When graphic designers at Wired magazine sit down to create the next issue, they fire up Adobe InDesign and Adobe digital publishing software. When visual effects specialists begin work on major motion pictures such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, they launch Adobe Creative Suite Production Premium software.
We’ve all come to expect the stunningly realistic visuals that these tools create in all the media that we consume. But we sometimes forget that even the tiniest product innovation started as the seed of an idea in someone’s mind, somewhere within the halls of Adobe, long before growing into the industry standard it is today.
Where do these ideas come from? Everywhere. In fact, that’s one of our mantras: Good ideas come from everywhere in the company. And with more than 11,000 employees around the world, we have no shortage of good ideas.
We talked to three of Adobe’s most prolific and well-known idea people to get the scoop on what they do, how they do it, why they love it—and why they’ve chosen Adobe as their home when their talent and experience could land them virtually any job in the industry.
After more than 26 years at Adobe, Russell has earned himself an Emmy Award and a cult following. His sessions at Adobe MAX are regularly packed to overflowing, and he reaches millions of people every year through his training workshops and instructional videos. (An Emmy for instructional videos? Yes, they’re that good.)
Q: You’re always pushing boundaries with Photoshop. What are you currently focused on and what inspires you?
A: I’ve been very focused on extreme printing lately, which is all about taking images and turning them into something that you can touch and feel. In the past, I used a laser engraver to turn 2D Photoshop files into 3D wood carvings. Now I am looking at printing Photoshop images on decal material with ceramic paint and then transferring the images to teapots. The possibilities are endless, and I am always searching for that next crazy way to work with images. When people say it isn’t possible, I try and make it possible.
Q: How have you evolved as a photographer/artist?
A: When I first got out of college, I had no idea what I was going to do. But that all changed when I saw a computer. From that point on, I knew that I was going to be playing with computers for the rest of my life. I began doing basic graphic design and working on graphics for video games. Eventually I moved over to Adobe, where I started combining my graphic design background with performance art, which I now use to educate others about what is possible with Adobe software. Creating entertaining ways to communicate concepts helps me get the message across more easily and understandably, and it’s fun.
Q: Tell us about any other creative media you work in; are there any other areas you wish to explore that you have not yet?
A: I’m always looking for computer-controlled printing devices to fuel my love of extreme printing. I also want to explore 3D imaging and the possibilities around printing Photoshop images on 3D objects. I have so many ideas that might seem unreal, but I know they can happen.
Q: What is the future of Russell?
A: The key to success is having more fun. That’s my first criterion when accepting any project. I can’t wait to see what new toys Adobe creates for me to play with.
See more of Russell’s Q&A at Photoshop.com
Growing up in Taiwan, Jeff didn’t have much access to computers. But he had lots of time to study, and so he did. His interest in engineering led him to a graduate program in computer science, which led him to the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley—which led him to Adobe. For more than 21 years, he has worked to create some of the most innovative Adobe product features that customers now find indispensable.
Q: You created the Healing Brush tool in Photoshop, which was revolutionary at the time. How did that come about?
A: We started to work on a scratch remover. Then we talked for days and days and days, and finally said, “This will be solving a heat equation, right?” And all of a sudden, I realized that it was something I knew when I was back in school—I took a heat transfer class. In plain English, if you put a hot rod and a cold rod together, what happens? The heat transfers from one to the other. That equation explains how the heat transfers, and it’s a very smooth diffusion. The same thing happens when you take a piece of an image from one to another—it diffuses. It is like the pieces have different temperatures. You can see how they start to blend, and that process is very smooth, very seamless. When you apply that equation to your image, you can fool your eye. You don’t see the transition; it’s all smooth.
Q: How did people react to the Healing Brush tool?
A: With the Healing Brush, there’s something really special about it. At the time, we really didn’t know it was going to be a hit, because we were just busy cooking in our kitchen. One day, our User Interface (UI) designer came back and hugged us; we made her day because she got a huge response from customers when they saw the Healing Brush. They couldn’t believe a program could do something like that. You take a piece of data from one part of the image, and after the blending, the Healing Brush has done the post processing; it’s just seamless blending into the background. That was magic at the time. And to us, we just solved a very simple heat equation that I learned in my junior year in college!
Q: Why do you love doing this kind of work at Adobe?
A: I feel blessed. This job is a privilege. I feel a responsibility to do the best that I can in this job because of the impact that it has on people’s lives, and that thought sometimes keeps me awake. But the ability to impact lives by broadening people’s creative possibilities is also the reason that I love what I do at Adobe. I’m very lucky.
Q: What do you want your legacy to be?
A: I want to be remembered as a person that helped other people to grow, helped other engineers to grow, helped Adobe to grow, and helped our customers to be more productive.
See more of Jeff’s interview at Photoshop.com
Like most scientists, Enzo is something of a professional brainstormer. And at Adobe, he gets the latitude not only to brainstorm solutions but also to brainstorm which problems he wants to solve in the first place. The ability to do this kind of self-directed work isn’t something he takes for granted, even after 12 years.
Q: Your job is somewhat hard to define. How do you describe what you do at Adobe?
A: I find customer problems that keep coming up. Once I hear about a problem enough times, I ask myself, “Is this interesting? Is it challenging?” If it is, I do some research to see what we can do to solve it that’s different from anything that has ever been done before. If it seems like there’s potential for a solution, I have the pleasure of putting together a team of brilliant folks and leading them to a solution. We don’t deliver just the next refinement of some tools—we find a problem and solve it in a completely new way.
Q: What are some of the most exciting innovations you’ve been able to work on at Adobe?
A: The Mercury Playback Engine in Adobe Premiere was an exciting innovation because we moved effects processing and image manipulation from the central processing unit (CPU) to the graphics processing unit (GPU). That enabled a huge performance increase. Another example is what we did when we rewrote Premiere for multicore processing, which led to even more performance gains. Our goal was to have Premiere be so high-performing that when you were holding the shuttle control and moving it back and forth along your video timeline, you couldn’t distinguish a difference between doing that in your software and doing it on your old hardware editing system. We gave the user that tight feedback so they can get editing timing down perfectly.
Q: Why do you love doing this job at Adobe?
A: I love the freedom. I appreciate the open space to solve problems. In between projects, I get the freedom to explore—which is a privilege—and I use that time to figure out what I want to attack. But the best part is that I get to work with really, really brilliant folks. When I’m stuck in the middle of trying to make one of these projects work and things feel like they’re not working, these brilliant people keep me going. I feel energized every time I get to talk to them because they’re inspiring me with their ideas. I can talk with them and suddenly come up with a new approach to solving a problem that I’m working on. It’s a great environment.