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Wednesday, 22 January 2014 03:50

Producing VFX with Rising Sun Pictures’ Richard Thwaites

Written by  Alan Petersen
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Richard Thwaites SMIt can take an army of talent to achieve the amazing visual effects seen in movies like The Great Gatsby, and it may be surprising to know that producers are the unsung heroes of the visual effects industry. Working on the periphery, a producer’s contribution as a project manager, budget overseer, client advocate and cheerleader to the VFX team isn’t always acknowledged but is essential for the success of the project. If talented artists are the gears driving the VFX engine, a producer is the grease that allows those gears to turn smoothly.

 

Richard Thwaites is a VFX producer at Rising Sun Pictures (RSP), and he’s comfortable with his role as a behind-the-scenes catalyst. A member of the RSP team since 2006, Thwaites has helped to steer more than a dozen successful film projects to completion, including 2013’s The Wolverine and The Great Gatsby. As a stickler for detail and a master at managing talent and technical resources, he always aims to fulfill the client’s vision, deliver work on time and keep costs under control. While that may sound simple, it’s no small feat as shoots change, deadlines move and production surprises lurk around every corner.

As a VFX producer, you have a wide variety of responsibilities. How would you characterize your role?

RT: The term producer has many meanings. In reality, it means you act as client liaison, and you look after the finances and the workflow. You work with production managers, production coordinators, visual effects supervisors, artists, the finance team and the executive team. It’s a strange job, to be perfectly honest. You have your fingers in a lot of different pies. There are all these people who do the actual work and it’s your job to guide them to the least complicated path to get that work done.

You were heavily involved in The Wolverine. Did that show have any special challenges?

RT: Because it was a big tent-pole production, one of Fox’s biggest summer releases, the marketing needs were quite intense. While general visual-effects production was ongoing, there was a lot of trailer work happening in the background. I’d guess that 90 percent of the visual effects in the trailers were from Rising Sun. We got a lot of comments about how accommodating we were with that aspect of the project, and it’s because we understand how movies work. When we plan for big productions like Wolverine, we keep the additional needs in mind and we get the team to prepare practically and psychologically for their arrival. The marketing is as important as the film itself, because it’s what draws people to the cinema, and so we want that portion of our work to be the best that it can be. The trailers for Wolverine were big and fast; they were one of the most demanding aspects of the project.

Some of the trailers were produced months before the film’s release. How were you able to deliver the required effects?

RT: One of [The Wolverine’s] big sequences was the nuclear bomb explosion. We began working on that in December of 2012 and only finished it in May of 2013. About a quarter of the way through that process the first trailer came along, and it required the bomb blast. So we put all the bodies we had on that shot and produced a version that told the story. It wasn’t the final effect, and it meant long hours and additional people, but it was the absolute best quality that we could achieve in that timeframe.

Where did you receive your training to be a VFX producer?

RT: I attended AFDA, the South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance, a pretty interesting film school in Johannesburg. The curriculum was very practically based, with very little theory. It was all about grabbing cameras and shooting movies, seeing how they turned out, and being beaten around the back of the head when they turned out badly.

And how did you start your career?

RT: I was at home and unemployed when a friend called me. He was working as a researcher for a commercial company and he said they were looking for someone with an understanding of animation and visual effects. I had a meeting with the owner and walked out with a bunch of commercials that I then put together for him. In the process of doing those, more commercials came in and I jumped right in. I stayed there three or four years and did a lot of commercials, moving between roles, producing the work, postproducing, sometimes directing. When I moved to Australia, I met with the guys from Rising Sun Pictures and they decided to give me a go.

Do you think your job has become harder or easier over the years?

RT: It’s more demanding. Budgets are tighter, so I have to rely on fewer people to do more work in less time. The competitive nature of the visual effects industry means that you never want to say “no” to a client. Instead, you pull out all the stops and make sure you deliver the best product. It’s still a fantastic industry. It’s just that the demands are greater than ever, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It forces you to rise to the occasion.

How do you like your role at Rising Sun Pictures?

RT: Rising Sun is a fantastic company. It supports its clients and it supports its artists in achieving their goals. That ethic starts at the top with the owners and filters through every department. The environment is nurturing and provides people with room to grow. RSP not only creates beautiful images, it’s a human place that encourages people to do their best.

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