As we begin to celebrate the Christmas season we also start to wrap up 2012. A lot of developers are moving to get their holiday products out in time for the big day and we at AirDailyX are quite busy as well keeping up with it all. But what's also important to us given the fact that we don't offer FS products ourselves, (at least not yet) is to release the products we do provide. Products our readers rely on us for such as our signature reviews, interviews etc. We'll today we have a great interview lined up so grab a a nice hot cup of cocoa and join us by the Christmas tree! We are having a nice chat with ImagineSim.
Well today Dominique and I take a bit of a break of the daily news and head to the UK to sit down and speak with one of the many great developers that make our hobby so great and fun.
This time around, for us, it's all about the popular and ever improving products manifested from ImagineSim. Today, we are talking to the front man behind the name, the talented Cal Lewin! Come sit with us!
D'Andre: Hello Cal and thanks very much for joining us today.
Dominique: Indeed. I have been waiting to finally chat with you since I started AirDailyX as lame as that may sound.
Cal: You're both very welcome.
D'Andre: We know your time is valuable and both of us have a lot we want to ask. There is a lot of curiosity about you Cal and can't wait to get to it so I suppose I'll start first.
Now to be honest, there is surprisingly very little the community knows about you given how long you have been around and developing scenery products for PC flight simulation. I think one of the biggest questions burning in my mind is: Are you a lone wolf in your business or is there actually a team behind what is known as ImagineSim?
Cal: I work from a spare room at home here in Suffolk, UK. My wife, Fran, looks after the business side. If there is something technical that I don't understand then I'll ask for assistance, but essentially everything happens at home.
Dominique: I guess there was always an assumption that there were at least a few guys on the team. Very interesting to learn the composition is just you and Mrs. Lewin.
D'Andre: If I can quickly add to that Dom, given the total focus on US airports, which represents the majority share in your product portfolio, I actually assumed you were based in the US so imagine my surprise when Dom presented a flight plan to Stansted. I wonder how many others assumed this as well.
Dominique: Cal, can you tell us what is the history of ImagineSim? What inspired you to enter the grueling processes of flight simulation design?
Cal: I used to work with Wolfgang Schwarz and Raffaele Fiore for an airport add-on company we had called Simflyers. As SimFlyers got better we got bigger and the expectation to keep striving, innovating, and succeeding started to create pressures.
Simflyers KJFK FS2002Eventually the fun went out of making airports so I took the difficult decision in 2004 to walk away. I started ImagineSim so I could carry on working at my own pace, on my own in the spare bedroom, almost at a hobby level again. It meant that I would have to go back to part-time designing but the enjoyment came back. And that's where I've been to a greater or lesser level of success ever since.
D'Andre: One of the things I have noticed about some of your projects is you do attempt to add a bit of life outside of the perimeter fence such as your signature custom trees and placements of default buildings/autogen. Have you given any thoughts to moving away from the default autogen and adding something more custom?
Cal: I think if it interests me then I will look at it, but for me the airport is still the main focus. If you mean will I move into creating large cities along with airports then I doubt it. I don't think I have the concentration levels required to put so much into one project.
D'Andre: Not so much large cities but for example: If you look at FlyTampa Midway or Buffalo or even going way back to FlightZone's Provenience, there are surrounding neighbourhoods represented usually only consisting of the blocks immediately across from the airport perimeter fence. It's something I have always liked to see in all products and something I have always felt would further enhance the environment to your products. As you have done this somewhat using generic objects, have you considered anything more custom?
Cal: I haven't to be honest, but I think you are right. I've often admired those boundary areas myself and it all adds to the immersive content doesn't it, even imperceptibly or if only for a few seconds.
Dominique: I do like the custom trees you add and at the very least there is no large autogen exclusion zone around the airports in your more recent works. So seeing the autogen close to the airport really helps. It is also quite interesting to note that you are usually releasing FS9 versions first prior to FSX. Does this provide you any advantages in terms of programming or is it more of a complex process?
Cal: No reason, other than that's what I'm used to doing. There's a lot of commonality between the two. I don't particularly prefer one over the other.
D'Andre: One of the things we are really starting to see among other developers is the discovery and implementation of new techniques and procedures that enhance the look and performance of their projects. For example, we are starting to see a lot of photoreal textures being implemented by developers such as Drzewiecki Design, LHSim, and Taxi2Gate. We are also seeing major enhancements in texture baking techniques by developers like FlyTampa, FSDT, FSDG, and 29Palms to name a few. As it is quite obvious you are continuously working to improve the quality of your projects, have you at all given consideration to venturing into these development methods?
Cal: I think the advances made with texturing recently are incredible. I've been using the Photoshop CS series for the past few years and there is a marked difference with my work pre-CS with Washington Dulles, and after. In fact, I think texturing is key. Basic structures can look very sophisticated if the texturing is right. I'm not a great buyer of add-ons anymore so I'm not too familiar with what other developers are making. However, developers like Orbx and FlyTampa really are creating very sophisticated products which we can all admire.
D'Andre: So if I understand correctly, you are using Photoshop? To be honest, this is the first time I have heard of a developer using CS for FS scenery design. Do you use any other development tools such as GMAX, 3DS MAX, etc?
Cal: The models are made with Abacus' FSDS. It's a simple and unobtrusive tool and does all that I need it to do.
