Ever wanted to visit the entertainment capital of the world, Hollywood? Well, fortunately these days, Hollywood is a lot cheaper to get to and closer to home. All you need is your Metro card to board a tram to South Melbourne to see the magic of cinema come alive.
Two world renowned animation and visual effects studios, Iloura and Luma Pictures, both sit unassumingly just off Melbourne’s version of “Hollywood Boulevard” in Clarendon Street. Okay, so you might not see Brad Pitt or Emma Stone at any of the trendy coffee and vintage stores, but the area is increasingly becoming an animation hub. In some ways, their international success can be credited to the Australian Federal Government.
Iloura’s Head of Visual Effects, Simon Rosenthal, says there has been “extraordinary support” for production and post-production within Australia. Generous tax breaks and government subsidies have attracted La-La Land with a 30 per cent rebate, up from 15 per cent in 2011, for Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV). Productions need a budget of just A$500,000, as opposed to A$5 million previously. Industry bodies like AusFilms extend this information through annual international outreach programs, which promote Australia’s Federal and State screen production incentives and grants.
Los Angeles may be ‘home’ to the six major studios, but according to Rosenthal, visual effects and animation production barely happens in the city, as the US does not get the same Government support. The fall in the Australian dollar (below $0.80) is also another financial incentive as to why Hollywood is coming to Australia.
“At the moment, I’d say 99 per cent of our revenue comes out of the US… but I think if the rebate was reduced or the dollar increased, they (the studios) would probably just move on,” says Rosenthal.
RMIT Bachelor of Design lecturer, Mark Lycette, says that he too has internationally benefitted from Government funding, but believes language, cultural similarities and skills sets are equally as important as cost efficiencies.
“We have a broad array of talent with much experience and solid portfolios of successful work,” said Lycette.
Iloura recently made headlines for winning an Emmy for ‘Outstanding Special Visual Effects Award’ for a battle scene in HBO’s, Game of Thrones. Priding themselves on “character development” within their studio, Iloura was approached by HBO regarding their work on horses in films like Charlotte’s Web (2006) and A Million Ways to Die in The West (2014). After an extensive test phase, HBO awarded the studio the “Battle of the Bastards” sequence, which took approximately 90 people to work on over nine months. Following their success, HBO recruited Iloura again for Game of Thrones’ seventh season.
“The studios acknowledge and respect our quality of work and attitude, as we’re very good with our clients, we look after them and we do all the right things by them,” said Rosenthal.
Foreign activity in production and post-production accounted for expenditure in Australia of $418 million in 2014/15, more than doubling last year’s result and the five-year average. Films totalled $397 million, a result of strong expenditure by both foreign and PDV-only projects, and television expenditure increased by $1 million, now at $21 million.
Executive Assistant and Operations Manager of AusFilms, Annie Lucas, believes two major films have been instrumental in this growth.
“The record high is predominantly due to location shooting for the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie and PDV activity on two movies in the LEGO franchise,” said Lucas.
Iloura has been an establishment in Melbourne for over thirty years, and recently introduced a Sydney studio to facilitate the Oscar-winning production of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). With Luma Pictures just down the road, Rosenthal says that he doesn’t worry about nearby competition in securing film sequences. Described as “visual effects intensive”, Luma Pictures work on major action blockbusters like The Avengers, focusing on “destruction” and “explosions”.
“We tend towards character animation, it kind of pigeon holes us, but also gives us a bit of exclusivity and more opportunities,” said Rosenthal.
Australia may have a rich history of animation production from award-winning animated shorts, television series and feature-length films, yet these “opportunities” for studios like Iloura and Luma are limited to the international market. Rosenthal explains that only a select few Australian directors like Baz Luhrman, George Miller and Alex Proyas actually use rigorous visual effects and these openings do not come around very often.
“They don’t happen particularly often, those types of shows and directors take a long time to get an idea, so we don’t have a significant role in supporting Australian films,” said Rosenthal.
So does Hollywood come to Australia? Not necessarily. Iloura has not seen a client in-house for a few years, instead, Rosenthal and his visual effects supervisors and producers head to the States a few times a year and spend a couple times a week on the phone to clients. Certainly, the internet and advanced communication methods today has made international recruiting a lot easier.
“Everything is just done by remote, thanks to technology and communication today,” said Rosenthal.
The future of film and animation within Australia remains positive due to advancing technology and strong government support, which aims to help Australian production and post-production develop its reputation as one of the best in the world. Rosenthal believes that visual effects numbers will marginally increase over the next two years, so long as “the dollar doesn’t climb to parity”. There are concerns for the industry in the next ten years, however.
“The single biggest issue we have is the quality of tertiary education, we’re worried we will not be able to re-generate out of the Melbourne institutions,” said Rosenthal.
The visual effects and animation industry is aging, with a large proportion of Iloura’s staff in their late forties and fifties. A “disconnect” between professional production environment and the tertiary education system has meant that Iloura has had to recruit international staff, as graduates have either been unsuccessful or have not taken advantage of internship programs within the studio.
“We spend well into the seven figures each year importing talent from overseas, as we can’t find Australian interns who are actually competent, motivated or passionate enough,” said Rosenthal.
Having previously been on the curriculum advisory committee for RMIT’s animation school for three years, Rosenthal noticed how students believe they will come out of tertiary education as auteurs or directors of animation. The reality is, working at studios like Iloura and Luma, means working nine hours or more a day at a workstation on a small sequence for a motion picture.
“Kids are paying $30,000 a year to go to these universities and they’re not benefitting or being educated to understand what the industry is actually like,” said Rosenthal.
The answer? Rosenthal believes university isn’t always the solution to becoming more qualified in the industry. Advising aspiring students to instead apply for internship programs or work experience at professional studios to get a feel for the work environment.
The glamour of Hollywood may be far removed in Melbourne, but Australia is a small market, which punches above it’s weight and has amazing successes, which often go un-noticed. With long hours and little artistic license, Lycette agrees that from his experience as an animation lecturer, that students need to be persistent and dedicated.
“Only those who have the ability and passion should do it, as the more that do it, the less you have of those people, making it harder to train them,” said Lycette.
Melbourne has been building a reputation as a centre of animation for the past decade, and in today’s global industry, gaining work has only become more accessible, if only the younger generation realised that accessible doesn’t always mean obtainable.