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Rising Sun Pictures and UniSA Create Hands-On VFX Training Program

South Australia’s booming movie industry has created a demand for skilled VFX artists; RSP and University partner to train and provide home-grown talent to bolster burgeoning industry.

Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) and the University of South Australia (UniSA) are working together to address the growing demand for technical and creative jobs fueled by the increase in international film and television productions coming to South Australia. Their mission is to ensure that more of these jobs go to home-grown talent. The VFX studio and the University jointly operate a unique and successful visual effects training program. Dozens of aspiring artists that have come through the program have found career-track employment at visual effects studios in Australia and abroad, including 23 currently on staff at RSP. Launched five years ago, the program has grown and diversified steadily, providing students with hands-on training in computer animation, compositing, digital lighting, and other in-demand skills.

“South Australia has a very well-established screen industry, but what it has historically lacked, is a local workforce qualified to meet the needs of that industry,” explained UniSA Creative executive dean, Joanne Cys. “In the past, companies, like Rising Sun Pictures, that work on movies and television shows, have largely depended on an imported workforce. To have access to local talent, who are properly trained and have relevant experience, would obviously be a huge benefit.”

The training program is designed to help build a pool of local talent by providing students with skills needed to move directly from the classroom to employment in industry. Third-year students studying visual effects through UniSA’s Bachelor of Film and Television program complete part of their coursework via classes taught at RSP’s studio in Adelaide. Spanning compositing, lighting, FX and other subjects, the classes are structured to mirror a professional production environment and are taught by veteran artists from RSP’s staff.

“Students operate in pipeline identical to the one we use to produce visual effects for Hollywood, so it’s very realistic,” noted RSP managing director Tony Clark. “They have access to real-world production data, function as a team and are coached and mentored by working artists. The result is that, upon graduation, they are ready to work.”

In addition to undergraduate instruction via the Bachelor of Film and Television, the program includes Graduate Certificate training, delivering higher-level skills to post-graduate students. It also offers a variety of short courses for working artists and others interested in learning new skills.

Historically many VFX artists were self-taught or learned on the job, but today that is much less true. Visual effects used in movies and television are more sophisticated than they once were as is the software employed to create them. Entry-level artists require a deep pool of knowledge and often need specialized training in a particular aspect of visual effects production.

UniSA students learn a range of skills and knowledge during their first two years on campus. They then put that knowledge into practice at RSP.

“We’re contributing to the professionalization of an important sector of the industry,” added Cys. “It’s a process that commonly occurs in emerging creative industries. It’s part of the University’s mission to increase expertise and raise standards in developing businesses that are significant to the local economy.”

RSP originally began the training program to meet its own need for junior-level artists but the program has become more than that with graduates currently on-staff at major visual effects studios in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne. Others have found employment in the United States, New Zealand, and Asia. 

“That's something we're very proud of,” noted Clark. “Our program has a great reputation. If you’ve gone through our course and scored well, it means you have very good potential as an artist. Other studios are quick to snap up our graduates.”

Students see the program serves as a bridge, easing two of the biggest challenges to getting started in a career: landing that first job and adjusting to the working world. Samantha Maiolo completed the training program and earned her undergraduate degree last year. She was then hired immediately as a junior roto and paint artist at RSP.

“I learned so many invaluable skills in a very little time,” recalled Maiolo. “It’s very hard to find that kind of practical experience. You can’t get it from watching YouTube videos. I was taught in-person by instructors who are artists themselves. They were able to walk me through techniques and ensure that I fully understood them.”

Adelaide-native Justin Greenwood a graduate of the program currently working as at RSP has earned credits on nearly a dozen films including Alita: Battle Angel, Tomb Raider and Captain Marvel.

“I always thought if you wanted a career in this industry, you had to upend your life,” commented Greenwood. “To be able to work in the same city where I grew up and went to school is both a great opportunity and a personal blessing.”

The success of the program has prompted RSP and UniSA to look for ways to expand and build on it. UniSA recently formed the Film Concept Lab (FCL), a workshop program for students interested in working in film and television production. Students from FCL and RSP are currently working with the independent production company We Made a Thing Studios to produce a short film that will premiere at this year’s Adelaide Film Festival. FCL is designed to mirror the success of the visual effects training program by providing students with practical experience that can smooth their path to employment.

“Film Concept Lab is a big step for us and a true innovation,” observed Cys. “We hope it will become an annual component of our program, add richness to our students’ education and, ultimately, help them in their careers.”

The visual effects training program has become an integral part of RSP’s operation.  In Clark’s view, the impact of the training program may be more long-lasting.

“We’re providing young people with the skills they need to work productively in this space for decades,” added Clark. “We feel an obligation to add to the labor pool, not only to serve our needs but also to contribute to the health of the industry and our community. We feel it’s our responsibility.”

Source: Rising Sun Pictures