Flinders, Rising Sun Pictures collaboration gives SFX to graduate careers

From left to right: John Chen (Lighting), Claire Kearton (Lighting), Finley McNeilage (Paint/Roto), Anne Vu (Data Wrangling), Heath Dingle (Render Wrangling).
From left to right: John Chen (Lighting), Claire Kearton (Lighting), Flinders graduate Finley McNeilage (Paint/Roto), Anne Vu (Data Wrangling), Heath Dingle (Render Wrangling).

Success for a visual effects company in the movie industry depends on a constant influx of fresh young talent.

While the team at Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) waited anxiously to see if its work on last summer’s blockbuster X-Men: Days of Future wins an Oscar for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards later this month, the company’s future success may depend on something that happens a few week later in April.

That’s when the latest group of aspiring visual effects artists arrives to take part in a unique training program RSP runs in tandem with Flinders University.

Rising Sun Pictures has contributed to some of the most popular films of the past two decades, including to the Oscar Winning Gravity and films from the Harry Potter and Hunger Gamesfranchises.

In addition, RSP’s work on X-Men: Days of Future Past brought nominations for BAFTA, VES and AACTA awards – and it is currently producing visuals for a raft of new features including Pan,Tarzan and Gods of Egypt.

But even for a top shop like RSP, finding, developing and retaining talent can be challenging in a visual effects industry that now spans the globe.

Two years ago, in an effort to ensure a stable of home-grown talent, Rising Sun Pictures joined with Flinders University to launch a professional 10-week training program for visual effects artists to provide students with the hands-on training they need to find work as junior artists.

Students, who are required to have a bachelor’s degree and basic knowledge of visual effects processes, train in a workshop setting very similar to the environment of professional artists.

The course is taught by regular RSP staff, and students are expected to turn out professional quality work. Students who successfully complete the program receive a Graduate Certificate and Industry Certificate in Creative Arts (Visual Effects) from Flinders University.

Kirsty Parkin, who manages the program for RSP, said a formal program was begun, in part, to help fill the company’s employment needs because students graduating with regular university degrees weren’t ready to perform in a professional setting.

“There was a gap between the level students were attaining through traditional education and what we needed in order to hire them,” Ms Parkin said. “They didn’t have the software skills we needed. Our program fills the gap.”

RSP’s training program is intentionally small and the class size is limited to no more than nine students to ensure individual attention.

The four 10-week sessions that the company has conducted so far have produced a total of 35 graduates, of which RSP has hired five as junior artists, each of whom is currently working on movie projects.

One of those junior artists is John Chen. Born in Taiwan, Mr Chen grew up in Queensland and was working as a business development specialist when he decided to make a u-turn and pursue a career in visual effects.

He went back to school and earned an Advance Diploma in Film from TAFE Queensland, before discovering that his skills were not enough to land a job.

“Being invited to study at RSP was a dream come true,” he said. “The opportunity to work at one of the world’s top VFX houses and learn from working industry professionals was great.

“We trained in a true professional pipeline with plates shot for films such as Harry Potter andPrometheus. It was exciting!”

A few months after completing his training at RSP, Mr Chen landed a job as a match-move and tracking artist at Luma Pictures in Melbourne, where he worked on Captain America 2 andGuardians of the Galaxy.

Invited to join RSP at the end of 2014, he is currently working on environment sculpting and lighting for Gods of Egypt.

Claire Kearton earned a Master of Design in Digital Media from the University of Adelaide before enrolling in the RSP program last year.

Although she had a significant amount of prior software training, she said working in a professional environment made it more “real and accessible”, and gave her a better idea of career possibilities down the road.

Ms Kearton said she emerged with more confidence in pursuing employment.

“I learned how companies work,” she said. “And it taught me how to speak intelligently to job recruiters.”

After completing  her training, Ms Kearton worked as a freelancer for several months before receiving an offer of a six-month contract from RSP as a lighting artist.

She feels her career is now on a good path.

“Getting in at RSP was a huge goal,” she said. “I’m enjoying it.”

Finley McNeilage, from Adelaide, was led by his passion for filmmaking to complete a degree in creative arts from Flinders University.

While making his own short films, he examined career opportunities in the movie industry and realised that the RSP program offered a practical route.

“As far as formal education in professional level VFX goes, it’s top notch,” he said. “My teachers came off the floor, where they were working on their own shots for upcoming films, and taught me techniques they use every day.

“It was amazing. I learnt things I could not have learned elsewhere, and certainly nowhere else in South Australia.”

Mr McNeilage is now working as a rotoscope artist on Pan, Tarzan and Gods of Egypt and hopes one day to become a Visual Effects Supervisor.

Ms Parkin said she is pleased with the progress of the program, and particularly with RSP’s success in partnering with Flinders University to develop local talent.

She said it had been good for the students, good for the school and good for RSP.

“It’s been very positive for our recruiting,” she said. “We put students through their paces, and train them on our software and our way of doing things.

“If they are good, they can transition from the classroom to our floor – and certainly that has happened. We’ve hired five junior artists and they are all doing very well.”

For more information about training at Rising Sun Pictures, visit http://flinders.rsp.com.au/

About Rising Sun Pictures:

Rising Sun Pictures are a passionate team of producers, artists and technicians, known globally for delivering complex visual effects on high profile feature film and television projects. Our clients are inspired by the creative and technical solutions we deliver, and our team is integral in providing a truly collaborative experience. RSP is currently working on PanTarzan and Gods of Egypt, with recent film credits including X-Men: Days of Future PastGravityThe Seventh Son,The WolverineThe Great GatsbyThe Hunger GamesPrometheusJourney 2: The Mysterious IslandGreen Lantern and the final five Harry Potter films.

More Info at http://www.rsp.com.au

Enrolments for the 7 April intake close on 23 March.

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