Rising Sun Pictures

AUTHOR:  
Published:  December 19, 2010
Rising Sun Pictures

House of the Rising Sun

Words: Jo Spurling

From humble beginnings providing digital effects and 3D animation for the Australian television, film and multimedia industries, Rising Sun Pictures has evolved to become an internationally respected provider of visual effects (VFX) for feature films. These days Hollywood can be found regularly knocking on Rising Sun’s doors, seeking their expertise for films such as the Harry Potter series, Charlotte’s Web, The Spirit, Speed Racer, Batman Begins, X-Man Origins: Wolverine and a host of other blockbusters. Rising Sun’s filmography now exceeds the 60-feature mark, not bad for 15 years collaboration with some of the industry’s top filmmakers.

Ian Cope has been with Rising Sun since 2001, after joining the crew on a three-month contract as a VFX compositor. Making the most of this short stint Cope recalls asking lots of questions and trying to learn as much as possible. This obviously impressed management and nine years on Cope has been through several roles within the studio finally arriving in his current position as the communications manager. “I now enjoy providing advice and feedback to people trying to get in to the industry, as well as training and mentoring people within Rising Sun,” Cope says of his role. “Ultimately, it’s about sharing the passion for films and the craft of visual effects.”

Rising Sun

Wolverine

Wolverine

Wolverine

Like any VFX studio worth its pixels, Rising Sun has an impressive collection of software and hardware at its disposal. Quite handy when there’s always several projects traversing the production floor. “It’s exciting to be part of the team when in the full swing of production,” says Cope. “We’re a Linux-based facility transitioning to a 64bit CentOS build. We use Shake, Nuke, Maya, Softimage, Houdini, and 3Delight/mantra/mental ray for rendering, PFTrack and Voujou for cameras, Silhouette for Rotoscoping. Additionally, we use other software like Final Cut and Photoshop, as well as a range of proprietary pipeline tools and plugins. Rising Sun has an open plan studio over two levels with additional rooms for meetings, production, editorial and a big theatre for reviewing shots and dailies.”

The amount of involvement Rising Sun has on each feature film it works on can vary wildly depending on what stage of the production it is called in. This in turn affects how Rising Sun itself approaches the client brief. “Each production is different, and the amount of information we receive from our client determines how we approach the creative solution,” Cope explains. “Some projects allow us to get in on the ground level and contribute ideas, concept designs, pre-visualisation and onset supervision. Others may come to us with background plates, which have already been shot, that we’ll then need to augment. The look is mostly driven from our art department, but also from the VFX team through workshopping ideas and experimenting with various techniques that might deliver the look we are after. Our client will contribute work from their concept team/art department, as well as gathering inspiration from other films and different mediums.

“After looking at a script of the visual effects breakdown, we then determine the amount of work that will be required to address the brief,” Cope adds. “This will largely consist of breaking down each shot in a sequence and identifying the type of VFX work that will need to be done to realise the filmmaker’s vision. All of these separate tasks need to be done in a certain timeframe, and require different types of artists and technicians. A resource plan then needs to be created to ensure that we have the right people in, and what tasks will be allocated to each one. Progressively we also deliver work-in-progress versions of effects and shots and do our best to address the brief given to us by our client.”

Rising Sun

Terminator 4

When creating photo-realistic scenes for a film, as opposed to fantasy elements that allow for a bit more freedom from reality, the research and development stage becomes all-important. As Cope explains. “The research and development time for a heavy CG (computer generated) focused film could be anywhere up to three months and beyond. If you are going to deliver an extremely demanding technical VFX solution, you need to ensure that you have done adequate research and development to ensure that your pipeline [visual effects production system] will be able to cope with the stresses and demands of that solution. Usually this is an ongoing process throughout production as the techniques are constantly refined and made more efficient.”

When working on the Baz Lurhmann epic, Australia, Rising Sun was called on to create an immense scene involving a cattle drive though the heart of the Australian outback. This is where RSP’s research and development guns really came to the fore. “For Australia we created a CG herd of cows for a number of the shots as they were droving the cows up to Darwin. The animation team spent over three months working on the animation cycles of cows, that were then used in a ‘Crowd System’ we built called ‘Posse’. This involved studying the movement of cows, filming them on a sound stage from multiple angles, and then translating that in to the CG model. As the Crowd System is a combination of cycles, every possible movement that a cow could do (running, milling around, turning left/right, lying down, bucking, etc) was created as a cycle for the system to use to create the herd. Each animation cycle was reviewed with the animators and the animation supervisor to ensure that it looked correct and that it would give the impression of a real cow.”

Australia

Australia

Australia

Australia

When fantasy and reality eventually cross paths, as they are bound to do in the world of film, a new set of challenges arise. Just ask yourself the question – how do you make a large, hairy spider look adorable and loveable as Rising Sun was called on to do with the re-make of Charlotte’s Web (released in 2006). “For Charlotte [the spider] we concentrated mainly on how well people would bond with her as a character,” recalls Cope. “In addition to her movement, mannerisms and look, her heart shaped facial structure and eye readability became the subtle key components that we relied on to create a character that the audience could empathise with. Once the design groundwork was laid, the creation of the character could then progress through
the stages of development of a ‘traditional’ CG character.”

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web

Regardless of the context, however, attention to detail is key as apparently we humans have an uncanny knack for noticing anything that doesn’t fall into place. This can encompass all elements from ensuring continuity of the lighting and colour, through to how the background appears in the rear of a shot. “The human eye has an amazing ability to pick up something that doesn’t look quite right, so we need to ensure our work is seamless. We use an ongoing iterative feedback loop with the filmmakers to constantly approve all of the visual effects ‘shots’ that make up a sequence. This means that a single shot may go through over 100 different versions before it is considered ‘final’ and used in the film that you will see in the cinemas.”

Harry Potter

Harry Potter

As we leave Cope buried deep in deadlines, he has this advice for getting in on the VFX action yourself. “Spend lots of time researching the companies and roles that exist in the digital production industry, and concentrate on doing something which you believe you will enjoy. Keep your demo reels short (quality over quantity). Include only your best material. Tailor your resume/reel to the role you are seeking. Make sure you are honest about the work you have done. Provide a breakdown to show you exactly what you have done. Include all of your contact details on everything (the disk, the resume, etc). Don’t use bad or offensive music. Be humble. Do your best to get a job at some stage in the production and use that to work out where to from there.”

rsp.com.au

All images copyright Rising Sun Pictures.


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