13 Questions with Jamie Gwilliam

November 24th, 2011

What’s your role at Autodesk, Jamie?

I am a 3ds Max Application Specialist, based at Autodesk London. The territory I look after is a varied one, classed as EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). The job involves looking after a number of Media & Entertainment Division products that fall into the Entertainment Creation Suites. My core focus is around 3ds Max, and this is certainly my favourite product. I shouldn’t really have a favourite program, but it’s difficult to not warm to it, considering I have spent a third of my life working with this creative tool. My role requires me to liaise directly with customers, and also helps our channel partners with their sales activities.

How long have you been with Autodesk and doing this? 

I joined Autodesk in 2005. Throughout my time here, my role has evolved and the territories changed; however, the focus continues to be our customers and sharing the knowledge I pick up whilst working closely with my talented colleagues. The UK M&E office is based in central London, and is a small close-knit group. Before joining Autodesk, I had a number of roles, but all relied on 3ds Max.

Tell us a little about your background and how you came to be doing what you do now.

I’ve always been interested in design, whether it’s architecture, products, or street art. At school, Math and Science were not my strong points, but I always found Art and Design to be relaxing and enjoyable. This naturally led to me wanting to study Design at University. The course which stood out was Industrial Design & Technology at Loughborough University. This UK university was where I first got into CAD, with the use of Mechanical Desktop and 3ds Max (or 3d Studio as it was called then.) This was an excellent University, and one that I have fond memories of.

This steered me towards positions as a product designer, a graphic designer, followed by various roles in the architectural world. In one way or another, 3ds Max has been a part of every professional job I’ve had. It’s crazy to think how much I’ve relied on this product over the years. (Apart from when I worked in a shoe shop, but that’s a story for another day.)

What does a typical day look like at your desk?

My days are certainly varied. My time can be generally categorized as client facing or working with our Channel. Channel Partners are the people who you normally purchase your Autodesk products from, and you rely on for direct support when you require help. The most enjoyable part, though, has to be the client facing side. It’s always great to be showing a group of users a new tool or workflow in 3ds Max. It’s rare to see such enthusiasm in any other job. We are in a unique industry where people are truly passionate for the work they are creating, whether it’s a building or online advertising campaign. Most days, I can be found driving or flying to visit a client, to discuss the work they’ve created, or an upcoming project. I think it’s fair to say customers now view Autodesk differently, more as advisors.  It’s refreshing to receive a call from a customer who wants to discuss their latest challenge or competitive bid.

Within the Autodesk portfolio of 100+ products, 3ds Max is certainly the most diverse. The customers I deal with can be a games studio, TV studio, an architectural practice, armed forces, or a police forensics department. The tools remain the same, but the workflows and terminology are certainly varied. For me, this helps to keep the job a challenge and enjoyable. Since 2005, I don’t think I’ve had one day the same.

What kind of challenges do you and those you work with face?

One of the biggest challenges is ensuring users are kept informed with the latest advances and are getting the most out of 3ds Max and everything else associated with it. There are many tools that get overlooked. For instance, the craft animation tools are fantastic for driving vehicles over terrain, with suspension that automatically behaves as you would expect. Another challenge is simply staying on top of the emails. The amount of emails I receive has significantly risen over the past two years. Whether they are from channel partners asking for complex advice on workflows, customers asking for help with tools, or internal emails regarding day to day admin. All of them seem to involve more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I’m certainly happiest when out of the office with customers, chatting about their challenges.

Can you say how many people work with you or perhaps how the work you do is shared?

The Team is made up of seven talented artists who cover a huge range of products and languages. Each of the guys has strong production experience ranging from working on ‘Girls Aloud’ music videos, being a part of the pre-vis for the James Bond movies, ranging to the area that concerns most of your members, architectural visualisation.

Each group member has his own core product focus. Two team members focus on 3ds Max, three focus on Maya, and the remainder focus on what we call the Creative Finishing tools—Lustre, Flame and Smoke. If you’re not familiar with these last three applications, they are used heavily in the film and TV worlds. These tools allow you to change the mood of a film sequence, add computer generated elements into film, or remove blemishes on actors. This is an area that many people are unaware Autodesk is involved with.

Do you have a role at Autodesk University or other events?

