We chat to Dan and Jack, Head of Ops and MD of the Archilime Academy, for a look behind-the-scenes into how a lifelong love for Architecture evolved into the creation of a leading academy teaching the art of visualisation.
How did you get started in the CGI industry? Why are you passionate about “creating your world”?
Dan: For me it all stems from a love of Architecture. Hours spent playing the Sims after graduating from Lego sowed the seeds for an interest in the built environment, which naturally culminated in a desire to study Architecture at University.
Uni was great in exposing us to the different roles that an aspiring architect would have to play. It was more than simply teaching us how to design, but how to create your vision so that others can buy into it. ‘Communications’ was one particular module that introduced us to the different techniques and technologies that we could use to present our work.
Personally, the 3D modelling aspect of this really piqued my interest. Coincidentally, Jack and I met during one of these lessons, and ever since then we have fed off this joint interest in visualising the world around us.
As a visual thinker myself, the ability to create my ideas in 3D and then intuitively edit them to my liking was just what I needed. In its most basic form, the only things needed were a laptop, an idea and a few hours.
The real watershed moment for me was when we discovered that it’s possible to take our cartoony SketchUp models to the next level by bouncing light around our models using ray-tracing programs like V-Ray.
As we approached the end of the course, I discovered that my passion to visualise overtook the drive to design, which explains why when the opportunity came to join Jack and become a full-time CGI artist, it became a no-brainer.
Jack: My passion for Architecture came when I was thrown into a two week work experience stint back when I was in year 10 to keep me out of trouble!
My head teacher originally signed me up to get a work experience placement working as an elf in the Peacocks shopping centre in Woking which I regretfully had to decline (true story).
I loved to paint, draw and the shapes of architecture which always flowed through my art but I never knew what path I wanted to pursue.
There was no motivation or drive to really pursue any of my artistic passions so just stumbled along in school. I was then offered a placement within my first ever Architecture practice in Guildford called The Hall Design Group.
One of the directors that took me on is now a client of ours and the feeling is incredible to have been able to go full circle!
I came to my final year of University and tried to apply to about 100 Architects practices all over Devon to absolutely no avail… Realising that there were too many students looking for the same position, I decided to see what else I could offer an architect that maybe another student didn’t have in their locker.
This seemed to be the ability to offer 3D modelling that the Architect could then take on a small cost and return to the client for a high value result. I started re-approaching the same contacts that never got back to me and soon started to get a response. It was slow at first but it was something I knew could grow if I was consistent.
To this day, we still have clients of Archilime that were Architects I approached for part time office work 9 years ago. The rest is history, we grew according to the ongoing clients needs.
When did you spot the need for an Archilime Academy?
Dan: Primarily as a visualisation company, we are massively lucky to have clients who really see the value in 3D modelling and CGI. We were often asked for tips by proactive and inquisitive clients who would like to try their hand at visualisation. So, the tips that we offered, quickly turned into mini sessions, which then evolved into full-fledged courses as they gained popularity!
Something which is often overlooked is how we ensure that our standards internally are always met with multiple artists working on projects together. Besides the evident need for strong team chemistry, workflows need to be standardised to some extent so that any member of our team can pass their project to another without the quality of final output dropping.
I guess you could say that the Archilime Academy is a product of both external and internal drivers which fundamentally teaches the same workflow to ensure cross-compatibility to the point of photorealism.
Jack: I always knew Dan and I had a very similar thought process about focussing on some sort of community. We both agree that natural skill can be found from anyone, it just needs nurturing and sustaining so that person has the best opportunity to flourish into the person they want to be. Ensuring their ownership and career journey being the most important part of the company growth.
We carry that exact same philosophy to the way Archilime hire staff in the way that we find positive, good attitude, productivity and coach the industry skills across over the space of 2-3 years.
From this we wanted to form a friendly community that could offer support to any creatives that surround our industry. Dan has always had experience with coaching people especially younger kids and it’s a really natural gift he has.
The discussion of bringing an Academy to the business was had between the two of us and then Dan immediately started to build the foundations of the courses whilst generating ideas and scope of how this would run operationally.
There was definitely a massive need for creative professionals to learn how to showcase their proposals and designs in 3D form and this stretched across lots of SME’s within the creative industry, the main few being Interior Designers, Architects and Landscape Designers.
If we could add value to their service and provide them with a skillset they could then upsell to their own clients, we knew that it had a place.
What is the most rewarding thing about getting delegates through your courses?
Dan: Looking back and seeing how far they have come. For me this is evident especially on our 3-Month Dev. Programs, which (as the name suggests) spans several months, which highlights the increase in quality of output greatly from beginning to end.
First and foremost, it is a pleasure to be able to help anyone learn anything – so to have the opportunity to teach or coach concepts which we absolutely love is a huge honour for me personally and us as a whole.
Jack: Agreed with Dan on this really, the reward of seeing someone succeed after trying so hard to better themselves. That’s the point of why we are doing this. Yes, to help them find more value within a business service offering but also to offer support to companies and freelancers who wish to expand their know-how.
What has been your biggest challenge since starting up the academy?
Dan: I feel that Jack and I would give very different answers here, but my biggest challenge would be the number of different hats that I need to wear on a daily basis! Besides coaching and managing our amazing visualisation team, we need to keep an eye on how we market the Academy and look for business development opportunities outside of the daily duties that take up the majority of our time.
We are all learning lots as we grow the Academy ever more in 2022 as this presents plenty of opportunities for growth; both as a company but also professionally.
Jack: Definitely the most recent change in business climates damaged us and threw us a few obstacles to overcome, just like everyone else in some way. We invested a lot of finances into building a business plan that was then shook by Covid and forced us to essentially redesign the whole business model.
Going from a face to face, on-site coaching academy to shifting the business online to offer a single ‘zero to hero’ master class for anyone worldwide has taken a long time re-building this.
The effects of Covid pretty much froze the Archilime Academy for almost a year whilst the visualisation & design departments had to take priority for cashflow reasons. The silver lining to all of this is that it has allowed Dan and I to seriously re-sculpt the business model and do this again but learning from everything we had done before. Looking back, Covid has forced us to plan for the next 2-3 years and really look into how this could scale up.
What do you find to be the biggest challenge in your industry when it comes to educating artists?
Dan: I love this question! For me it comes down to adoption.
Everyone appreciates a beautifully composed and high-quality image, but an awareness of the know-how to be able to create it requires investment in time and money – both of which may be limited when it comes to the fields of property marketing & architecture.
We have noticed that since the first Covid lockdown, the world has seen the value in CGI and embraced the industry out of necessity – mass adoption will continue with the emergence of VR, which from our point of view is a hugely positive sign.
Jack: I honestly don’t see it a problem when educating artists about what we can offer from the Archilime Academy. I believe in what we are doing – we add value for the delegate to pass onto their client. The most tricky aspect of sharing the value is trying to understand how the course can benefit individuals.
Every delegate will use it differently but this is exciting for me. I love the business development process of doing this! A lot of Architects use Revit or similar – what we are offering is something to come hand in hand to that. We aren’t aiming to to replace their already adopted process.
Can you tell me 3 words each that underpins the WHY of the Archilime Academy?
Dan: Market your ideas.
Jack: Learning, creative community
Lastly, what are your hopes for the future of the Archilime Academy?
Dan: To reach a wider audience and expand our offering.
We know how popular CGI is currently, and how widespread VR will be in the coming years. We genuinely feel that we are uniquely placed to be able to help people into these industries as new technologies become available and widely adopted.
Jack: What Dan said! To try to be the support arm of many creative industries looking to develop their technology offerings and add value to their client services.