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Rising Sun Pictures' Sam Hodge: Mentoring the Next Generation of VFX Artists(June 04, 2018)
Lead Pipeline Technical Director, Sam Hodge first joined the RSP team in 2005. Although now focused on technical operations, Sam has a wealth of creative experience, with credits including Alien Covenant, Logan, xXx Return of Zander Cage, X-Men Apocalypse, Game of Thrones and many other titles.
Commencing late July, Sam will be teaching the lighting component of a new second year elective course entitled 'Look Development and Lighting' which is part of RSP's expanding partnership with UniSA and its Media Arts degree. Sam brings the same passion to teaching aspiring artists that he does to crafting photo-realistic visual effects for Hollywood blockbusters, so this promises to be a very lively and productive class.
Sam Hodge recently spoke about his work at RSP, the new course he will be teaching and his advice for those seeking careers in visual effects.
RSP: Tell us about the upcoming 'Look Development and Lighting' course?
Sam Hodge: The class draws on my experience as a studio lighter. Students will learn modern techniques using high dynamic range images shot from onset light probes. We'll teach them how to share this work and match footage. It's as much about learning how to 'see' as it is about pushing buttons. I'll be teaching from a general perspective about how lights work within various software packages. Students will put together a portfolio piece that will help them gain employment, or at least move to the next level.
SH: Yes. Absolutely. We've found that you can learn only so much from manuals. It's far more valuable to learn tips and tricks directly from working artists. Our program delivery includes both theory and practice. Concepts taught are then applied to practical process until it really sinks in.
RSP: What do students get from classes at RSP that they might not get from regular university classes?
SH: Our students learn how to produce shots in a studio environment. I've worked on more than 30 movies as an artist or supervisor, so I know how lighting fits in with other departments. We teach specialised skills for different lighting so students know how to deliver assets through to modeling, how to add texture and shadows, and how to achieve photo-realism. It's an intertwined process. You learn how it all fits together at RSP.
RSP: Do you enjoy teaching?
SH: I love it! It's an opportunity to give back. Seeing a spark in a student's eye is amazing. It takes me back to the start of my career. I wish I had the benefit of learning from working artists, but when I was starting out there weren't a lot of people with that kind of experience. Now, students in our program get up to speed very quickly. So, yes, I absolutely love it.
RSP: Are you impressed with the quality of students that come through RSP's program?
SH: I'm astounded by them. Our students today grew up as digital natives. They've been using computers since they were five. It's their native language.
RSP: What advice would you offer to someone who is thinking of enrolling in classes at RSP?
SH: In terms of preparation, learn to find your way through the packages. Study the mechanics of the software. Learn how to find the buttons. Learn how to debug problems and find solutions. It's a learning process. You'll go down many dead ends, but if you develop problem-solving acumen, you'll be in a much better position. We teach some of that, but it's also about learning to find your way through a maze of software.
RSP: Are there good career opportunities in visual effects?
SH: Yes. There are good jobs, but you can't be afraid of hard work. I see hundreds of ads each week for visual effects artists on LinkedIn. There's always work for mids and seniors, but there is also a need for juniors who can work their way into mid and senior roles. There are more and more movies with visual effects. If you go to the cinema, there's so much Marvel! Someone has to make those visual effects shots and they need to be able to create those shots to the standard that Marvel and Lucasfilm expects. That creates opportunities for young artists. Artists earn a good income, they can travel the world, and they produce satisfying work. If you go to a dinner party and someone asks you what you do, "visual effects artist" is a pretty good starting point for a conversation.
RSP: Looking over your credit list, I see that you've personally tackled some projects with significant lighting challenges. Do any projects stand out?
SH: On Avatar there was a sequence called "The Well of Souls" where Grace's body is transferred from human to avatar form. There was a lot of bioluminescent light in the chi in the Avatar world. It required intricate work to create the right soft glow without it becoming overpowering. We had bright blue skin and we were shining a sort of turquoise onto it with occasional flashes of pink. We pushed the limits of the renderer, but the result was something special.
RSP: It must have been very satisfying to see that up on the screen.
SH: Yeah. That's what makes this job great.
About Rising Sun Pictures:
At Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) we create inspirational visual effects for major studios worldwide. Creating outstanding images is at the core of our existence. At the heart of our talented team, there is a diverse knowledge and skill-set, enabling a collaborative core where we can work together to solve problems and deliver great visuals to our clients. We have achieved some truly amazing visual effects work by providing innovative solutions to technically challenging work. We have the capacity and talent pool to scale to suit the needs of our clients.
Our extensive filmography includes over 120 projects including Tomb Raider, Peter Rabbit, Thor: Ragnarok, Logan, X-Men: Apocalypse, Game of Thrones Season 6, The Legend of Tarzan, Gods of Egypt, Pan, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Hunger Games franchise, the Harry Potter franchise, Gravity, The Wolverine, Prometheus and The Great Gatsby.
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