I’ve been lucky enough to present at AU over the last few years, and hope to do so again this year. As I spend my working life presenting at events, I try to hold back and keep AU as an event where I get to sit back and learn from some brilliant speakers. The event itself continues to be a highlight for me and is often a chance to catch up with some friends across the pond. Another event that has grown over the past few years is ‘EUE’ near Amsterdam. This is an excellent event for anyone involved with 3ds Max, and this year had an exceptional list of guest speakers, ranging from architectural to film and games.

You’ve been actively blogging for Jamie’s Jewels.  How long ago did you start, how do you decide what to post, and how is readership growing?

The blogging all started after an email newsletter I used to send (called Jamie’s Jewels) got too difficult to manage. It made sense for all the content to be moved to a blog, and allow past issues to be searchable. Luckily the audience has grown incredibly fast over the past few months. Recently, I’ve been sharing some of the tips I’ve managed to pick up over my career at Autodesk. Much of the content I upload is targeted to suit anyone working with 3ds Max, in any industry. Most recently I included a downloadable PDF shortcut card. The feedback from this has been extremely encouraging and it’s great to see people now sharing their own tips on the site. I have also added a Twitter account where I can post short bits of news that never make it into the blog. You can follow me on @3dsjamiesjewels. My blog address is www.jamiesjewels.typepad.com.

Where do you find the inspiration for your posts?

That’s a good question. Much of the content I share is the result of visiting clients or attending events. For instance, many people know they should be using the ‘new’ node-based material editor (SLATE), but don’t have the time to learn the new workflows, and dig around for the shortcuts. This is where I try to help out, by sharing what I’ve learnt, and what considerations are the most important to learn first. My intention is to guide users into workflows that mean they are more productive, and in turn give them more time to be more creative. Thankfully there never seems to be a shortage of topics that people want to focus on. I recently presented at EUE a class called “SMUT” (or Some of Max’s Under-used Tools.) This class highlighted how much of 3ds Max’s tools are often overlooked. 3ds Max has been around for over 20 years, and because of this, it has a wealth of powerful toolsets of features that can sometimes be forgotten. It’s these simple tools that are often the difference between completing the job on time or missing that deadline.

What are some of your favourite blogs?

I don’t get the chance to read blogs as much as I should, but I do regularly read 3dartist and 3dworld. I also try to attend the London 3ds Max User group, which often results in me learning more than trawling the Internet for the week. The monthly London User Group is regularly attended by 50-60 high-profile users, and has been going for at least five years. The evening is an informal gathering held in a pub, which probably helps the sharing of knowledge. It’s also great to hear that more user groups are starting to appear. I’m currently helping to build a similar evening in Amsterdam, so keep an eye on my blog for more info.

What sort of things do you do for distraction, hobbies, travel?

I’ve just finished renovating a 1920s house, so I’ve finally got my weekends back. This has allowed me to get back out on my mountain bike. My home is located next to a forest, so this is the perfect playground. I’ve also had a passion for photography for many years. This is one of my favourite escapes. I enjoy that moment of telling a story through one image. I recently purchased a 50mm prime lense for my 7D, and think I’ve annoyed everyone by snapping everything that moves. It’s a beautiful lense, the DoF is stunning. Also, strangely enough, I still enjoy travelling, although it’s definitely much nicer when you don’t have to take your laptop with you!

What would we be most surprised to know about you?

I hate raisins, love Crème Brule, drink Bombay and tonic. I have a cat called Sydney, and a black belt in TaeKwon Do. I collect old cameras, and go mountain biking as previously mentioned. I enjoy snowboarding, but don’t get the chance to go nearly as much as I should. As a child I was a Shakespearean actor at an outside theatre company, and next year I’m getting married to Samantha, my girlfriend of seven years.

What’s the last presentation you did?

My last presentation was showing how you can use an Xbox Kinect device directly with your PC, and make your own Motion Capture (MoCap) for use with 3ds Max. MoCap is a technique used in many films. I’m sure most people are familiar with how King Kong or Avatar were animated; well, this is MoCap. It’s also sometimes referred to as Performance Capture. With the advent of devices like the Xbox Kinect, anyone can now make basic MoCaps, which is great for companies that need to show how a human would interact with a car door or walk around a building. These techniques mean architects or designers who are pushed for time to create complex animations can simply record their friend ‘acting’ and use this directly in 3ds Max. This is where your readers can benefit from the experience that the Media & Entertainment division brings. Presentations continue to be my favourite part of the job. I look forward to meeting some AUGI members (and sharing a few Bombay & tonics) at the next event.

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