NOTE: this article originally ran in the May 2021 issue of AUGIWORLD Magazine, the official publication of AUGI Design Community.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Jason Pohl and ask him a few questions about himself, the industry, and a little of what he is doing now. Jason is a designer best known throughout the world as the Lead Designer for Orange County Choppers which aired on the Discovery Channel. That’s right, AUGIWorld’s first celebrity! Jason earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Illinois Institute of Art. He now works for Dassault Systèmes and is a Brand Ambassador for SOLIDWORKS. Jason is a father of four, one being born just this year in 2021. He currently resides in the great state of New York with his wife and kids, where he has lived for quite some time.
Q: What got you into the world of design?
A: It was just the strong desire to create something, anything; whether I was in the shop at my Dad’s shed or my Grandfather’s farm. I was just always building stuff so I always liked the idea of ‘here’s the task that’s in front of you. What can you make of it?’ In my imagination, as a kid, a board could be anything. It was just a wooden block, and then once you start cutting and grinding and pounding nails into it, it becomes something. So my whole life I just had this strong desire to create and design, and then when I grew up, I was able to refine that into specific skills and acquire the tools to be able to do greater and greater projects every day.
So for me, it wasn’t just one thing that made me want to become a designer. It was just kind of the natural progression of my life; I needed to create. I needed to make something, whether it was a painting, a sculpture, or a freaking birdhouse. I wanted to build and create. That’s where my love and passion of art and design kind of came together.
Q: So you earned a lot of fame when you worked with Orange County Choppers, kind of a “rock star” gig at least for designers and engineers. Do you ever get sick of people asking about your time at OCC?
A: You know what? It’s like when you go see your favorite band, at a concert, and you really want them to play that one song that they’re really sick of, but you need to play that song. The audience goes nuts, and that’s what they want. In a weird twisted way, people have compared me to a rock star, which is awesome so I’ve embraced it. It’s been my life for the last 17 years, and I’m proud of that body of work. I still have a great relationship with Paul Senior, and that experience helped shape me into the designer that I am today, so I’m definitely proud of my past. It was always a good positive thing for me, and it still is.
Q: What was the one thing you learned working for the Teutuls’ that makes you are who you are today?
A: There was a lot of things that I’ve learned along my way at Orange County Choppers, and working with the Teutuls. One thing that stuck out to me was the amount of passion they have about what they’re doing. I’ll never forget the day I met Paul, and he introduced me to his son, Paulie. I’m pretty sure they got into a huge blowout fight, and I think anyone with enough common sense would have ran away from the job at that point. But I was 21 years old, and I looked at these guys and thought, ‘wow, these guys are passion-driven. This is awesome.’ I compare that to the passion that I had, to create and design. Sometimes, I learned what not to do, just as much as I learned what to do, but it was home for me for 17 years. I learned a lot along the way, and I’m very grateful to them for that opportunity.
Q: Switching gears here; you were a big user of Autodesk products. How hard was the transition to SOLIDWORKS?
A: Well, I actually started on SOLIDWORKS before I started using anything from Autodesk. I mean, I can go all the way back to Bryce 3D, when I was 14 years old, doing landscapes in 3D. And then I went on and went to art school, and they were pushing Discreet’s 3Ds Max, so I jumped into that, doing spline models and character models. I was actually a 3D environment artist also for a hot minute, in the video game industry, right out of college, and I kind of used that, but it was polygonal-based. It was all polygons and splines. And I was doing some cool stuff, but at the end of the day, to make motorcycle parts, I needed something that was more engineering-driven.
It was a transition, because I was coming from this loose polygonal world, where I’m just kind of slapping things in 3D space and making them look cool, to more, real-life engineering stuff. You got to sit down and focus, and you need to understand what relations are, and more about creating the center line and working off of a point, in space, become more exact. So I learned SOLIDWORKS at a very young age, sometime around 2004, and it’s been my right-hand when it comes to 3D modeling. I have ventured off with other packages, but I always end up back in SOLIDWORKS modeling, because it models so fast. And it knows my next move, so it’s a really good relationship that I’ve had with that software, that even if I do try something else, I always end up back with it.
We were in a very unique position with OCC, in 160 countries and on television. It was a good, good place to be, but that comes with a lot of pressure from different marketing firms and different agendas from big companies, and they would often push software or equipment at us. They want you to use it, and then, it’s like, sometimes you had to make different decisions. For instance, our tools in the shop changed quite a bit. At one point, we did a Snap-on bike, and then the next year, we’re doing a CRAFTSMAN bike, and after that, we’re doing a KOBALT bike. So sometimes, you had to shift gears with what was current and what was put in front of you. But when the dust settles, I go back to my core and what I’ve relied on all these years, and that’s SOLIDWORKS.
The biggest problem, for me, with using all these different software packages was having a license for this, having a log-in for that; and it was hard to get things to talk with one another. I was using a model in SOLIDWORKS, and then another package to render it out, so it would look pretty for my clients. So I was juggling, trying to import this file type into the program I’m using for rendering and kick out the final product. And now, what I’ve found is my workflow is much more streamlined, because I’m always working in this same environment: the 3DEXPERIENCE platform.
Now I go from my SOLIDWORKS model, kick it out to Visualize Connected, which is amazing. And I’m doing awesome renders in half the amount of time. Before to do these renders, I would be setting up lights, and I’d be making my own shader from scratch. And I’d be spending literally days on how to get a Chrome shader just right or how do I get this car paint to go on this motorcycle gas tank. And now, with Visualize, they already have the shaders and everything so I just drop them right on top of my model. I’m not messing with a light rig. Because I used to have to use up to 20 different lights in one scene, just to get this motorcycle to look right. Right now, I just rely on Visualize to do it for me, and it’s all connected, because it’s all on the same platform. And it’s just so nice having all my tools under one roof, it just makes my life that much easier.
