitted in 1987, he laughs. “Compared to what I did later, it’s pretty bad.”
So we asked him if he had any advice or suggestions for high-school artists to make their drawings stand out:
“I think cars and the human body are two of the most difficult things to draw because they’re so proportionally sensitive,” he says. “As designers, we like to cheat with bigger wheels, smaller roofs, larger overhangs, but it’s important to keep the car’s proportions in mind and really capture the essence of a car.”
Part of the thing that gives some cars their visceral appeal to us as humans is that we recognize them as almost human forms. “Try to show the face of a vehicle,” he adds. “Don’t just think about a side profile.”
Finally, Trostle suggests that color is a vital component to any automotive design. “Use color to sell your theme,” he says. “You want your sketch to pop off the wall.”
For more information on the contest, visit www.Facebook.com/DriveforDesign.