In a candid interview, Orange County Choppers senior designer Jason Pohl and media & marketing advisor Jim Kerr cut up and cut loose on the business, their workflows, and why the world’s most famous custom motorcycle shop is thrilled to be back with BOXX.
BOXX: So how are you guys enjoying your BOXX APEXX workstations and renderPRO?
Jason: These new machines are the cat’s pajamas, man!
BOXX:I’m going to quote you on that.
Jason: It’s ridiculous! I recently did a render that took about a minute and ten seconds and that same render took 47 minutes on the HP. Using V-Ray is awesome. We went ahead and got the renderPRO so both machines render at the same time in (Autodesk) 3ds Max—forty processors jamming along, man. I remember in high school, I had two processors that were overclocked and now I have forty. I find myself talking about it to random people at the grocery store:
“So I have forty processors now.”
“You talkin’ to me?”
“No I’m talking to the broccoli.”
BOXX: Be careful—that could get you committed to an institution.
Jason: When we finally got all those buckets to start rendering in V-Ray, 3ds Max, it was ridiculous (followed by a solid impersonation of a heavenly choir of angels). It was like light shining through the building onto the computer. It was pretty ridiculous.
Jim: It was beautiful.
BOXX: So you guys were using HP before?
Jason: Yes and that’s slang for Hewlitt Packard.
BOXX: I see. What model?
Jason: Z800. At the time, it was a beast—six years ago. It’s met its match. It’s been formatted and rebuilt a couple of times. A couple of graphics cards went into it. I’ve burned through two (NVIDIA) Quadro K5500s. It had heat issues, man. Heat just kills electronics. It’s already 97.8 degrees in our office here.
BOXX: So you must love the liquid-cooling in your new APEXX.
Jason: Oh yeah and it’s so quiet.
BOXX: What’s the biggest difference between it and the HP?
Jason: Render speed, man!
BOXX: That’s what it all comes down to, doesn’t it?
Jason: Yes— that and the reboot time is amazing. I think that has a lot to do with the SATA drive. Towards the end, the HP was taking fifteen minutes to reboot. Rebooting the BOXX is under two minutes. The APEXX is adorable too. Cute as a button. I read to it at night—a children’s book of some sort.
BOXX: (laughs) In terms of your workflow, is that the biggest problem the APEXX 1 has solved—that now you’re working faster, you’re more productive?
Jason: It’s just an animal, man. It’s a machine. What’s cool is that instead of doing a single image rendering to show our clients what their bike could look like, we’re now able to render out a scene with camera fly throughs. I can zip it across the bike and see it all the way around. Before, I’d render three or four different views—the front, back, and sides. I still do that, but it’s so much cooler to send them a link and tell them to check out the animation. They see their bikes spinning around with that virtual camera and it really gets them going. It’s cool because it lets us show our client exactly what we’re doing. They can share in the vision. If they want to see something different, or say “Hey let’s do this or that,” I’m able to change it quickly and re-render it. So what used to take an entire weekend (and I remember I did that on the dragon bike—a simple 300 frame pan of the bike and it took an entire weekend) now with distributed rendering and both machines cranking away, will be waiting for me. It’s done tomorrow if not by the end of the day.
BOXX: So in concrete terms, you’re looking at a job and you say this used to take x amount of time to complete but now, that same type of job you’re done in what, half the time?
Jason: John, the biggest thing is . . . say I do want to render a scene. Now I can do a production render on that bike and keep working on the APEXX 1. The renderPRO is going full power, but I can keep working on the APEXX whereas before, I’d get the render scene all set up, I’d be working with Paul (owner Paul Teutul, Sr.) on the project, and he’s saying (imitates Paul’s gruff voice) “What are you doing?” and I’d say,” I’ve got to render out.” Then he would say “Ohhhh, okay.” And literally, I would hit the render out button and it would just bog down the entire computer. I couldn’t use any other application. I couldn’t even check email. Paul could say “What about that contract, or this or that?” and I’d have to tell him, “I can’t access it because I’ve already started a rendering and I can’t kill it because I can’t pick it back up from that same spot.” So whenever I had to render something, which was at least once a week since I’ve got to create a design, it would stifle the workflow on my computer so badly that I couldn’t do anything else. I was just paralyzed, so I would think, “Well I guess I’ll just go out in the shop, get coffee, do some cleaning, go get the vacuum.” Without that render time, it’s like Paul gained another employee because the renderPRO just keeps going, keeps rendering, and doesn’t stop. That’s huge! To be able to assign a job to the renderPRO and then to move on and do something else I need to work on is incredible power. I feel really stupid for not calling BOXX sooner.