Q: One of AUGI’s long-time supporters is Lynn Allen. She was our guest speaker, once again, this year for AUGI’s Annual General Meeting. Lynn was the spotlight for Autodesk for almost 24 years. She was known as THE Technology Evangelist for many years. She is now with Dassault Systèmes. Have you had a chance to chat it up with her yet?
A: Yeah, she’s amazing. Everyone knows who she is in the industry, so it was cool to sit down and talk with her. We’re both like-minded, and I think we share the same passion when it comes to getting this technology and these design tools out there. Part of what I’m trying to do here is to inspire the next wave of industrial designers, because honestly, I had an awesome time. And I still do. I’m still designing stuff every day. It’s such a great career. It doesn’t feel like work for me, and it’s just like, I want to spread the joy. You know what I mean? I think this world could be a better place if everyone had a job or a hobby or a trade or a skill that they love to do. So part of me wants to see other people get out there and use these tools and have fun with it and create. When people are happy, they have more respect for one another, and it’s been an awesome life for me, as a designer. And I just want to see other people do the same thing, have fun. It’s all about having fun.
Q: Your personal company is Jason Pohl Designs. What is Jason Pohl Designs currently working on these days?
A: Right now, I’m juggling of a bunch of different projects, but the one that’s on the forefront right now is I’m redesigning a CNC machine. It’s pretty cool, because I spent the last five years inside a CNC shop, at Orange County Choppers, so while I was there, I was always thought it would be cool to design one of these. And here I am on my own, and I get this contract come up, and I’m like, hell, yes, I want to design a CNC machine.
It’s like a 50-foot Gantry CNC machine, and it’s got a theme to it. They’re chasing the styling of the SR-71 Blackbird, which is one of the fastest jets ever made, and they want to pour that style into their equipment. So I’m just having a blast with it. They got me a huge SOLIDWORKS assembly to work from. I’m changing things and just having fun with it, as a designer. Don’t tell them that, but it is a lot of fun for me.
Q: When you were with OCC, you designed over 300 motorcycles. Being an avid biker and Harley Davidson lover myself; are motorcycles your “go to” design that really brings out the passion in designing? Or is there something else that really gets you motivated?
A: Yeah, motivation comes from all sorts of different places, and I love designing motorcycles. I really do. And I’m not done designing them, by any means, but right now I feel like a kid in a candy store, because I’m designing anything and everything. So for the longest time, I was stuck, focused just on motorcycles. So it’s like a fresh breath of air to be able to do more product design and be in other industries and tackle other projects. So it’s something that’s always on the back on my mind, and I’ll get to it one day. But right now, I’m just having so much fun designing all these other products; that this is where I need to be.
Q: A little on the personal side here: How do you find time to juggle what you do and be a dad to four children? It’s got to be quite a task.
A: Well, it’s a lot of fun, and things are very busy these days. And lucky for me, I have a rock star wife. We work really well together, as a team. I’m always carving out that time, because well, like I always say, my most important title in life is Dad. I’m raising my kids up right, and I’m going to give them all the chances that I had growing up and inspire them to do great things. It’s so much fun. That’s part of the reason education is all of a sudden on the forefront of my mind. It was always sell a TV show, sell a bike, make money, repeat. And now, with four children of my own, I have the strong desire to teach and show them right from wrong and all these different experiences. So now, education has quickly bumped up to the top of my radar again. So it’s really cool, and it’s something that I never really thought about until it was in front of me.
Q: Do you have any of them showing any interest in engineering or design or putting things together?
A:Yeah. We have Sindoh 3D printer here at the house, and I mean, my kids are obsessed with it. We print stuff for them, and they get it, man. They’re a little too young, but I already got them using SOLIDWORKS apps for kids. And we’re modeling stuff like that. And of course, my two oldest are six and four, and they’re in the Minecraft world. I think it’s great, because they’re building and they’re creating. And they’re modeling inside a video game, which is awesome. So it all translates, and I’m able to put it in real life, in front of them, with that 3D printer, so it’s really cool.
Q: Do you have any good, solid advice for these designers and users that you practice on a day-to-day basis?
A: I would say that they need to always be looking ahead when it comes to design tools. This new cloud-based platform system, the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform, is really going to change the game.
“The most amazing thing that I found working with the platform is that when I’m working on the Cloud, my data is always secure. It’s always saved. I don’t have to fumble around with all these external hard drives and wonder where everything’s at.”
The other this is the access to all these tools that SOLIDWORKS just doesn’t have, like xShape, which is amazing. I’m able to model these very complex and organic parts while holding C2 surface continuity. This is just something that is very hard to do in SOLIDWORKS; I’d have to do a billion different loft sections. By using xShape, I am able to use my artistic skills to quickly model advanced 3D surfaces by simply sculpting inside a 3D space. It’s really the ultimate tool for all industrial designers.
If you want to advance, the 3DEXPERIENCE platform is for you.
“One thing I always tell future designers and engineers alike is you need to become better today so you can conquer tomorrow.”
So if you’re just complacent in life and you do the same thing that you’ve always done, you’re going to be that same person, that same designer, that same engineer. You need to take that extra step that makes you better, that separates you from the pack. So for me, it’s learn something new every single day and push yourself to be a better designer. That’s what I do. I put myself in awkward positions and try to learn from them.
Basically, conquer something new, and with the platform, there’s so many new tools and things to do that it makes your workflow that much better and stronger, to be able to do something that you couldn’t before. Right now, I’m a better designer, because of the 3DEXPERIENCE Works portfolio, because I got on it, and I found these new tools, and I’m a better designer because of them.