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Axel ‘Axeman’ Wilkinson has been an integral part of the FXhome experience for eight years now. He’s involved in many aspects of everyday FXhome life, whether helping new users on the forums, writing and compiling the detailed support knowledgebase or creating the popular PhotoKey background image collections and video tutorials.
Although many of his contributions have been of his own volition, in the last couple of years we’ve been pleased to bring him in as a paid consultant and content creator. Hiring from within the community is a great option for us as it means we get to work with people that already understand what we do. It’s how we found Neil ‘Hendo’ Henderson, who now works full time as a project lead here having come over from Australia.
In January of 2010 we flew Axel to the UK so that we could meet him in person and get his feedback on our current projects, making him the first person outside the FXhome offices to be shown into the Inner Sanctum. It’s high time that you guys get to know a bit more about this hard working chap, so read on to find out about his community work, the UK visit and some exclusive insider info on what he saw at FXhome HQ.
1. You joined FXhome.com in 2002. Do you remember how you originally found out about us?
I first discovered AlamDV [FXhome’s very first product. -Tarn] on the CD that came with an issue of MacAddict magazine. I had recently done a project with my brothers in which we were painting lightsabers frame by frame in Photoshop, and was totally jazzed that AlamDV was so much easier and faster.
2. You soon got involved making plug-ins for AlamDV and went on to make lots of presets for the Lab products and of course the PhotoKey stock images. What appeals about being a content creator, especially when you’re doing it in some cases for free?
I got started making plug-ins for AlamDV, which seemed cool because at that time you had to manually type out all the code for the plug-in. Even though the scripts were fairly simple, the concept of writing code seemed cool. I discovered the software fairly soon after I purchased my first computer and I was still very much in the learning phase. As I got more experience and my skill improved a bit, it was fun to see how realistic I could get with some of the presets for VisionLab and see how far I could push the program, occasionally even surprising myself with the results, like with my experiments in creating fire, which led to the particle engine tutorial.
I have benefited tremendously from the other users on the forums over the years and creating plug-ins and presets and other content is a way to give back to some extent, and pass on the help and benefits I have personally received from other users. And that is part of what makes the community the awesome place that it is, so I value the opportunity to help out in that respect as well, adding to the value of the community and making it appealing to new users.
The stock images are really a different thing, since they aren't free, but they provided an opportunity for one of my other hobbies, photography, to start paying for itself. In all these cases though, the process of creating something is certainly a reward in itself.
Norwich city centre
3. Over the years you've put in a huge amount of time helping out on the forums. How do you find the patience when dealing with difficult questions?
When I find myself losing patience, I remind myself that once upon a time I was just as inexperienced as the person I am responding to, and at one point I didn't know the answer to their question either. Then I try to answer it the way I would have liked back in the day when I might have asked it myself.
4. Your efforts were rewarded in 2009 when you won an FXhome Award. What are your thoughts on being recognised by the community in that way?
Winning was awesome. I didn't even campaign, other than just being helpful. It was terrific to know that my efforts had been noticed and appreciated. And while individuals have always expressed appreciation from time to time, to receive it on a community-wide level was quite gratifying. Then I was banished from the competition the next year!
5. The last couple of years have marked a change in that you've done consultancy and part-time paid work for FXhome. How did you go from an ordinary community member to somebody actively employed by the company?
One of the key transition points was when I was asked to join the beta testing team. I remember thinking how cool that was, that we could come up with all these ideas to improve the software, and that our input was not only acknowledged, but implemented. The personal level on which this developmental interaction takes place is, to this day, one of the most incredible things about the FXhome community.
A particular case which stands out was when I suggested creating a means to simulate the look of the Technicolor 3-strip process, shortly after the company first moved into an office. Two days later, I think, I was beta testing the new filter. [Tim worked fast on that one! -Tarn]
Eventually Josh asked me if I was interested in helping out by creating some paid-for content for the new PhotoKey software, which resulted in the Greeting Cards overlays. They marked a significant turning point at which I had been actually paid by FXhome for the first time. By actually paid, I mean with money rather than the thousands of dollars worth of software I had already received free in exchange for beta testing!
Josh was satisfied enough with my work that it led to additional work creating backdrops. The development team was getting busier than ever working on new projects, so handing off any work they could to personnel outside the office was beneficial to the company.
The UK's designated building-to-destroy in disaster movies
6. What's it like working for a company in a completely different country?
When I started beta testing and working with the team, everyone communicated online, as there wasn't an office yet. Just a bunch of guys working from their homes. Nearly all of the work I have done for FXhome involves sitting in front of a computer, which doesn't make being in another country much of an inconvenience. There are times when I have questions and everyone who might know the answer is asleep, but in most cases I can move on to something else and get back to it the following day. But in general it isn't much of a hassle and is pretty cool in a modern technological way that it is even possible.
7. In January you came to visit us in the UK and became the first external person to see what we're working on. What was your initial reaction to being asked to come to the UK?
Shock. Not in the least part due to the fact that I couldn't even be told what I would be doing when I got there. It was all a big international mystery. This was sort of the next step beyond winning the FXhome Award in seeing how much my work over the years was appreciated. I could hardly believe that the company would spend the money to fly me over there for a few days' work.
8. What was it like leaving the US for the first time?
It was the first time I'd left the country in my life, other than a couple of trips over the border into Canada. I discovered that US airports are more of a pain than airports in other countries. At least, the ones in England and the Netherlands. It was very exciting, and I bought a new camera for the trip, a 7D. Also, I could justify the expense in that it would be useful for taking photos to create new backdrop content for PhotoKey.
9. How did the FXhome staff and office compare to the picture you had in your head having interacted with us online for so many years?
The picture in my head was fairly accurate, due to the amount of time I had spent in live chat, as well as the many videos they had created for the community over the years. Despite that, knowing someone online is never the same as knowing them in person - and sometimes it is very, very different, children - so being able to meet you guys in person and shake your hands was great. There weren't any big surprises, but it certainly alters the relationship when you can meet someone in the flesh.
10. What were the highlights of your UK tour?
After my visit to Norwich I was able to spend a bit of time wandering England. I arrived without any specific reservations for hotels or anything, so I was free to wander at will.
Elm Hill [where parts of Stardust were filmed. –Tarn] and Norwich Castle were fun to visit, and I took many pictures. Warwick Castle was my next stop, and certainly one of the highlights of the trip for me. I've always been a big fan of castles, but being in the US I've never actually been to one. Really, really old buildings around here are 100 years old. So seeing the history everywhere you look in UK was awesome. I stayed in a hotel in Warwick that was built in 1472.
Stonehenge, above the Pandorica
Stonehenge was also fantastic, and I highly recommend taking a tour to Stonehenge if you are ever in the UK. There was I think twelve of us in the tour group, and we were there for the sunrise, which meant we could cross the fence and walk right into the stone circles. Joining a tour [or being Doctor Who -Tarn] is the only way you can get closer than thirty feet to any of the stones.
Highlights of my time in London included visiting 221B Baker Street, Shakespeare's Globe, the British Museum, watching The Mousetrap on the West End and visiting the UK branch office of Jehovah's Witnesses, of which I am a member.
11. What were your impressions of the new projects we're working on?
Having been filled in on the general shape of it all, as well as some of the details, I am probably even more excited than any of the community fanboys who keep begging for hints and info! You've never seen so many [censored –Tarn]
Josh, Axel and Simon at FXhome HQ
Thanks to Axel for answering our questions! We’ll now let him get back to being generally helpful. Next week we'll be taking a break, but we'll be back in a fortnight with an interview with Mr Fox himself, swintonmaximilian.