Adelaide, South Australia—Producers are the unsung
heroes of the visual effects industry. Working on the periphery, their
contributions aren’t always acknowledged, but their role as project manager,
budget overseer, client advocate and cheerleader to the visual effects team is
essential to the success of the project. If artists are the gears that drive
the visual effects engine, producers are the grease that allows the gears to
turn smoothly.
Rising Sun Pictures VFX Producer Richard Thwaites is comfortable in his role as
behind-the-scenes catalyst. A member of the RSP team since 2006, he has helped
steer more than a dozen film projects toward successful completion, most
recently The Wolverine and The Great Gatsby. A stickler for detail,
Richard is a master at managing talent and technical resources and his aim is
clear: to fulfill the client’s vision, deliver the work on time and keep costs
under control. As simple as that sounds, it’s no small feat in practice as, in
the heat of battle, shots change, deadlines move, and surprises lurk around
every corner.
As a VFX producer, you have a wide variety of responsibilities. How
would you characterize your role?
The term producer has many meanings. In reality, it means you act as
client liaison, 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?
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?
One of our big sequences was the nuclear bomb explosion. We began
working on that in December of 2012 and only finished it in May of this year.
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 time-frame.
Where did you receive your training?
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, 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?
I was at home and unemployed when a friend called me. He was working as
a researcher for a commercials 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, post producing, sometimes directing.
When I moved to Australia, I met with the guys from Rising Sun Pictures and
they decided to give me a go.
Is your job becoming harder or easier?
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.
So you like your role at RSP?

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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