Interview with Jeff Mottle
In addition, Jeff is business development manager for VisMasters, an online software and content resource for design visualization professionals. Jeff is one of the major movers and shakers behind the scenes and it is a pleasure to shine the spotlight on him for a change.
On a personal note: I have corresponded with Jeff over the last few years and had the chance to meet him personally at last years Architectural Visualization Awards, which he host. A great event that everyone involved in architectural visualization should attend if possible. What strikes me most about my dealings with Jeff is his unselfish dedication to the community, always willing to promote other sites if they are contributing positively to the community. I have been told by past sponsors that they had approached him to verify the credibility of our site and he has always spoken positively of us and in addition aided our site whenever possible, asking nothing in return. If I continue, it will sound like I am a public relations consultant under retainer, so I will stop here, rest assured I am a fan.
3DA: Before we jump into a bunch of questions, how about if you give us a brief bio and also tell us about where your career is now, I know the last year or so had some big changes for you.
Jeff: While my original plan was to be an Architect, I was not keen to do 6 more years of school so I ended up getting a diploma s in Architectural Technology. After I graduated college I started my career with an estate homebuilder designing houses and drafting. During my time there I started doing hand illustrations, but was asked to start doing computer visualizations for them as well. This was back in 1995 and while I had done some 3D modeling and very rudimentary rendering several years earlier, my first real taste for visualization started in 3D Studio MAX DOS. As there was no Internet or schools at the time to learn 3D, I ended up teaching it to myself. I was only at that company for a few more months before I started with SMED, an international interior office solutions provider, where I helped start their new visualization department. I worked there for six year using Lightscape and managing various special projects. After leaving SMED I worked for Smoothe, one of the leading UK visualization companies, where I was hired to start a North American office for them. I was there for two years before I was solicited away to help a local architectural firm start their own visualization company with a friend of mine. That only lasted a year before the owners of the company ran into some financial problems and started talking about folding the company and laid off half of the architectural firm. My friend and I both left before that happened. That led me to where I am today – VisMasters. Last SIGGRAPH I started for ArchVision’s new initiative as business development manager. While I left 11 years of CG production behind, I am still actively involved with the community and can honestly say I am the happiest I have been in a very long time.
3DA: I have an inkling of who Jeff is, but no real idea about the life behind the scenes, is there anything you can share about your family and the entity that is CGA, such as do you have any support staff outside of your forum moderators or are you a workaholic and do it all yourself?
Jeff: I have been married to my wife Julia for 6 years, some in the industry have met her at SIGGRAPH conferences in the past. We don’t have any kids, but I suspect…correction…I KNOW my days are numbered before we do. Not sure I am ready yet.
I still do much of the work on CGA myself, but I have a full time sales manager who is responsible for securing many of our advertising contracts that keep the site going. We also have various contributors and moderators who have contributed a great deal to the site and for that I am most grateful. Without them, I doubt our site would still be around.
3DA: From talking to you in the past it seems that you do most of the site administration, coding, adding news, etc. CGA has an extensive infrastructure and has a pretty impressive set of features. A lot of big sites have full time staff to code, update and oversee day to day operations, do you hand off any of these duties or have you given up on sleep and dedicate every spare moment to doing it yourself?
Jeff: I programmed CGA in the beginning from scratch. I would love to have a full time staff of programmers and people who oversee the site, but unfortunately that is not something we can currently afford, so for now it’s still all me. As a result I have had version two of the site in progress for the last 3 years. One of these years it will be released it’s getting closer!
3DA: The question I personally want to ask, is what gave you the idea to start CGA and what were the early years like.
Jeff: I guess that depends what answer you want to hear. I could tell you that I started the site because I saw a need for a community and wanted to help bring architectural visualization professionals together, but alas, I would not be telling the entire truth. I had been at SMED for about five years and was starting to grow tired of the same thing and the lack of personal growth opportunities. At the time I thought there were maybe only a few thousand people worldwide who did visualization (I know better now) and I had no idea where any of them were or how I would get a job with one of them. I figured if I started a community site that was updated once a week with some news, a gallery and most importantly a job post section I would attract those companies to post their jobs and I would get to apply to those jobs first. Well this August will be the fifth year for the site and while I did not get a job from any job posts to the site, it did open every door and opportunity I have had for the past four years. While I had no idea the site would grow to where it is today, it’s been and continues to be something that I really enjoy doing.
3DA: Those who frequent your site know you are continually working behind the scenes making things happen and I imagine you rarely have a chance to post much and I imagine it is difficult even keeping up with the site. Early on did you participate in a more visible manner such as post in the forums and if I search the forums extensively would I see any of your past architectural visualization?
Jeff: Yes in the beginning I was able to participate a lot more hands on in the forums, but the administration of the site and my day job have made it more difficult for me to post. Also now that I am not in production, I am not as involved with the software and hardware to be able to answer as I once did. Also In the beginning I only received a few emails a week, but now I get 30-50 emails a day and that alone consumes most of my time unfortunately. As most who have tried to contact me know it can take more time than I like to get back to people.
3DA: For a community the size of CGA, I have to say the majority of the members are very polite and behave very professionally. Some of this is due to moderators, and a large portion is due to the tone you set in your leadership there. What are your thoughts on this?
