Outlook: Big year for VFX education
January 11, 2019

Outlook: Big year for VFX education

ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA — As 2018 comes to a close, Rising Sun Pictures Education (rsp.com.au) can look back on a year that saw its program grow, its partnership with the University of South Australia deepen and a record number of its graduates find meaningful employment in a booming visual effects industry. 

The only visual effects training program in Australia based within a working studio, the school has even more ambitious goals for 2019. Its plans include a new series of on-site courses for third-year undergraduate students and a boost in enrollment for its Graduate Certificate programs. It’s also adding instructors and classroom space as it seeks to meet rising demand, in Australia and around the world, for capable, professionally-trained artists.

“We bridge the gap between formal education and the skills you need to hit the ground running,” says Anna Hodge, the school’s manager for training & education. “We’ve done that by developing a program that gives students a well-rounded professional experience and through our commitment to constantly improve. We produce graduates who are confident and prepared to thrive.”

Beginning in March of next year, RSP Education will commence delivery onsite of the entire third year course work for students under the VFX specialisation of UniSA’s Bachelor of Media Arts degree program. Participating students will take two 18-unit courses covering compositing, tracking, lighting and dynamic effects. As with the university’s highly successful Graduate Certificate program, the aim is to have students receive their training from working artists in a professional studio environment.

Significantly, the new program includes a benefit for students not currently enrolled at UniSA. 

“Students can transfer into the Media Arts degree with an advanced diploma in screen and media from vocational colleges like TAFE SA and Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE), get 1.5 years credit for their studies and can complete their bachelor’s degree in only a year and a half,” says Hodge. “Admission is competitive for the third year VFX Specialisation but places are still currently available.”

With enrollment in its Graduate Certificate programs also growing, RSP expects its student population to expand considerably in the year ahead. In response, RSP Education is planning to bring on several new instructors.  

“Most of the new instructors are coming internally from RSP, and they will combine teaching with their regular work of creating visual effects for movies,” Hodge explains. “We’ve also hired a teaching assistant who was our prize winning 2017 graduate. Staffing is an ongoing process because it’s going to be a big year and we want to keep doing what we’re doing at a high quality.”

Over the course of their three-year partnership, RSP and UniSA have developed a close rapport. Hodge talks regularly with the university’s program director, Josh McCarthy, about ways to improve the program, and ensure it’s meeting the university’s academic requirements and delivering the skills demanded by industry. 

“It could be about making a software change, teaching a new skill or implementing new techniques,” she says. “Our instructors, too, are always looking for ways to improve. Our curriculum is responsive, and improvements made are industry-, artist- and student-driven. When you’re dealing with technology, you need a curriculum that is dynamic and adaptable and UniSA have provided the support for us to do that.”

RSP Education is determined to stay abreast of current methods employed in the visual effects industry and this has resulted in an enviable record for placing students in paid positions. Virtually every year, several graduates of the program are hired as junior artists by RSP itself. In addition, this year, several landed jobs at other Australian studios and one student also found a job at a studio in Los Angeles. On top of that, six former RSP students were hired by local We Made a Thing Studios, a production company co-founded by Jeremy Kelly-Bakker, a former instructor at the school. The company is creating a new web-series, Lucy and Dic, based on an award-winning short film that was produced by Kelly-Bakker with RSP student support.

“We have a great reputation with recruiters from other VFX companies,” says Hodge. “I talk with them about the jobs they have coming up and I pass that information along to our students. We provide students with support in terms of showreel and resume development as well as professionalism training. In terms of preparing for employment, our aim is to offer the complete package, not just classroom instruction. Many students who come through here want to travel. They want to experience the world. They want to work at other companies, expand their skills and improve their showreels. We provide them with the tools to accomplish those goals and, hopefully, some of them will end up back here at Rising Sun Pictures.”

Hodge credits the school’s success to the enthusiastic support it receives from Rising Sun Pictures, management and staff. 

“The whole company is behind the education program,” she says. “We have artists who have been teaching in the program for years because they love it. I’m constantly being approached by other artists who are interested in teaching a course or hosting one of our Day-in-the-Life sessions. It’s a fantastic feeling.”

Photo: Anna Hodge (second from the left) with the Rising Sun Pictures Education training staff.