Ae & James Acquavella
As a 14 year old boy, I wanted a motorcycle, a go-kart and a drum set, in that order. Due to safety concerns, I was only able to procure a beginner’s drum set and join my friends that wanted to start a band. As time progressed, so did the recording equipment we had available to us.
Starting with several 4-track recordings, we eventually recorded a 7-inch record with an 8-track recording unit on 1-inch tape in a real studio. Mixing the final tracks required manual automation of the faders and the engineer would mix in real-time as the tape played. If a part required more than 2 simultaneous knob or fader moves, he would ask us to help. If the automation wasn’t perfect, we’d have to start over.
In the early 90’s, we recorded at a studio that had Digital Audio Workstation and it wasn’t until then I was interested in computers. The improved workflow allowed us to fine tune the mix much more efficiently, producing a better result.
As it became clear the band’s potential for success was limited, I moved to Seattle and enrolled at the University of Washington. At 20, I bought my first computer, a 25 MHz IBM that ran Windows and enrolled in my first computer programming class.
As I attended college, I was still interested in playing music and would try out for bands just to have the chance to play my drums. Eventually, my search for like-minded musicians was over and I joined a band.
My computer’s multi-media bundle included a free copy of Aldus PhotoStyler, which I used to create flyers and advertise our shows. This began my interest in computer graphics and influenced my decision to take the Computer Graphics class at the University of Washington. As I planned for post-graduation employment, my focus on contributing to the world of pure audio production had shifted as I learned that Adobe was hiring and had an office in Seattle.
It wasn’t until that first interview that I had learned that there was an animation product called Adobe After Effects, incorporating both video and audio into one production application. My first interview with Adobe went well; however, I later learned the interviewer wrote “potential loose cannon” on his interview sheet. Regardless, I was selected to take part in a college recruiting and interview event in San Jose, CA where I interviewed with David Simons, one of the creators of After Effects. After one lunch interview in Seattle, my offer letter was received and I happily accepted.
After graduating with a Computer Engineering degree, I started on the After Effects team in April 1997 at age 23. The team was just finishing the first Windows version and I was able to take some time to create some fun video effects, like Motion Tile, Beam, Transform, Audio Waveform, and Audio Spectrum.
As time progressed, so did my impact on the After Effects feature set, including the 3D user interface and interactions in version 5.0, the text layer rendering and animation model in version 6.0 and the shape layer feature in version 8.0. During the 7.0 time frame, I took a deter from animation and video related features to contribute to code that now provides cross platform user interface capabilities to most of the Creative Suite desktop products. My latest contributions include the Warp Stabilizer and 3D Camera Tracking plugins that use algorithms from our research group and incorporate them as features that work with After Effects.
My mom’s decision to buy me a drum set could have resulted in her having a “stay at home son”. Luckily it has influenced my career and over 15 years of engineering on the After Effects team. Thanks mom!