HERE’S an interesting fact which may come as a bit of a surprise: if you’ve got IT or computer science knowledge, there’s great demand for your services in the film industry.
Visual effects companies that are based in Malaysia such as Tau Films (formerly known as Rhythm and Hues Sdn Bhd) say they are constantly on the lookout for those with experience in programming, network security, data storage management and much more.
“We need people that understand computer systems,” says John Hughes, president and chairman of Tau Films. “As we use images that are owned by Hollywood studios, Internet security is very important.”
“Systems engineers are crucial for us because of the amount of data we have to manage, store and move across the Internet is enormous.”
Hughes shares that it has been difficult for the company to find programmers who are willing to work in the film industry.
“They would rather work for Google or Facebook or somebody like that rather than us because having an entertainment employer on their resume doesn’t do them a lot of good,” he says.
Skills that are often sought after in the visual effects industry include the ability to program in C++ or Python. IT staff who are able to support the technical needs of artists are also needed.
“We’ve got a really high ratio of technical people to artists,” says Hughes. “For every six artists, we need one.”
On the whole, Hughes, who has been hailed as a pioneer in the visual effects industry, observes that there has been a vast improvement in the Malaysian film industry ever since he first set foot in the country eight years ago.
“The changes since I first came here have been dramatic. We were the first or second international (visual effects) company to set up in Malaysia and now there’s an economic cluster in the entertainment industry here,” he says.
“The attempts by the government through the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) to create this cluster are working out very well.”
However, Hughes says that much more still needs to be done to grow the local talent pool further.
“There needs to be a larger talent pool in order to attract multiple international film projects,” he says.
Hussin Khan, a trainer at Hussin Khan Visual Effects Training (Hkvfx), also holds a similar view.
“I would say we are still at the infancy stage. There is a lot of room for improvement and opportunities here… but the industry is going to expand very rapidly from now onwards,” he says.
Hughes sees Malaysia as having lots to offer in terms of being an ideal visual effects hub for international film projects such as those originating from the United States.
“Malaysia is a very modern country. Being a former British colony, the structure of law is very similar to the United States. English is very prevalent so it’s easy for supervisors to work directly with the artists without needing an interpreter,” he says.
Currently, Hughes says it’s really expensive to do visual effects work in the West. From his previous experiences in Rhythm and Hues Studios, he found that even though the company’s work was evenly split between its Asian and North American offices, expenses in Asia were a mere US$12mil (RM39mil) whereas in comparison, the United States side would rake up costs amounting to US$88mil (RM287.5mil).
Consequently, he feels it’s a great time for Asian countries like Malaysia to step up to the plate and take advantage of the situation.
“It’s very cost effective to do work in Asia and the talent is just as good. They just require training to understand how to operate at the standards that Hollywood expects,” Hughes says.
He has set up a new training company called John Hughes Institute which will be working alongside local partners like Hkvfx and government agencies like MDeC to create more training opportunities for the local workforce.
However, at the moment, he notes that there is a trend where a lot of visual effects work is being sent to the Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand due to “significant government subsidies” being offered there.
“There is a kind of deviation or temporary change in the work flow. It has for the most part left Los Angeles, but from a cost standpoint, it’s still better to do work in Asia even with the subsidies. As the talent pool in Asia grows and becomes more mature and experienced, I expect more work to come to Asia,” he says.
It’s intriguing to hear from Hughes that anyone who’s interested can join the industry provided they undergo relevant training.
In addition, he says that experienced artists would also need to constantly upskill themselves, since the technology used for visual effects continues to evolve over time.
It’s intriguing to hear from Hughes that it’s possible for nearly anyone to join the industry, so long as they are given the opportunity to attend trainings such as the ones that will be given by the John Hughes Institute.
In addition, with the technology being used continues to evolve over time, he says existing artists would also need to keep on upskilling themselves.
“It’s about lifelong learning,” says Hughes. “The artists have to be prepared to constantly learn new techniques and ways of doing things.”
Besides this, he says visual effects workers should make an effort to develop good personal character since they will be working as part of a larger production team.
“It’s not just technical capability. Of paramount importance is how they’re going to work in a team. They need to have the appropriate emotional and social intelligence to be able to work together,” Hughes says.
At the same time, he points out that it’s crucial to be aware of both the rewards as well challenges that the profession has to offer when deciding whether to join or otherwise.
“The pay is good, and you get to work on really exciting things. We work in a non-hierarchical environment so it’s a fairly relaxed and a lot of fun,” Hughes shares.
“But there’s also tremendous insecurity in the business. Employment for artists is moving towards being more project based. And when you’re up against a deadline, you’ll have to work very hard. It’s long hours.
So there are advantages and disadvantages.”
Nevertheless, he says it is not necessarily a bad thing for employment terms to be project based.
“As long as you can bring enough work to Malaysia, then it would be okay,” Hughes says.
Meanwhile, Hughes has a word of advice to offer Malaysian filmmakers: learn how to appeal to the global audience.
“One thing that’s important is to learn how to structure a story. There’s a formula which has been very successful in North America and accounts for about 60% of the revenue for the six major Hollywood studios,” he says.
Hughes explains that this boils down to a character arc which comprises a three act structure.
Typically, a film would start off with its protagonist being immature or unrefined and then they would eventually come up against a problem that they would need to resolve. Often times, the protagonist would be required to find something within themselves to work things out.
“The stories are usually relatively simple,” Hughes says. “Often times, in Asia, I see extremely complex stories, especially those coming out of China. You just need to come up with a good story that affects human emotions. That’s the key.”
He shares that in Hollywood, it has been said that the three most important things about a film are “story, story, story”.
“It’s all about the story, and not so much about the technology that a company like Tau Films can bring to the movie,” Hughes says.
Among the training that has been recently organised by the John Hughes Institute, in collaboration with Hkvfx and MDeC, was a two day training on 3D modelling for production from April 28 to 30 at Cyberjaya by renowned industry figure, Bradley Sick.