Monday, 18 November 2013

Bucks Graduate showcase - the digital art of Andy Thomas

Andy Thomas is a talented artist who graduated from Bucks New University in 2002 and, since then, has forged a successful career in the digital arts. He now works for the global multi-national URS, running their digital media team. We asked him to talk a little about how he got started, and what students need to do to get hired in today's competitive job market.

Bucks: What did you study at Bucks?

Andy: Computer Aided Design (BSc hons) 1999 to 2002. The course was a bit of a mix of disciplines; including mechanical engineering, product design and multimedia design. This was back in the days where AutoCAD was the very latest thing, and careers in 3D digital media were few and far between.

The latest thing - in 1999

Bucks: Who taught you?

Andy: My tutors included John Sadler, Dr Tim Coole,  Lyndon Buck (he took us all to New York in the 2nd year, this was definitely a highlight of my time at Uni!). Also, Christian McClennan, Peter Shine (his lectures were amazing, he was basically a stand-up comedian posing as a Uni lecturer!), Steve Ferguson, Roger Pocock, and Martin Freeman.

John Sadler
Bucks: What is your current job?

Andy: I am the Multimedia Manager for URS Corporation, a leading provider of engineering, construction and technical services for public agencies and private sector companies around the world.
I run a team of multimedia artists and technicians. We produce 3D Visualisations, animations, graphic design and photomontages for various sectors including Architecture, Landscape Design, Planning, Mechanical & Engineering, Ports, Railways, Roads, Aviation & airports, and Defence & Security.

Bucks: What are the best and worst aspects of what you do?

Andy: The best part of what I do is producing creative work that is different for every job. Working in a huge organisation (URS has more than 80,000 employees worldwide!) enables you to find work in a lot of different sectors and industries.

The worst thing about the job is that the deadlines are always tight, and clients tend to change their minds at the last minute. As a result, it is very important to have your scope of work and your brief nailed down as early as possible. Having to work tightly to budgets is very important, though it sometimes means you have to sacrifice time on a project, in order to get it out the door on time and on budget.

Bucks: How did what you learned at Bucks prepare you for a career in digital media?

Andy: University gave me the base skills I needed to get a creative job in 3D / multimedia. I knew I didn’t want to become a product designer or a CAD Technician. I wanted to create stunning 3D images & animations for a living; I just had no idea how to get into this industry.

My first job out of Uni was a 3D modeller. I secured this job in my final term at Uni, as I didn’t want to leave Uni without something to do. I remember phoning every single company in the yellow pages that looked like they may use CAD or anything 3D and eventually found someone who would take me on for 6 months.

My task was to recreate a whole heap of 2D CAD data in 3D models – mainly medical equipment and engineering parts etc… Not the most exciting job, but someone was actually paying me to sit there, and model stuff. It was great and I had no complaints!

This gave me my first real taste of the working world and having real deadlines. It also taught me to be very accurate with my modelling, as these models were being manufactured straight from my 3D data, so it had to be spot on, or I would be to blame.

I then moved on to Scott Wilson, an engineering practice, as a graphic designer. Later I worked at PRP Architects as an Architectural Visualiser, and at the contractor KIER as a multimedia designer. Now I am at URS as the Multimedia Manager.

Bucks: What do you look for in a graduate who is seeking a job?

Andy: I look for two things:

1. Great portfolio, and a solid skillset and grounding in 3DS Max / AutoCAD & Adobe suite, and VRAY / After Effects. A good knowledge of these software packages would give them a definite advantage over other candidates.

2. Being a problem solver. A good attitude is the key thing here. The last thing I would want to hear one of my team say is ‘I don’t know’ when a client asks something of us. The correct answer should be ‘we’ll look into it, I’m sure we can come up with a creative solution’. This directly links into your skillset, as you need a good base of knowledge to fall back on, especially with tight deadlines.

Bucks:  If you could do your time at Bucks over again, what would you do differently?

Andy: Spend a bit less time at the Student Union, and more time practicing rendering & modeling techniques! No, seriously I don’t have any regrets; I loved my time at uni; I got the grades I needed to get my first job, and then I moved on from there.

Bucks: What advice would you give to students at Bucks so they can make the most of their time at University?

Andy: Use your tutors for advice and for their great knowledge base. My final year mentor was Dr. Tim Coole (most amazing name ever by the way!). He was instrumental in me doing well in my final year.

John Sadler was another tutor who had a fantastic knowledge of everything AutoCAD & 3ds max (or 3ds Viz as it was called at the time). They are there to teach and see you develop, so don’t be afraid to ask for their advice on anything.

Most of all though - enjoy it! It’s the only time in your life where you can spend as long as you like on your projects with no budget restraints. Use this time wisely and make your portfolio amazing, and different to everyone else out there.

(Editor's Note: For more excellent work done by graduates, check out our latest commercial project for Rocketseed, our short film done for a global aid agency, and take a look at the excellent work of some of our recent graduates, such as designer Monika Dzikowicz, architectural visualisation specialist Krsytof Michalski, Alex Whitfield and the 3D artwork of Mike Swan.)

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