Visual effects school adjusts classes and curriculum to help it through the current crisis and facilitate future growth.

Adelaide, South Australia—The corona virus pandemic has impacted people and businesses world-wide. The strict quarantine restrictions have made it difficult for educational institutions to continue to operate. However, Rising Sun Pictures, whose core business is to problem solve and find creative solutions, devised a plan to continue the delivery of their education program with little disruption.

Rising Sun Pictures (RSP), which operates a training program for visual effects artists in partnership with the University of South Australia (UniSA), was in the middle of its term when new social distancing guidelines required it to alter the way it conducts its face-to-face classes to protect the safety of students and staff. Some classes were moved to an adjacent building, while others were moved online. It also quickly developed innovative new offerings to replace program features that were no longer practical. These changes enabled RSP Education to swiftly resume teaching while also helping it build a better program for the long term and reach more students.

Rising Sun Pictures instructor, VFX Producer Corinne Teng, teaches a class in the studio’s new learning center.

“The pandemic presented a unique challenge to us, as it did to other institutions,” says RSP Manager of Education and Training, Anna Hodge. “Our first concern was to safeguard our students and staff, but we also wanted to carry on delivering a high-quality, professional education for prospective visual effects professionals, and to preserve the distinctive qualities that make our program special.”

One key distinguishing difference between RSP Education and other visual effects schools is the program is taught at a working studio by professional artists. However, to accommodate the new social distancing rules, RSP’s training spaces needed to be reconfigured.

Wanting to preserve their face-to-face interaction with students, the studio found a solution that allowed them to continue their training with their current instructors.  RSP accelerated their expansion plans and moved their full-time day classes to a building next to the main studio. The new learning facility was fitted with workstations, communications and other technical infrastructure. After a pause of only one week, the highly regarded courses were back up and running.

“Our infrastructure staff and teaching assistants did a remarkable job in getting the building ready for teaching so quickly. They even got a kitchen set up and installed a chalkboard wall for our students,” notes Hodge. “The new learning area is larger than our former space so that students can adhere to the distancing regulations and still have access to the main studio.  Once this crisis has passed, our new purpose-built facility will allow us to accommodate more students and still allow them to mix with studio artists, as they do now.”

Simultaneously, the school moved its popular series of UniSA Modelling and Texturing evening classes online. Although online instruction can lessen some of the value students derive from learning face-to-face with a working artist, the switch has provided unexpected benefits.  Students are engaging with artists via video conferencing and live chat.  Sessions are recorded and can be played back by students and new recordings are made to supplement their learning and for troubleshooting.

Moreover, online instruction creates potential opportunities for program expansion. “We’ve previously had trouble serving students from remote parts of Australia due to the time and costs involved in traveling to Adelaide,” explains Hodge. “Online delivery ensures that our courses can be accessed from home and this current way of working will only pave the way for more and better online delivery.  Our current students have been very supportive of our transition to online instruction. They appreciate being able to continue their studies at a time when COVID-19 has caused many things to stop.”

Traditionally, one of the most popular features of RSP’s program is “work shadowing.” UniSA Graduate Certificate students’ and students attending RSP classes as part of their third-year UniSA VFX Specialisation degree, are given the opportunity to accompany veteran artists at RSP as they go about their workdays. Shadowing teaches them what life is like as a working artist.

However, as the current work-shadowing model would breach social distancing rules, it has been temporarily replaced with a series of five “Master Classes”.  Students select three classes to attend, all delivered in RSP’s theatre. The room is large enough for students to sit a minimum of one and a half metres apart.

Instructor Christina Ryan developed a special Look Development master class offering. “We show the students work currently ongoing at the studio,” Ryan explains. “We demonstrate advanced techniques for some of our software, using creatures, digital doubles and other assets for upcoming films. We outline the visual effects process from start to finish on the big screen so they could see how veteran artists tackle difficult challenges. They love it!”

The Master Classes have been so successful that the school is considering integrating them into its regular teaching program. “It’s a different way to teach,” Ryan says. “On the big screen, you can see how things come together much better than on a computer monitor. It’s fantastic and students find it inspiring.”

The pandemic has prompted RSP to develop new teaching methods and also to evaluate the way it promotes its courses. In the past, student recruitment has occurred by attending careers expos and by visiting schools around Adelaide and interstate conferences.  With a current ban on travel and school visits, RSP education has refocused its energies on other types of outreach. “We’re looking for alternative ways to engage with students, educators and the public without face-to-face delivery,” Hodge says. “We’ve developed a new digital marketing package for schools and also the public. It’s a wonderful showcase of outcomes from our accredited training with UniSA”.

Reinvention is nothing new for RSP Education. As visual effects technology is constantly evolving, the school refines and augments its curriculum and teaching methods on a regular basis. “We’re used to innovating quickly in response to the needs of industry,” says Hodge. “We did the same thing with COVID-19. We reviewed, adapted, improved and innovated.”

About Rising Sun Pictures:

For over two decades Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) has been responsible for crafting some of the world’s most memorable visual effects moments. The studio is home to more than 150 exceptionally talented artists who work collaboratively to deliver incredible imagery. Focused on producing only the highest quality and innovative solutions, RSP designed an extremely flexible, custom pipeline, which allows the company to scale up quickly and adjust its workflow, to meet audience’s demand for evermore spectacular visuals.

The studio enjoys the advantage of being located in Adelaide, one of the world’s most liveable cities. That, combined with its sterling reputation, and access to one of the largest and reliable rebates, has made it a magnet for film-makers worldwide. This has propelled RSP to continued success and enabled them to contribute to a range of projects including Ford V Ferrari, Spider-Man: Far From Home, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Captain Marvel, Dumbo, The Predator, Tomb Raider, Peter Rabbit, Animal World, Thor: Ragnarok, Logan, Pan, the X-Men franchise and Game of Thrones.

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