Aspiring VFX artists gain industry foothold

BY: kirstyp |


Aspiring artists Tim Fagan and Joseph Roberts use UniSA’s Graduate Certificate in Visual Effects at RSP as a stepping stone to their first industry jobs

Adelaide, South Australia—16 March 2016—For aspiring visual effects artists, landing that first job is often difficult. That’s true despite the industry’s almost insatiable need for fresh talent. Part of the problem is that it can be hard for young artists to get the training they need to step into professional roles. Although many colleges and universities offer course work in visual effects, the academic environment lacks the complexity of real-world production.

Rising Sun Pictures has sought to bridge the gap by developing a comprehensive visual effects training program. In partnership with the University of South Australia, it offers courses in Houdini, Nuke, 3DEqualizer, Maya, Shotgun and other industry standard software, all taught by working professionals in a simulated production environment. Students work with elements from actual movies and are expected to perform up to industry standards.
The approach has been paying off. Rising Sun Pictures has achieved remarkable success in placing its students into internships and/or first jobs, including a number at RSP itself. The formula is good for students who get started along a career path, and for VFX houses, who get properly trained talent.

Among RSP’s latest success stories are Tim Fagan and Joseph Roberts. Both are currently completing the UniSA/RSP Graduate Certificate in Visual Effects. The 12-week accredited program, run in partnership with the University of South Australia, aims to hone skills in tracking, paint, 2D and other core disciplines. Even before completing the program, Fagan was offered an internship at Animal Logic, Sydney, and Roberts accepted a post as a junior modeler at RSP.
Here they discuss their experience at RSP and their nascent careers.

RSP: Tim, how did you become interested in visual effects?

Tim Fagan: My background is different from most. I recently finished a PhD in Mechanical Engineering focused on computer modelling of manufacturing processes. I hadn’t considered a career in visual effects and was most likely on my way to doing a post doctorate. Early last year, while looking for a way to visualize my results, I stumbled across Houdini. It was able to do what I needed—mesh some particle data—more significantly it introduced me to the world of visual effects. I was blown away! I loved the technical combined with the artistic.

RSP: And, Joseph, what’s your story?

Joseph Roberts: I’m originally from the UK but moved to Adelaide when I was 12. I was always interested in making things but the cost for supplies… paints, clay, pencils…started to add up. So I looked for an alternative and found digital art. I started playing around with it in high school, making 3D models for animations, and carried that all the way through university.

RSP: What brought you to RSP?

TF: I found the RSP website through their education page. It has advice on getting into the industry. I sent in my reel, asking for feedback, and Kirsty Parkin responded with pointers. I later signed up for RSP’s Introduction to Dynamics in Houdini course and Kirsty suggested coming over for the full graduate certificate. After careful thought, I did!

RSP: What did you learn in the course?

JR: I came into the course with no experience in the subject matter. I had a modelling background and wanted to expand my skill-set. I learned everything I now know about roto, comp and tracking from this course.

RSP: How did you find the classroom experience?

TF: We were constantly provided with practical opportunities. We worked through many, many shots, all past shots that RSP delivered. When there was a new technique or approach to learn, Jeremy or David, our instructors, gave a short lecture. We then had a chance to apply it to a shot.

JR: We worked with the type of assets and shots that we would encounter in an actual job. There was certainly a level of satisfaction that came from recreating a shot from The Wolverine or The Great Gatsby.

RSP: Did you pick up any useful career advice?

TF: A couple times a week we had a talk from one of the departments--Effects, Concept Design, Matte Painting—that included career advice. For someone like me with a background in engineering, the chance to sit and listen to these different departments was fantastic and a very efficient way to get up to speed on how a studio functions.

JR: We were also given advice on how to get a job after the course is over. We sat down with the HR and Education department and they critiqued our show reels and resumes.

RSP: Was the course what you expected?

JR: Not at all! In traditional learning environments, you sit in a classroom and are taught in isolation. At RSP, you’re just meters from a studio working on the next big blockbusters. At any time, you could walk out on the studio floor and talk to staff, ask questions, make connections.

TF: I’m surprised at the opportunities it’s provided. It's a course but also a stepping stone into the industry.

RSP: Did the course prepare you to step into a professional role?

TF: Definitely! Working on actual shots, submitting to Shotgun, having them reviewed, working through feedback—it gave us a sense of confidence in the whole process. We knew the bar we were reaching for was the same as on the floor.

RSP: Tim, how did you land the internship with Animal Logic?

TF: Kirsty approached me with news that they were looking for an FX TD intern with a technical background. She felt I would be a good match. After a phone interview, I got an offer. I start 18th April.

RSP: Joseph, tell us about the job off you received from RSP.

JR: It really came down to great timing. They needed someone who could step onto the floor for a few weeks to help out with overflow. By that point, I’d learned enough about the pipeline from the course to fill the role. It’s very exciting. I never expected to get a job while still studying.

RSP: Any advice for other aspiring artists?

JR: Get into the Graduate Certificate at RSP. There isn’t anything like it in terms of learning how a studio runs from the inside or the opportunities it affords.