ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA—Like many of his peers, Thomas James was inspired to pursue a career in visual effects from watching Harry Potter movies as a youth. He imagined himself “training dragons” and “playing with fire” and then worked hard to turn this dream into reality. After several years of working as a FX artist in film, TV and advertising in his native London (with credits including Avengers: Infinity Wars and the Tom Hanks drama News of the World), he realised that his true passion was for training and helping aspiring artists get their careers off to a blazing start.
The newest member of the training staff at Rising Sun Pictures, Thomas discovered that he had a knack for teaching by assisting coworkers at Outpost, London. “I helped people debug their scenes,” he recalls. “I enjoyed sitting down with them and saw that they were gaining knowledge. I wanted to do more of that. When a trainer’s job became available at MPC, I thought, let’s give it a go. Now, I don’t think I could go back to a role as a fulltime artist. I want to do this continuously.”
Teaching not only altered Thomas’ career path, it changed him as a person. Previously, a self-described introvert, working with students drew out his gregarious nature. “I never thought I’d be teaching young artists; I was always more comfortable curled up in a room, reading a book,” he recalls. “Visual effects is all about teamwork. You have to be able to talk, work and get along with many different people. I was surprised by how well I got on with my students.”
Thomas spent a year as a trainer at MPC before moving halfway around the globe to join RSP. During that time, he learned a lot about what it takes to be a good VFX teacher. A deep knowledge of industry standard software and professional practices are obviously essential, but an even more important quality is empathy. “It takes a good person, someone people can go to and say, ‘I need help,’” he explains. “You need to be able to show people how to do things in a way that’s simple and easy to understand. You also need to be supportive and a good motivator.”
Aspiring artists, too, need to master the toolset and develop problem-solving skills, but determination and a positive attitude are critical to long-term success. “Be passionate, strive to learn and accept criticism,” Thomas suggests. “There’s a chapter in RSP’s handbook that says, ‘leave your ego at the door,’ and I think that’s really good advice. Being humble is a great place to start.”
Thomas has just begun teaching his first classes at RSP, but he’s already impressed by how quickly his students are developing their skills. “It’s going well,” he says. “The program was designed by RSP in partnership with UniSA to give students their best chance of success. My students are very enthusiastic. Some are familiar with Houdini, but others are entirely new to visual effects. We teach the basics of the software and expose students to a bit of everything. The goal is to make them ready for industry.”
While job prospects for aspiring artists have never been better, expectations are rising too. “The skills required by employers are getting higher and higher,” Thomas says. “This course is like a 12-week job interview. Students who do well have proven themselves. It’s common knowledge that RSP graduates are in high demand. So, if you are passionate about visual effects, do your research, see what the course offers, and do what you can to stand out. If you succeed at that, you’ve got a great shot at success.”
About Rising Sun Pictures:
Over the past two decades, Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) has been delighting and inspiring audiences worldwide with award-winning visual effects by creating some of Hollywood’s most memorable screen moments.
RSP’s reputation and leadership makes it a trusted partner for studios and filmmakers worldwide. Its studios employ more than 280 exceptional crew who enjoy the advantages of living in some of the world’s most livable cities.
In addition, RSP is dedicated to developing the next generation of visual effects artists through its unique accredited training program, delivered in partnership with the University of South Australia.
Recent work includes Elvis, Thor: Love & Thunder, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Cowboy Bebop, Hawkeye, Jungle Cruise, Black Widow, Candyman and Mortal Kombat. RSP is a member of The Fuse Group.
About Pitch Black
Pitch Black brings together world-leading visual effects studios FuseFX, FOLKS, Rising Sun Pictures, and El Ranchito. The company employs over 1,400 personnel across 13 worldwide studio locations in Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, Atlanta, Montréal, Toronto, Bogotá, Saguenay, Mumbai, Adelaide, Brisbane, Madrid, and Barcelona. The Pitch Black Company is a portfolio company of investment funds managed by EagleTree Capital, a New York City-based private equity firm.
For more information, pitchblackcompany.com