On with the show

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Some of the greatest Hollywood blockbuster movies owe their final finish to a high-achieving Australian business that hails from Adelaide. Its name is Rising Sun Pictures and this is not just a high-end, boutique, creative operation – it has been named as one of this country’s top exporters.

If you need proof of this company’s significance in the international film industry, well have a look at the movies that have been sent to Australia for their special brand of post-production.

They include several Harry Potter’s, Baz Lurhmann’s Australia, Fox’s Wolverine, Green Lantern, Speed Racer, Get Smart, Charlotte’s Web,The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Ruins and Superman Returns, to name just a few. 

This is a major Australian achievement where 97 per cent of its revenue is drummed up from overseas.

Before cutting to the chase and finding how this business can have Hollywood directors demanding these Aussies finish their work, all from Adelaide – which Paul Keating once described as the “Arse End of The World” – let’s see what they actually do.

“We are a film visual effects company,” says Didier Elzinga, a co-founder of the business. “Visual effects refers to computers that generate images and pretty much all of our work is on films – primarily films that come out of Hollywood. 

“We often get referred to as a special effects company but special effects is essentially just blowing things up on set and we tend to only blow things up in the computer.” 

To be precise, Rising Sun Pictures is a creative technology company and, without their technology, these talented Australians could not do what they do. It’s a perfect marriage of arts and science to create great pictures.

The competitive edge

The idea for the company came from Tony Clarke, Gail Fuller, Wayne Lewis and Steve Roberts, who left a few years into the company’s history.

“It was actually started as a general post production company, doing TV commercials, CD ROMS, websites and all other things,” Elzinga explains. “It wasn’t until a few years later that the film work came along and a few years after that we specialised in the film side of things.”

Like many businesses the vision of what their competitive edge was emerged along the way. So what is it?

“I think there are a few things,” Elzinga admits. “One thing is that we’re positioned on a wave and that wave is a broader trend. People are increasingly enjoying shooting and making films in Australia and working with Australians to make films. 

“I think that it’s almost our cultural characteristics that people appreciate. The two that come to mind and that get referred to quite often in our discussions with clients are our passion and pragmatism.”

Elzinga says our passion shows as we often work “on the smell of an oily rag” where Aussies learn how to try and make everything work. 

“You do it because you love it and because you love film and love being part of that process and that is something that film makers really enjoy and they want to work with people who think the way,” Elzinga adds. 

“The second part of it goes back to the same thing which is being able to do more with less and looking at a problem and asking: ‘How can I do that within the bounds or whatever the resource constraints are?’ 

“These are key Australian characteristics that overseas film makers love and they are things that our cinema photographers, our actors, our directors are known for. Now I think our visual effects companies are known for it too.”

Leading the way

The attitude thing is seen as a massive national advantage but do we have a technological edge as well?

Generally speaking, Elzinga says no.

“I don’t think we have a technology advantage because there are companies in the US and the UK that have technologies that are as good if not better than what we have and have had a longer period of time investing in those technologies,” he concedes. “So it’s not that we have a secret source that they don’t have, if anything it’s potentially that we are a lot more pragmatic about how we use that technology but that’s a fairly gross generalisation.”

That said Rising Sun Pictures has been a technological trailblazer and this has helped establish its international brand name and business success. 

“On the side, we spun a company out of Rising Sun Pictures in 2001, a software company which now has two products which we sell into the visual space,” he says. “One of those is cineSpace which is a quick time cineSync tool which is used by almost every Hollywood film being made now. I am proud to think that from Adelaide we were able to create something that people all over the world hadn’t seen before we created it.” 

The other product is a tool for ensuring that the colour that you see on your screen matches the colour you get on film. This is a colour management system particularly for film but it is used heavily for video and broadcast.

This was a case of necessity is the mother of invention meets good old Aussie ingenuity.

“We actually developed it originally because we were in Australia and when we were working on a US film, we would have to send our files to the US and get them put to film and then get the film sent back, so it might take a week before we could see what we had done,” Elzinga recalls. “We couldn’t afford to do that and while there were people who had solutions to doing this, they were all proprietary, so we set out about building one for ourselves. Once we built it, some of the people we knew said that it was really valuable and asked, ‘Could we have it too?’ 

“That’s how the company that owns these two products – Rising Sun Research – was born. Both cineSync and cineSpace were both originally conceived by Tony Clarke, who is a cinema photographer by background.”

Doing things differently

Edward de Bono insists that great entrepreneurs and high achievers in business are lateral thinkers, who think outside the square. This is a classic case in point.

Elzinga concedes he acts like an entrepreneur, but it’s not a tag he feels comfortable with.

“I have been slowly coming to terms with the tag – I guess it’s what you want to take away from that title,” he suggests. “With hindsight I would have to say I am an entrepreneur; albeit one that just happened.”

Debate over whether he thinks of himself as an entrepreneur aside, he sure acts like one.

“I really like the idea of challenging and doing things in a certain way and I’m always interested in different approaches to things that produce better outcomes,” he says. “I’m innately sceptical because everybody else does it that way that it is the best way, and to me this is an opening for an opportunity. It’s partly a willingness to take risks but more than that it’s an actual desire to do things differently and not to follow a path that’s been set down before you.”

That said, he advises you have to be wise enough to avoid innovation for innovation sake, which can be time wasting and frustrating for colleagues. 

On the buzz of business he says he loves to stand back and admire the results and to appreciate the efforts of his people to make it happen. And he has learnt to respect the basics of business.

“I’m absolutely still in the learning camp but a couple of things I have picked up along the way are crucial to success,” he says. “Finances and people are basic but crucial but when you get in there and start doing it, it seems pretty simple and it is pretty simple, but it is relatively difficult to keep doing those simple things well and keep doing them and doing them and doing them.” 

A huge lesson he learnt on the job? “One thing I learnt the hard way was that growth doesn’t hurt when you are growing,” he advises. “It hurts when you stop.”

Rising Sun Pictures went through a period of having 35 to 130 people in 18 months. When they reached the end they thought they handled it well but then the next six- to 12 months dealing with all the issues that had evolved during the rapid growth phase became a challenge.

“It’s natural you can’t grow forever and you go through plateaus and it’s those plateaus that are really painful,” he says. “So just preparing for that and thinking about those things that are going to come back and hurt you when you get to the next step has been very valuable.” 

It’s simple to work out why Rising Sun Pictures is a shining star business.

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