Rising Sun Pictures Celebrates its 25th Year
Visual effects studio Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) has reached its 25th year, after producing work for more than 150 motion pictures and television series, including some of the most popular and critically-acclaimed films of the past two decades. RSP’s work has been honoured with Visual Effects Society (VES) and Australian Academy of Cinema & Television Arts (AACTA) awards, AEAF Awards as well as contributing to Oscar and BAFTA winning films. It has established lasting relationships with top studios and producers worldwide, and launched the careers of many successful visual effects supervisors, producers and artists.
Although RSP is mid-sized studio located in Adelaide, South Australia, located halfway around the world from its studio clients, the company has managed to thrive in an industry noted for boom-or-bust business cycles, rapidly developing systems, and intense, international competition. Co-Founder and Managing Director Tony Clark, believes that RSP’s continuous focus on earning trust has given the company a solid foundation.
“It’s about being honest and transparent in your relationships and building confidence over time,” he said. “It’s doing what you say you are going to do, doing it well and doing it consistently, year after year. We feel fortunate to have formed good-quality relationships with our clients.”
Tony and partners, Wayne Lewis and Gail Fuller, were fortunate in their timing when they formed RSP during a meeting at the Rising Sun Inn in suburban Adelaide in 1995. The release a few years earlier of James Cameron’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’, the first studio film to feature a lead character produced with computer graphics, had sparked a boom in visual effects and created demand for new suppliers.
“There was a scarcity of resources and companies that could reliably deliver quality at a good price,” said Tony. “That created an opening and we worked diligently in those early years to fill it.”
After starting out on smaller independent films, RSP made a breakthrough in Hollywood in 2001, when it was awarded work on Warner Bros' ‘Red Planet’. Impressing Warner Bros.’ production team with its ability to deliver high quality shots quickly, the studio soon began attracting work on other blockbusters, including ‘The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King’, as well as key effects scenes for ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’. RSP worked on four more films in the Harry Potter franchise, as well as other key sequences in ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘X-Men’, and creating the lead character Charlotte in ‘Charlotte's Web’.
RSP gained a reputation for a hand-crafted approach toward visual effects production that allowed artists creative freedom. Ambitious, talented artists found that appealing. “As we began working on bigger films, we started to hire artists from the US and London,” said Co-Founder Gail Fuller. “Many had worked at big facilities where their tasks were narrowly focused. They felt like workers on a production line. Here, they felt more ownership of their shots and engaged in the project as a whole. They could point to the screen and say, ‘Hey, that’s my shot!’”
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
In recent years, the studio has taken the lead on more technically and creatively challenging effects sequences. It shared an Oscar nomination for its work in designing and executing the time-bending Quicksilver Kitchen scene from ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past .
It also created the tense re-entry sequence in the final moments of Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Gravity’, winner of the 2013 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. For 2019 Best Picture nominee ‘Ford v Ferrari’, the studio created a digital replica of Daytona International Speedway, as it appeared in 1966, and filled it with thousands of digital actors in period costumes. Most recently, it has created visuals for Marvel Studios’ ‘Black Widow’ and Disney’s ‘Jungle Cruise’.
The opportunity to contribute to critical scenes in major films has helped RSP build a stable workforce. In the contract-driven visual effects industry, artists often denote their work histories in terms of months, but many of the artists and producers at RSP have been with the company for years, some for decades. “Working at RSP has never felt like a job,” said Ben Paschke, a Look Development Lead who has been with the studio since the late 1990s. “It’s always been about working creatively with very smart people and problem-solving. Every project is so different from the one before, you never run out of opportunities to rethink techniques and build new skills.”
Tim Crosbie, RSP VFX Supervisor on X-Men Days of Future Past at the Oscars
The studio’s management has also encouraged longevity in its staff by fostering a sense of shared purpose. As filmmakers themselves, they are motivated by the same passions as their artists. “I think the loyalty comes from the fact that the company was established by people who love making films,” said Sara Henschke, Inductions and Resource Administrator, who was part of the studio’s original staff. “The fluid nature of the industry means that staff come and go, but we’ve got a solid, stable core and newcomers tend to be like-minded people who bring fresh energy and new approaches.”
Another early member of the studio’s staff, Didier Elzinga, now CEO of the software company Culture Amp, attributes RSP’s success to persistence. “Some incredible visual effects companies have come and gone over the past 25 years,” he says. “One thing I learned during my 13 years at RSP is ‘never give up.’ The industry is volatile and challenging, but every problem is solvable. You just have to keep going.”
From a business and marketing perspective, RSP’s Adelaide location may have initially been an obstacle, but, in the long run, its proven to be a tremendous asset. It has forced the company to find ways to compete with local vendors on an equal footing. In order to efficiently review media with studios, RSP assisted in the development of cineSync, an early remote collaboration technology. Tony Clark was part of the group that was awarded an AMPAS Scientific and Technical Achievement Award for cineSync in 2010. RSP has also been an early adopter of high-speed file transfer and data security systems.
That experience has proven advantageous during the current COVID-19 pandemic. “We were able to quickly get people working from home with appropriate solutions for data management and security,” says VFX Bidding Producer Ian Cope.
RSP Founders, then and now
RSP has also taken a deliberate approach toward cultivating new talent. Eight years ago, Co-Founder Wayne Lewis led an effort to develop a training program at the studio. Since then, it has developed into an accredited, multi-tiered educational program for prospective visual effects artists, operated in tandem with the University of South Australia. “Our aim was to create a local talent base with the expertise necessary to enter the industry,” Wayne said.
“It began as a small experiment but is now a full-fledged undergraduate and graduate program. We deliver structured learning that accelerates the development of young artists.” The program produces up to one hundred capable junior artists each year, enough not only to fulfill RSP’s needs for entry-level talent, but also to fill jobs at other visual effects studios across Australia and elsewhere.
As RSP embarks on its second quarter century, it is looking to evolve. The entertainment industry is changing. With the growing popularity of streaming, the studio is taking on more series projects. It also seeks out other opportunities. “We want to move outside our comfort zone,” said Ian. “We want to innovate and push ourselves. There are a lot of interesting opportunities and as we find the right ones, we’ll run with them.” www.rsp.com.au