BOXX: In your defense, you have been kind of busy, right?
Jason: It’s been busy but ... I don’t know, HP was great back in the day. Paul did a Super Bowl commercial with them and on the TV show, they offered everything we needed to get that going. Time and place. Now, I just wish we had done this sooner.
BOXX: What was it like, trying to make deadlines, before your BOXX systems?
Jason: Here’s the deal. We’re working on this client’s bike and were jammed up. We have another bike due and we have to get this approved before the entire team can start working on it. I would get a rendering going and I always tried to plan it so it would jam out over lunch and there wouldn’t be computer downtime. What would happen is I would come in, check the rendering and I’d think, (in an agonized voice) “Oh man, this took two and a half hours and I’ve got chrome, and ray tracing and this and that, kung fu fighting, and I look back and there’s one brake caliper I forgot to put the green material on so its chrome. Or maybe the one gas tank, because its split in half, is a slightly different color than the other because I didn’t assign something right! Basically, I would mess something up and it would inert the whole project. At that point, what I would do to save time and not have to do a whole hour and a half re-render, is render just that brake caliper and bring it into (Adobe) Photoshop, pack it in there and try to make it look right. I don’t miss that.
BOXX: Jim, how does your BOXX workstation differ from what you were using before?
Jim: Night and day. I wasn’t as fortunate as Jason. The CPU I was using when I got here was really bad; I mean it would take days to download five photos. It was extremely painful. It was an HP too and it had been passed around through a couple of people before it got to me, so it already had a lot of internal damage done to it. Going to the BOXX, I’m using the APEXX 2, and it’s just incredible. The downloads, uploads, everything just flies. No rendering time like Jason has with his bike designs. For me to render or do anything in Premiere Pro just takes seconds to build the images and video out where I can go back and view them and make more edits. A night and day difference.
BOXX: How much time has it saved?
Jim: I’m going to say seven.
Jim: Oh, I was just giving you a number.
BOXX: That’s okay. I have you on tape so that’s on the record.
Jim: Seriously, I’ll bet you I save a good day a week, definitely.
Jim: Oh yeah. And I do a lot of AIs for social media, so I have a lot of software that runs in the background doing stuff for me. It doesn’t bog down at all with any of that. Just yesterday, I did a live stream from here and it was crystal clear using the BOXX. I was using the new Logitech C920 4K webcam and a Realtech shotgun plugged right into the APEXX 2 mic jack. It just worked phenomenally.
BOXX: Has there been a deadline you made with the APEXX 2 that you would never have made using the HP?
Jim: It the same thing Jason goes through. Paul or someone else will come in here looking for something and we have to knock it out. One example was a video Jason and I shot it in the morning and we had to have it to a very high profile client by lunchtime. There was a lot of footage, a lot of different takes, different angles, and we had to chop it up and get it in high quality. We didn’t want to give him anything that didn’t best represent him, Paul, or OCC. If we had to do that on our old HPs, we definitely would have failed.
BOXX: Jason, what’s your creative process and workflow like? Does it differ from project to project? What applications do you rely on?
