Down the idyllic country lanes of Ascot in the Spring sunshine there is a workshop undertaking all the projects too unique for anyone else to possibly specialise in.
Working from a reconditioned village shop-cum-semi-detached house in the village of Sunningdale, model building firm Atom exists amongst a labyrinth of corridors and outer buildings that stretch into a warren of rooms each active with the types of projects that you always wondered where they stemmed from.
The variety of projects is astounding; no job is too big (a 30-foot spinnaker installation for the Chelsea Flower Show), too small (resizing rubber straps for a shampoo bottle holder), or too bizarre (constructing a working prototype of a machine to measure the slippiness of a supermarket floor).
“That’s one of our strengths,” explains managing director Peter Day. “We work with toy development, sculpting, packaging, prototyping, the CAD side of things, vacuum forming and stereolithography. A lot of our stuff is unique as it’s not your average model making. It’s stretching the boundaries a bit.”
The quality of the end product is key; with the majority of the models built by hand, noticeable from the seated workers all busy sanding and adding detail to their work. “Our stance is more on the engineering side,” explains Peter. “Our main strength is the variety and the breadth of skills that we have in the one company.” “We don’t necessarily do it all in house, but with our experience we have the contacts of well-tried contractors.
“What makes us different from the bureaux that work with SLA machines, is that we can do all that, and spray it all, but on top of that develop the PCBs [printed circuit board for toys and interactive models] and take the product development further. We can give them a working model.”
Atom is frequently approached to produce large-scale models and displays for products or store fronts. The recent Christmas display at London’s Selfridges of giant red fragmented baubles cascading through the atrium of the store were produced here, requiring a number of different processes to achieve the completed finish.
The product of a commissioned artist, Atom worked to create the full scenario from sketches and a miniaturised model. “They can come with a pencil sketch and we can create the CAD data, we also have the collective experience to know the manufacturing techniques and limitations and can steer them in the right direction.”
MUSIC WITH WINGS ON IT
As brazen, individual and unique as design gets, the Nokia Music Almighty competition fielded a shortlist of bizarre and innovative designs, all of which had to be somehow built.
Using the online design ‘palette’ on Nokia’s web site designers were invited to create their own set of headphones inspired by a music track based on standard Nokia Bluetooth headsets.
Web visitors were asked to vote for their favourites before the winners were selected by a panel of design industry judges and musicians including Felix Buxton from Basement Jaxx and Dick Powell of Seymourpowell. The five winning designs were then given to Atom to produce as working prototypes adhering as closely as possible to the original design concept.
“All we had was a sketch,” reveals Peter. “We worked directly from the visuals and everything else, all the engineering inside it, making it work and fitting the components, making it strong enough we needed to calculate ourselves while keeping it within the visual aspects of what they’d designed in the first place.
“The headsets involve quite a few different skills, there’s the drawing it up in CAD and then a few different materials. A lot of what we do is totally unique and has never been done before.”
A singular process for a set of entirely one-off designs, drawing inspiration from tracks as varied as ‘Flying without Wings’ by R Kelly, ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson, and a seriously slick design with Daft Punk’s ‘Robot Rock’ behind its angled form.
“It was a challenge,” divulges Peter. “In the instance of the ‘dove wings’, we had to find a place to supply the wings and get the right ones for the size and fit for the model, but also making sure that all the components are going to fit inside in working order.”
The designs are set to be showcased in flagship Nokia stores around the world, including the Nokia headquarters in Helsinki, and in London’s Regent Street store this month.
No job is too big or small for Industrial Model producer Atom