Careers: RSP's Sam Hodge on teaching next-gen VFX talent
Issue: May 1, 2018

Careers: RSP's Sam Hodge on teaching next-gen VFX talent

ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA — Lead pipeline technical director, Sam Hodge first joined the Rising Sun Pictures ( team in 2005 and while now focused on technical operations, he has a wealth of creative experience, with credits that include Alien Covenant, Logan, xXx Return of Zander Cage, X-Men Apocalypse, Game of Thrones and many other titles. Beginning in late July, Hodge 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. Hodge brings the same passion to teaching aspiring artists that he does to crafting photo-realistic visual effects for Hollywood blockbusters, so the class promises to be a very lively and productive.
Recently, Hodge spoke about his work at RSP, the new course he will be teaching, and his advice for those seeking careers in visual effects. Here’s a look at what he shared.
Tell us about the upcoming ‘Look Development and Lighting’ course?

“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.”

It sounds like a valuable skill for young artists to have?

“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.”

What do students get from classes at RSP that they might not get from regular university classes?

“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 specialized 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.”

Do you enjoy teaching?

“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.”

Are you impressed with the quality of students that come through RSP’s program?

“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.”

What advice would you offer to someone who is thinking of enrolling in classes at RSP?

“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.”

Are there good career opportunities in visual effects?

“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.”

Looking over your credit list, you’ve personally tackled some projects with significant lighting challenges. Do any projects stand out?

“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.”

It must have been very satisfying to see that up on the screen?

“Yeah. That's what makes this job great!”