Jeff: That is one thing I am very proud of and it has a great deal to do with the work of our very dedicated moderators and the site’s goal to ensure we cater to professionals and very professional attitudes. So far I think it has worked quite well.
3DA: Once your site started to be successful how did you capitalize on your success and did you have a predetermined business plan?
Jeff: I’ve never had a firm business plan in place, but I do use CGA to my advantage when I the right opportunity presents itself. Whether that be a job opportunity, consulting, speaking engagements etc. While I am very dedicated to the community, at some point you have to take advantage of the countless hours and money I have invested into the company. When it comes to the site itself however all of my decisions are based around two very strict and non wavering goals: Protect the integrity of the site and the community it represents, including my personal reputation, and ensure that any changes or partnerships in some way promote or help the growth of our community.
3DA: And what is your usual day like now running the CGA juggernaut and what part do you enjoy the most?
Jeff: Well as I mentioned above I work for VisMasters so that consumes most of my time. In the evenings I update the site, reply to emails, and various other administrative tasks. I spend anywhere from 20-50 hours a week on the site. At the moment I’d landscaping my backyard so a lot of my free time this summer is spend doing that. Something I really enjoy and it gets me away from the screen and in shape again.
3DA: I am assuming that your day is filled with administrative and management task, along with some client relations, hey I haven’t read your answer to the previous question yet. Obviously you have great business sense and have created something very unique and very successful, I would say you have no real competition, but I imagine you still keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times. Is there an artistic or leisure time activity that you really miss and if you some how came across a bunch of free time even after spending time with the family, what would you do with that time?
Jeff: Yeah that has been the one very big sacrifice I have made in keeping the site going. I really do not have a lot of time, if any for leisure activities. I have at times thought of giving it up, but the encouragement I get from the community keeps me going. I still get out every now and then, but I really wish I had more time to get back into hiking, rock climbing and camping. Probably my three favorite things to do, when I am not working.
3DA: You are helping shape the future of architectural visualization and providing a quality outlet for artist to promote their talents and perfect their craft, in what direction would you like to see the profession go?
Jeff: While the site was started 5 years ago, it’s only been in the last several years that our community has received the credit and exposure it deserves. I don’t know if there is a real direction I would like to see it go, but CGA will continue to use it’s power to help talented individuals in the community gain the exposure they deserve. That is the reason that I started and continue to run the Architectural Visualization Competition. While any of the competitors will tell you it is an insane amount of work, most of the top finishers see great benefits from the exposure. For me I think that makes it all worthwhile.
3DA: The ‘Architectural Visualization Contest’, AVC, is growing and maturing as a kind of institute in a fashion, changing in format in some ways each year, what shape do you see the contest taking now that you have a couple years of experience with it?
Jeff: I have not decided yet how next year’s competition will evolve, but undoubtedly is will. It will however continue to remain an outlet to expose talented artists.
3DA: It seems to me that the AVC format is unique in the CG world, contestants basically interview with submissions of past work in order to qualify to compete in the contest, and I think it makes for exciting entries. Do you see positives and negatives to this format?
Jeff: I think the positive is that we always have extremely high caliber work being produced for the competition, but the downside is the amount of work that the competition takes. Last year I was told some competitors had their employers shift most of their work to their peers so they had time to compete in the competition! Despite attempts to remedy this somewhat this year, I know many spent large amounts of time this year. This time is also why some competitors are forced to drop out along the way. It really is a fine line to walk. On one hand it has to be difficult and encompassing enough to really allow skills to be tested, but it also needs to be easy enough to do along side a full time job. We still have some work to do I think, but we will get there. It won’t ever be easy though.
3DA: I am sure you are continually modifying your game plan and adapting with the times, what changes if any can we look forward to at CGA?
Jeff: As I mentioned earlier CGA 2 is in the works, but there is no firm time for release. There are a ton of things I have planned for that, but I’ll keep those under wraps for now. I do have one new initiative that should release in the next few weeks. It will be big and something that our community really needs. Stay tuned!
3DA: I know the success of a lot of these endeavors are due to your hard work, but obviously you have a knack for picking projects that have potential, do you have a new pet project in the works that you can tell us about, or even hint at? What’s next for Jeff Mottle?
Jeff: You will all see in the next 2-3 weeks if all goes as planned.
3DA: With all the advances in personal computers and CG software, what future advances and benefits do you see materializing for the architectural visualization artist, and what are your predictions for the profession itself?
Jeff: This is a long answer, but much of this was answered in the recent industry article I wrote for 3D World magazine in their architectural visualization supplement. I’ll be publishing a version of this on the site after SIGGRAPH. Stop by the site to read more.
3DA: Is there a question that you wished somebody would ask you, and if so what is the question and what is the answer?
Jeff: Nope, I think you covered pretty much everything…thank you for the opportunity and best of luck with your own site! I am always open to helping people who have the same passion as I do for seeing our community grow and receive more exposure.
3DAllusions: I want to thank you for taking the time to give us a glance behind the scenes of one of my favorite sites to visit. I also want to thank you again for all you have done for the community and profession.