Let me show you briefly how did I create the model of my vehicle, W4 ( stand for Werks #4 ) :
Well, at first I sketch some drawing which sometimes only me that understands :) My concept is a Sports car for beginner ( read: el cheapo ), you can drive, you can feel, you know the experience with only fractions of price. It has 2500cc engine, mid placed, you can easily upgrade with turbo, boxy designs so it has aggressive looks, with only 2 seats for adults. My inspirations come from Fighter jets, it has vertical air inlet, but I put it in front sections as you may see later...here, this is my initial design...shapes are already in my head, at this stage I usually draw fractions of details, you will not understand my drawings at this stage :)
Then I create some low poly object in Lightwave 3D Modeler, which help me feel the compositions, shape and size of this car. In this stage it's often I do many improvement from original sketch. The beautiful thing working in a 3D modeler is its instant updates. I can see the shape, compositions etc realtime..
Then I use this version to create details. I simply print it, then do some sketches. It really helps me because the perspective is right and precision in measurements. Now you can see vertical air inlet in front section, I add top wing, I designs outlet at the back for radiator and back air diffuser.
Whenever I feel it has good compositions in design, engine placement, cabin size etc, I made higher poly versions. Hmmm....but at previous stage I sense that roof model is not looking good. What I want is aggressive looks, so I lower it..Now come question, is it ergonomic enough? No worry, grab some free 3D human model in Internet, then try put it inside the cabin. This is just preliminary studies so I just put rough placement.
After that, I create more detailed versions. Thanks to Subpatch feature in Lightwave 3D, I can create low poly then turn easily to high poly interactively, back and forth. I often do some modifications on the fly, so no wonder it may vary from initial designs, like top wing, I move it to rear section. I also test some color options. Overall, this car took 16 stages to complete.
7. In the meantime, I also create surface texture, mainly in photoshop. I'm not feeling fancy, so I just use simple planar, cylindrical projections, not UV. I grab some ortho view from side, top and back view accordingly then place it in photoshop to draw some lines using Pen tools.
Back to surfacing, I tweak some values. I use gradient in incidence angle in reflections to have fresnel look, you can use fresnel shader but gradients is my friend :)
For lighting, I use Overcaster plugin from Eki ( thanks Eki! ). It basically creates spinning lights to get soft shadows and lighting to mimic radiosity looks. You can also see there's a circle where I 'borrow' from Menithings folder in Lightwave folder. It creates good shading in car's speculars and reflections. I also put glow object, just a simple 2d box with some luminosity value. The purpose is to have nice white reflections around the car...
There you are! You just got to tweak and tweak some camera angle, texture value to get nice results....