Porsche Mission R Interior

The controls clip in above my knees. The door shuts. All the noise around me vanishes. I am in a cockpit all right. I am guessing you drive the thing but if you look around, the environment screams X-Wing (yes, I am mixing my movie references). Where am I? This is still Earth, a hotel lobby of all places. At the Munich Airport Hilton, the time is still May 2022 in the Gregorian calendar. Welcome to the annual Automotive Innovation Forum (AIF) hosted by Autodesk. In between demos and presentations, I was able to slide inside the cockpit of the Porsche Mission R. My inner geek is in heaven. For all my career I used to build and visualise cars with some fancy software. This time, I embarked into a vastly different journey. I was going to assist customers on how to better build and better visualize their vehicles (with said fancy software). I was going behind the curtains to see what happens when you start working for a software company. It has been more than 90 days, but it is my first impression all the same. Buckle up for my first 90 days on the new job, unlike any other before.

The Machine

Fast forward to New Orleans. I am now attending Autodesk University in late September. About 9,000 people were on attendance. The main stage looked more like a rock concert than a software convention. This is when you appreciate on a visceral level how much horsepower is behind Autodesk. “So… Let me just download the latest software, I will be on my way”, or so I thought. Well not so fast. To onboard the machine, you must take it slowly. There is a lot of horsepower for sure and all the cogs of the machine are scattered around the world. Your Spanish and Irish teammates are in Germany. The development team is in North America. Don’t forget to reach out to some of the customer success managers in Spain or France. And of course, keep your manager in Belgium informed. For the rest, you can sort yourself out, for your travels or your IT equipment. It is a culture of self-service, but you never feel abandoned. You can use Teams, Slack, the Intranet. There is a wealth of information out there for you to address any issues you might have. For example, I was having issues with my new work phone, so I raised a ticket. Messages started to ping on Slack. A tech guy in San Francisco called me directly. Now that is a well-oiled machine. 

The Crew

When I started, my boss flew in from Belgium to the United Kingdom. My co-worker simply drove up. We all met in the Birmingham offices. The next time I saw them in person, it was in Munich at the AIF. A few weeks later, our team met in London.  A few weeks after that, we were with the entire department in Barcelona. From home, from the office, on site, people assemble and meet as needed. Imagine you are the new guy, and you are trying to figure out who you need to talk to about an extremely specific issue. Let’s say I need to demonstrate the latest feature in the latest software. This is a microscopic part of a huge ecosystem. You have technical account managers and customer success managers for the clients.  You have technical product managers for the business and the technology. Finally, developers and programmers handle the software itself as well as a lot of the support. Keep in mind that some of those individuals worked from home already before the pandemic. They are scattered in offices and homes all over Western Europe and the Americas over ten time zones. And all of them need to be aligned to deliver the best software experience to the customers. And without missing a beat, the work gets done. The entire orchestration is a remarkable sight.

The Care

In the past, I took my career development into my own hands. I would surf the Intranet looking for career resources and I would poke around at random. In one lucky instance, I finally generated a skills profile for myself. Unfortunately, that was years into the job already. Another time, there was leftover budget and it had to be spent. Here, it is a completely different story. I was encouraged to find a mentor right when I started. I was told I could become one as well down the line if I chose to. Within a few weeks I was getting emails about booking a coaching session. Within my first 90 days, I already had a work profile and one coaching session under my belt. The most striking aspect of my new position is the culture around its people. It is something that was given careful thought and consideration. There is genuine care about the people. Every person I met, from colleagues all the way to vice-presidents, have been very approachable, personable, and welcoming.

Look at the smile on the kid’s face…

Conclusion

Ah Autodesk, we have been looking at each other for a long time. My first interview with that company was in Toronto in the previous millennium. And now, here we are. I described myself like a kid in a candy store when I started, and it is pretty accurate. It is easy for a nerd like me to stare at the toys and the galaxy of products in the Autodesk universe. Yet it is the culture of the company around its people that really struck me. Of course, the perks of the position are pretty cool. I gaze around the cockpit in total awe. I have the face of a 5-year-old who sits behind the wheel of a car for the first time. A minute or two later, I somehow get out of the very snug seat. That was cool all right, but it is nothing in comparison that what I could see behind closed doors… Our clients use our software in ways I did not know what possible or imaginable. Put it this way: my inner geek has not stopped being tickled. Cue the 5-year-old smile.

 

This is Part 2 of the 2021 ISD Rubika Degree show review.  Don’t miss Part 1!

Today, I talk with Swarnim Verma on the Heart of England Speakers podcast. She discusses her upbringing in India and Dubai. She then details her journey to becoming a digital artist that took her all the way to France at ISD Rubika in Valenciennes (France). To earn her diploma, Swarnim and her peers had to give a 35-minute speech in English in front of a jury of five industry professional. That is one third of their final grade.

The cartoonist Scott Adams has coined the term “the talent stack”. He is average at writing, drawing and business. However, when you combined those skills, you get the multi-million comic strip franchise Dilbert. Swarnim combined her skills, her talents, her eye for colour and her software knowledge in clothing and texturing into a game changing weapon.

 

Conceptual CMF by Swarnim Verma

 

Her way is unique in approaching CMF (colour, material, and finish).  Her experiments are named “conceptual CMF”. Traditionally, CMF designers collect physical fabric and material samples to create their mood boards. Swarnim’s moods board are full CGI. CG fabrics tend to be stiff. Hers were flowing and photorealistic, not to mention with some dazzling colour combinations. A detailed look at her workflow can be found in an article she wrote for Adobe Substance.

