Beyond Harry Potter: House of the Rising Sun

In this year’s Encore Power 50 list VFX company Rising Sun Pictures’ CEO Michael Taylor placed 38 courtesy of Hollywood blockbusting clients. Taylor tells Colin Delaney how thinking smaller will see him and RSP climb the extra 37 rungs.

Harry Potter boards his broomstick and flies onto our screens for the final time this month, as the second installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes to life. However, Potter’s wand-wielding is a mere parlour-trick compared to the true magic behind the films, which are in part, courtesy of Adelaide’s Rising Sun Pictures. Though a long way from Hogwarts, they’ve had a hand in all the last five Harry Potters.

Rising Sun’s relatively new CEO (as of early 2010) Michael Taylor can’t talk too much about the work they did on the final instalment of Deathly Hallows, except that it was a large body of work, of which the last of it was only shipped out of the building a couple of weeks ago.

“We breathed a big sigh of relief and we received compliments and kudos from the studio,” says Taylor. 
“I can say from our point of view it was very successful. The Potter series has taken us to a new level on our character work and our creature work and traditionally we haven’t been in that space.”

“Interestingly we just did some work on Pirates of the Caribbean and there were two packages available to us – there was the typical package that we would have eaten up in the past; set extension, paint this out, move that, make this work. And then another body that involved a lot of animation and particle effects and all the rest of it and the studio awarded us the hard stuff.”

Part One of Deathly Hallows saw Rising Sun inherit from Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) the haunting black Dementors that re-imagines the typical old bed-sheet ghost into ghastly demon-like spectres.

Other recent work includes Green Lantern, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Terminator Salvation, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Australia, Superman Returns and The Spirit to name a few.

These tentpole pictures, summer blockbusters and Thanksgiving releases have served the 17 year-old company well. Despite the strong Australian dollar from which they’ve faced the challenges of reduced margins, Taylor says, “It has been a good exercise in sharpening our pencils. As long as you’ve got the work you can deal with it. It’s a challenge but we’re not doomed.”

Not only are they not doomed, they’re expanding, albeit towards smaller projects. With a new business strategy, Taylor is trying to keep the work “ticking along at a better cycle then what we’ve done previously.”

To help do that, Taylor employed new Hollywood-based executive, Marc Sadeghi in May to drum up more business. Taylor says Sadeghi has a “very broad understanding of the studio system and access to other pieces of work that may release on a different cycle that we are not privy to because we have not gone after that in the past. Looking at work from the mini-majors is important in our growth to fill in those gaps of revenue.”

Their aim is to reach beyond visual effects and into production – to create their own content, to deal with the equity position, the producing position and the co-producing position. For this, they’ve created company, Rising Sun Entertainment.

However Taylor is quick to add, “I should also be modest. We aren’t going to be producing movies in the $100 million dollar range. That’s not our genre, we don’t want to be there.”

Just don’t expect a small Australian indie story coming out of Rising Sun, either. “We’re looking at a genre that will suit us from a visual effects company,” says Taylor. “So we’re not going to create a three-person drama, shot in a house. There has to be some connection with what we do. So we’re looking for expanded reality and what can be photographed.”

Rising Sun Entertainment features will fall in the $7-50 million category and take advantage of the incentives the Australian Government offers.

“We’re looking to take advantage of the 40% producer rebate and find content that can be shot in Australia that, from a script point of view, is derived from Australia but we could be shooting New York in Sydney – it doesn’t need to be an Australian genre movie, as long as it qualifies under the rebate.”

“I looked at a script the other day and thought, ‘nope that’s not what we are’. We’re being very careful because you are what you eat. We’ve had a couple of opportunities appear across our desk already and what you turn down is as important as what you 
agree to do.”

With a strong dollar and a goal set for producing smaller films with a big budget feel, Taylor says, “we need to find a Jetstar business within our QANTAS business,” so as to remain in budget and still produce the ‘expanded reality’ stories within their new venture.”

“We will take the steps to create the garage industry within the behemoth. Having a different team, 
different producers, no pipeline and recreate 20 guys in a garage knocking out visual effects creatively, yet on a budget, because that’s where we came from. There’s only X amount on a budget? Well, ten years ago we would have given our left arm to work on 
that. There are ways to do it and we can’t over-
think it. I need to be able to do 15-50 shots economically that don’t require vast tomes of 
software engineers.”

As Taylor forecasts, and looks up that 50-rung 
ladder he suggests, without losing sight of what has got the company to where they are; “In five years time I think you’ll see that RSP will be a very different company as we look to expand into other markets. If there’s an opportunity to move some of our labour offshore for cost savings I think that has to be on our radar. That doesn’t mean that jobs will be lost here, it means the jobs here will be more highly specialised and creative than in the past. We’re looking to be one of the top five visual effects companies in the world.”

Harry Potter And the Deathly Hollows Part 2 is out tomorrow, Thursday 14 July.


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