Jason: It’s always different because each project is severely different. The workflow that I like is doing a lot of the engineering and modeling in Autodesk Fusion 360—anything that’s hard numbers and things like that. For organic stuff like a dragon head, gas tank, or anything really super smooth or creative if you will, I use 3ds Max 2016. Everything ends up going inside Max when I do an assembly because it’s the quickest. I just import an FTL from Fusion and start rocking and rolling and putting things together. That’s where I build the bike—in 3ds Max. I use V-Ray 3.3 to render it out. From there, I’ll hopefully get a nice looking bike and then bring it into Photoshop and add some accents. Sometimes, paint schemes in Photoshop come a little bit easier than in 3ds Max. Finally, I create a spec sheet to accompany the bike design. That’s my workflow. I sketch in Photoshop and Autodesk Book Pro as well.
BOXX: Do you ever create any video or animation?
Jason: I used to, but now with Jim here, he does that along with logos, special effects, and kung foo fighting as well.
BOXX: Tell me about your workflow, Jim.
Jim: I do all the photography and in-house video. I use the APEXX 2 to download all the still footage from the cameras and video. They come from a couple of different sources, so there are all different formats.
BOXX: What kind of camera gear are you using?
Jim: Everything from Canon DSLRs to their (Canon) XC10 4K (camcorder), Panasonics, Sony—we have something from everybody here. My primaries are going to be the DSLRs and the XC10.
BOXX: What happens once you bring it into the computer?
Jim: I do some archiving and put it into separate folders—basically cataloging it. Then I bring it into Adobe CC.I use pretty much everything in Adobe: Photoshop, Lightbox, After Effects, and then edit with Premiere Pro. I’ll come up with a final still image to use on social media or posters and marketing, or chop up the videos and get those out to whatever platform we’re using them for.
BOXX: Were you aware of BOXX prior to joining OCC?
Jim: No, I’ve just been here a little over two years now, so my intro to BOXX was just this past sequence we’re working on now. Now I’m preaching BOXX to anyone who will listen. Your stuff is phenomenal. It blows everything else out of the water.
BOXX: What were you doing before OCC?
Jim: Twenty four and a half years in the (United States) Air Force. I retired from there and went on to do marketing, media, and social media for Gold’s Gym. Then I was offered a job here.
BOXX: Do you like it?
Jim: Yeah, it’s a great gig, I get up every morning and come to a place where I like working. It’s different every day. I never know what I’m going to get when I walk in, what’s going to be asked of me, and that’s great.
BOXX: Tell me about yourself, Jason. What’s your bio prior to Orange County Choppers?
Jason: I went to the Illinois institute of Art in Schaumburg. From there, I worked at Incredible Technologies, Golden Tee Golf and now OCC. I’ve been working with Paul for twelve years.
BOXX: How did you become aware of BOXX? Was it from our past relationship with OCC?
Jason: I can’t say his name, but I’m going to try. Ed Caparerorera
BOXX: Ed Caracappa (former BOXX Director of Business Development, currently Sr. Director of Business Development at Avid Technology).
Jason: Yes! So I called BOXX years ago, spoke to Ed and he set me up right away. You guys ended up getting the chrome-framed chopper that we did for SIGGRAPH in LA, did that whole song and dance. It was a great time.
BOXX: So how did you become an HP shop? What did we do wrong?
Jason: You guys did nothing wrong! It was really that we were a victim of product placement and Nielsen ratings. The big cats came in, they meowed, and we had to deal with it. It was cool. There were a handful of guys over there at HP, at the workstation level, that really took care of me. Six years ago, it was a custom Z800, it wasn’t an off-the-shelf type thing. I had 24 gigs DDR of RAM which was insane at the time (laughs), the GeForce card, the Intel Xeon. We even built a bike for Intel back in the day and it helped for that relationship with HP. It’s kind of how that was introduced actually. Intel’s was a quad core chopper and had two V-twins in it. They were promoting their quad core processors. We also did one for Go Daddy.
BOXX: I remember that episode.
Jason: That was back in the television heyday. Those were good times.
BOXX: Have you ever relied on BOXX Technical Support?
Jason: Oh yeah, I know Wil, Jesse, and some other guys.
BOXX: Take me through that. What happened?