The digital design graduating class had three women for a total of 14 students. The gender split was comparable to the previous classes I saw graduate. It was inevitable that at some point, a woman was going to take first place overall in the year end jury. That was not the surprising part. The real surprise was how it happened. Over the years, the winners were in some predictable categories. They were hard core car guys. Then they were wizards at visualization for cars or for watches (or clothing soon, probably). Swarnim Verma is none of those. Here is the best advice for students who want to single themselves out and who aspire for greatness: be yourself. It worked for her.

 

 

 

 

Audi R8 - full CGI by Fabien Vandemortelle

 

This is Part 1 of the 2021 ISD Rubika Degree show review.  Don’t miss Part 2!

Do you remember the last time you took a plane? It had been over two years for me, so I was giddy at the idea of taking to the skies again. It was time for my yearly trip to the north of France to judge the digital design graduating class at the Rubika Institut Supérieur de Design in Valenciennes (ISD). This was another marker in time for me. 20 years ago, I came to Valenciennes to become one of ISD’s first 3D teachers. The day before, the entire family gathered to take a now ritual lateral flow test. I don’t remember how many we have gone through all this time. All tests turn up negative until I see one test with the dreaded two lines. And it did not take long either. Goodbye flight. Goodbye weekend in Paris with one of my best friends. Ugh. Thankfully ISD was prepared so I was able to participate in the jury remotely.

 The Usual Suspects. Expanded.

Every year, it was customary to run into one type of student: the car guy / girl. There was no doubt what that student wanted to do out of school. It was cars and that was it. Saurav Ponkshe created one of the most detailed Porsche 911 models you will ever see. It not only had the exterior but also an interior and a fully articulated roof (too bad it is not in full details on his online portfolio).

Saurav Ponkshe's 911

Over the years the students’ tastes have evolved and there are now two other types: watches and clothing. For watches, there are so many to choose from. For clothing, those of us who are a little older need to take notice on how to promote yourself online. Thomas Radenne created an online fashion show on social media in the middle of the pandemic. Of course, he tagged the people he wanted to reach in his post, and they did reply. It is a brave new world.

Saurav Ponkshe's 911

The Visualization Wizards

Fabien Vandemoortele had some great images. His Audi won the best student image in the Domeble Symetri contest (Corona Render) but I really liked the Fairlady Z (3DS Max / Corona).

Fairlady Z by Fabien Vandemoortele

Nirmal Tudu used Blender to showcase his 911 Singer. Last year, Valentin Becart showcased what the future of visualization was going to be with Unreal Engine. If this year needed any confirmation, he is going to have some company. The population of students using Unreal is rising and it is bound to become more popular in design studios around the world. Saurav Ponshke had a nice visualization of his Porsche in a pre-made Unreal environment. It is a great step to understand how to import data within a readymade scene. Praveen Balaji went way further as he created an entire tropical forest environment from scratch. In it, he dropped a Mercedes 4×4 and the entire visual was a showstopper. 

Praveen Balaji's Mercedes 4x4 in Unreal

The Future

At every jury, a student comes along and lights up the presentation room. This year it was Swarnim Verma. Her bubbly personality was on full display. She was prepared, smiling, engaged and confident. Her presentation and public speaking skills were impeccable. I am a trained public speaker and I am telling you this: she made a 40-minute speech look easy (and even highlighted her newfound fluency in French). She took the jury from her humble beginnings as a digital artist to where she is today. Teachers found out early that she had an eye for color. Swarnim coupled that talent with software use to dazzling effect. What did we witness? It is the future of CMF (color, material, and finish). In Part 2, we will have a much longer and in-depth conversation with Swarnim.

Praveen Balaji's Mercedes 4x4 in Unreal

 Conclusion

Like clockwork, I look forward to seeing what the ISD students have done. It never disappoints. Think about the technologies used by the students during the time I have fortunate enough to be on the jury: Blender, Marvelous, Unreal, and now Substance. All those programs were known in the industry, but some students have created fantastic case studies for their use in automotive design. This year, on top of it all, the winner’s presentation was unexpected, brilliant, and ground-breaking. It felt like a breath of fresh air. As long as this fresh breeze blows from the north of France into the automotive design world, I suspect people in the industry, and I, will keep coming back to inhale it.

ISD Rubika 2020

Google, Toyota, Louis Vuitton and Tata Motors walk into a digital room.  Welcome to the ISD degree juries.  Every year the French school Institut Supérieur de Design holds its year end degree show.  It  is arguably the best place for OEMs to recruit digital artists and 3D modellers.  The main school is in the north of France with a sister school in India.  Each student must present their work to industry professionals and in English.  This presentation counts for 30% of their final grade.  The added difficulty this year is a completely remote jury.  The real world awaits.  Well students?  It has been five years and it all comes down to this.  Did you earn your digital design manager degree or not?  It was time to find out. 

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The clock said 23h00 but at least I finished my bike. I got the materials, the lighting and the set ready. I clicked “render” and went home. I suspected it would take Alias a few hours to calculate the 1280 x 1024 image I asked for. I came back to the Tinkertoy building the next morning. In the computer lab I was greeted with evil stares and for good reason. When I turned on the monitor the computer was still rendering 12 hours later, completely hogging the machine.

A generation later, the same image is rendered in seconds. Welcome to the crux of the battle. Along with Hollywood and gaming, the automotive industry is one of the biggest spenders in computer graphics, a never-ending arms race in hardware and software. It costs billions to put a car on the road. Modelling a vehicle is only a small part of the battle. It is essential to visualise the design as fast and as accurately as possible, all along the design process. This process can be divided in three categories: real time, calculated images and animation.

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