Cal: I'm the least competitive person and I don't see myself in any competition. I think the work naturally progresses with each new project and improvements will come along the way. Sometimes in big steps and other times more subtly. The barometer is if people find my work interesting and enjoyable, not specifically what other developers are producing.
Cal: FSX has come into its own recently now that we are getting better computers and the immediate future looks as though it lays there. FS9 is still a wonderful space to work with and a lot of people continue to use it. I'll keep making airports for FS9 as long as it stays viable and it seems as strong as ever. X-Plane looks as though it's almost there. I think we all would like to see Prepar3D more widely used but I gather there are some limitations with their licensing which keeps it out of reach of many.
Dominique: Are you happy with New Delhi and Atlanta V2airport in term of sales? How has the feedback been overall?
Cal: New Delhi was a very interesting project, though not lucrative. It was one that I personally enjoyed and I'd like to work in that region again in the future. The new version of Atlanta was received very well and it was heartening to see its success after spending quite a lot of time away from the US. If you like, the success of the larger US airports helps fund the work at less popular places.
D'Andre: Speaking of Atlanta, my review was very well received as well having been read over 800 times in 24 hours upon its release. Clearly there is a lot of interest in this destination and weather or not you had done it proper justice this time around. In my review I concluded that you had finally properly captured ATL and our readers agreed. Atlanta is a very important global airport and for some reason, many developers have stayed away from it. With it being a "mega airport" and the fact that only you have touched it I ultimately consider it to be your signature product. In my review I did outline areas that needed to see improvement. I was pleased to get a direct response from you regarding those areas. So my question here is: How do you plan to top ATL in the future in terms of destination and overall technique improvement?
Cal: I really appreciated how Atlanta was perceived. It's sometimes difficult to gauge how something will appear as a whole when one is so involved with the minutia of things. It can be difficult to stop a project, there's always new ideas and quite often techniques will evolve dramatically over the span of one title. I presume other developers are staying away from large airports because they take too long to produce and the financial return doesn't compute too well for them.
Dominique: Are there any new features you are planning to either add or use to enhance your products in the future?
Cal: I'm always grateful with every new release for the feedback. I'm trying to implement finer detail around the places where small things get noticed, areas from the cockpit that pass slowly by or reach a standstill. One thing I'd personally like to see airside workers moving about the ramp areas, loading baggage, getting in and out of cars, sharing a joke, the whole human aspect. The models are relatively easy to create but making it all happen is technically beyond me for the moment.
D'Andre: I'd like to see that as well. Oliver Pabst seems to be on the right track for something like that some day if he has the time for it. FSDT seems to be a lot closer to actually doing this one day. Okay, next question: On your website you state you also create commercial and aerospace industry simulation applications and provide blue-chip aviation companies with a range of 3D solutions. Is this your profession? What might you be willing to tell us about this?
Cal: I've been working with aerospace and simulator companies since the Simflyers days, providing models as diverse as complete air bases to lighthouses, hospitals to oilrigs and everything in between. The bespoke modelling side can take up a lot of my time and it's the reason why my FS work can appear to come and go in cycles. Some bespoke projects are very intensive and contract driven leaving little time for anything else. It's all a matter of balancing and it's something I've got better at recently.
Cal: No secrets. I'm keen to re-visit all of my work and create new versions of them. I may have to do it in batches because I'd also like to return to the less travelled path and work on new projects. Another airport for India interests me, Japan seems strangely underdone, the big airports of South Africa, Australia.
D'Andre: I like the way you think Cal. I'm in total agreement. In getting to know how a lone developer works. How much time do you spend on a weekly basis in that spare bedroom with your development processes?
Cal: It's difficult to quantify. At the moment most of my time is spent with FS because I'm really enthused with what I'm doing. But the bespoke side is very important from a financial point so if I seem to disappear for a while you'll know why.
D'Andre: Mr. Lewin, it's been an absolute pleasure finally having the opportunity to speak with you and learn a lot more about who you are and the work that goes into the work you create. If it's one thing I have always loved about ImagineSim, you have always gone after the airports on my wish list and coupled with that, your continuously improving works, I am sure to be a fan for the years to come. I'm also looking forward to reviewing your next product. Cal, I wish all the best to you, your wife, and ImagineSim.
Anything else you would like to add Dom?
Dominique: Again, it's just very nice to finally have had an open dialogue with you. I really enjoyed learning more about you and your development processes. I am a big fan and I sincerely look forward to landing on your next future airport. Thanks so much Cal and please extend our thanks to Fran for loaning you to us!
Cal: Thank you, my pleasure. I might also add that I really enjoy what you've done with AirDailyX. It's invigorating and truly groundbreaking for our industry and I wish you continued success.
We really greatly appreciate Cal for taking time for the interview. We certainly hope the interview style was as entertaining as it was informative. Beyond this, we finally got to learn quite a bit from Cal and in my opinion, the future looks very bright for ImagineSim! So what's next? Well we have one more interview before year's end and at least a couple more reviews. I am heading off to Slovakia for my next project and I believe Dom's next project is either off to the Pacific North West... or was it New Zealand? Anyway, thanks to you all again for reading. From both Dominique and I, we wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year!
D'Andre Newman / Dominique Mason
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