Jason: I called them up a handful of times and said, “What the hell did you send me?” Where does this go and that go. . . (laughs). Actually, they got the APEXX talking to the renderPRO. They were great. No problems, it’s been running really cool, really fluid, and really smooth. It likes a restart every other day—reboot the cache, the software, but that’s fine. Takes two minutes and it’s healthy for me because I always have so many things open and so many projects going on it reboots my mind too. Jim has a good tech story for you.
Jim: I had the BOXX maybe a couple of weeks to a month and the video card died, so I started losing one monitor and the next and the next, so I did the trouble shooting myself, replugged, rebooted, all that good stuff, but it just got worse, so I called BOXX Tech Support and the next day they had a tech out here with parts. He was here for maybe twenty minutes, replaced the card, got everything fired up and working, and I’ve had no problems since. BOXX Tech Support was outstanding.
BOXX: Jason, how many hours straight are you going on the new APEXX?
Jason: Eight or nine. But you know, I got into other stuff here. I’ve been painting, working on the price structure of the bikes, and I’ll have a cell open doing the parts pricing for all the bikes, so it’s a multitasking machine. I’m not just an animator working on the same scene where you get in a zone and just keep jamming along on the same kind of path. It’s totally different. We’re always evolving and moving, but as bike design goes, we try to start on paper first.
BOXX: What percentage of your work consists of customers requesting specific designs and how much is you creating bikes on your own?
Jason: For the customer driven: about a handful of them come in and say, “I want a bike and here’s our brand.” Then they put the Windex bottle (for example) on the table and say, “Rock & roll—go to work.” That’s cool—it’s great. Then there are the guys who say, “I want my kid’s name airbrushed on the gas tank,” and I say, “Okay.” Then there are the really unusual ones like Wild Game Innovations. They wanted a giant skull of a European elk and I said, “Nah, we can’t do that. It’s too dangerous.” But they insisted, so we did it—the whole thing in 3ds Max and rendered it out. And when they saw it they said, “Yes!” Then our insanely talented machine shop, Jim Quinn and Mike Tampone machined all thirteen organic pieces, bolted and welded them together, and blended out this giant aluminum elk skull. Elk skulls are huge. They’re six feet and they put that on the bike and welded it to the frame.
BOXX: I thought this was going to be a cautionary tale where at the end you say the guy ended up impaling himself on the antlers.
Jason: (laughs). I was actually on the bike at a trade show in Louisville where, behind the curtain, the show floor was really dusty and I almost dumped it.
BOXX: That would be a bad day on the job. Switching gears, are there any other BOXX products you have your eye on? GoBOXX, maybe?
Jason: Definitely down the road because I could see a purpose for that. We really need to upgrade our monitors around here, so that’s probably next on the list. Webcams as well. Also, you guys have been after me to try this Teradici business. What is that—like a lasagna with cheese or something?
BOXX: Definitely down the road because I could see a purpose for that. We really need to upgrade our monitors around here, so that’s probably next on the list. Webcams as well. Also, you guys have been after me to try this Teradici business. What is that—like a lasagna with cheese or something?
Jason: Your product marketing manager says Teradici works a lot faster than what we’re currently using, so I might look into that next.
BOXX: How many hours per week has BOXX saved you?
Jason: I’ll agree to any number you say.
BOXX: (laughs) Then I’ll say three days a week. I’m a marketing guy.
Jason: (laughs) Maybe we should just reenact the scene from Office Space where they take the old printer out in the field. We could do that for you with our old systems. We were real close to doing that right before we got the new BOXX machines, so it might just happen.
Jim: Seriously, you have a great product and we’re excited to be working with you guys, the projects we have going on now, and what were going to knock out in the future. BOXX allows me to meet all of my challenges and put out the quality of work I expect from myself and others.
Jason: Yeah, I’m really happy to be back with BOXX and we’re going to make this relationship last a lot longer than the last one. I’m really thrilled with the speed of the APEXX 1 and the renderPRO too. It’s just freedom. It allows us so much more freedom. I’m not sweating over the computer, waiting for it. It waits for me, which is how it should be. I’m just thrilled to be back in the swing of things.