Get to know Propeller’s world-class team in our ongoing employee spotlight. Today, we talk to Chris Cooper who serves as the Labs Team lead. Chris is based in Sydney at our Australian HQ.
What do you do at Propeller?
I’m a team lead for the Labs Team, which is a very small team. It’s just Tony Luk and myself. We do early stage development on a variety of projects.
This year, we’ve worked on things like the Terrain Editing capability within the platform, front-end user components for an early stage hardware project, and we’ve also been working on rendering technologies for a simplified mobile map experience for users in the field.
Our work tends to be more R&D, but we’ve also been working on a server-based infrastructure that is really helping to facilitate a lot of these projects.
We’re shifting existing features onto an Amazon Lambda-based infrastructure that helps the platform compute and render in the cloud, rather than pulling data onto the device. We’re hopeful for performance improvements.
What’s your career background?
I previously worked in the film visual effects industry. I have 13 years of experience, and was honored with a Sci-Tech Academy Award for contributions to one of the films I worked on.
I started off doing TV commercials and then a TV series called Farscape, which was a science fiction series. After that, I worked on a range of films.
The first was Moulin Rouge, which has Nicole Kidman in it, and then the second Matrix movie, both of the Happy Feet animated movies, and other ones in between. I started off doing all types of shot work from 3D modeling to animation, lighting to texturing and rendering—all the steps in VFX shot production.
As I progressed, I did more coding and more tool development. I had done an engineering degree at the University of Technology Sydney, so that gave me a good background in computer hardware and software. As I was working, I got more involved with the software side and was writing a lot of tools for others to use in visual effects shot production. These were things like volume rendering for smoke and fire, and simulation tools for simulating natural phenomenon.
We worked on a very complicated film where the main characters were owls, and the complexity of how the feathers on an owl operate is very difficult to stimulate. You have very thin layers that slide over each other; they’re very high contrast, and if they don’t move correctly, they’ll pass through each other. There’s a lot of critical thinking involved to try to figure out solutions for that kind of stuff.
You did a lot of work on the early stages of the Propeller viewer. How have you watched it evolve over the past four years?
It originally began like a lot of the things we work on: a tech demo. I started investigating what sort of front-end platforms we could build upon.
I wanted to enable some basic functionalities that weren’t possible in our existing framework —the ability to divide the screen in different ways so that you could have a photo view over there, 3D map over here, and a timeline down here. We also wanted to have Propeller ownership over the code that was responsible for this front-end visualizer.
So, I got a rough demo together and showed it to the whole team at the time. From there, it gained momentum. The React platform that we built the code on top of seemed like the best option at the time. In hindsight, it’s proved to be a really great idea.
We realized very soon that we needed more experience working with this React front-end framework within Propeller, so we hired Andy, who has been a key player in helping the visualizer grow into what it’s become.
Andy’s brought a huge amount of knowledge of React and best code practices, and that sort of thing. Ultimately, the Propeller Platform is a complex web application, and having him enables us to manage that complexity. It’s not just the product that’s evolved, but the team is growing. There’s been some great hires around product and UX/UI.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Western Sydney in a suburb called Castle Hill. I still live in Western Sydney. I’m within half an hour’s drive of where I grew up.
I’ve got a good train line into work, and I work from home two days a week. That allows me to avoid a bit of commuting. Although it’s good to spend time in the office with the team, there are some tasks where you need to develop an algorithm, and then it’s good to have the quiet of working from home.
Before working at Propeller, what’s the strangest or most interesting job you’ve held?
It would have to be working at Animal Logic on big feature films. There’s a lot of memories.
In terms of strange jobs, it was my very first work experience was at a forestry place where I was taking mineral samples from rocks. I was helping grind up rocks so that they could extract minerals from them.
What’s your favorite Slack emoji and why?
I’ve actually created a few of the ones people use. It’s good to see people using them. I guess Mario is one of my favorite ones because it’s kind of fun. Mario’s always very high energy.
What’s your favorite Propeller memory?
Any talents, secret superpowers, or fun facts about yourself to share?
I do club-level motorsports with my family. I have three kids, and the older two were able to get a junior license. With that, they’re able to race a regular road car out in a field or on a skidpan. We often get out and do that for fun.
What’s one thing you wish people understood better about your job or Propeller as a whole?
I’m not a great communicator outwardly to the company, so a lot of people don’t understand what we’re working on or why we’re working on it.
It’s helpful for us to be able to move quickly and not have a lot of concerns slowing us down when we’re very much still exploring things. We need space to move and explore, which some non-technical people may not understand.
A lot of great initiatives have come out of that way of operating, like the visualizer and some of the other features we’re working on now. That flexibility is something I want to consciously maintain.
Want to join our team? We’re hiring!