ILM Sydney: Interview with Rob Bredow

ILM, the visual effects division of Lucasfilm Ltd, will immediately start hiring as part of opening their new studio in Sydney, Australia. The studio will be the fifth major ILM studio, in addition to Singapore, Vancouver, London, and San Francisco, where the company is headquartered.

fxguide sat down with Rob Bredow, Executive Creative Director and Head of ILM, in Sydney to discuss the new studio and ILM’s plans.

(LtoR) Minister Donald Harwin, Head of ILM Rob Bredow, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, ILM Executive Luke Hetherington, Minister Stuart Ayres.

The new Sydney studio will increase the size of ILM overall. “There will be people who will come from our existing studios cause there’s interest from within ILM to help seed the studio with existing ILM talent. But this isn’t replacing one of our existing studios,” explained Bredow. The new studio is in addition to ILM’s current four studios around the world and, “we’re starting hiring right away and our goal is to get to 50 to 100 people in the studio by the end of this calendar year,” Bredow outlined. The first project that the staff in Sydney will be working on is the new Star Wars movie: Rise of the Skywalker. “The goal for the overall size of the studio over time is to eventually build it to 500 people,” he explained.

The Rise of the Skywalker
Rob Bredow

The new J.J. Abrams-directed film will be the 9th Star Wars film: (Episode IX) and it is scheduled to premiere on the 19th of December 2019 in Australia. Principal photography for that film started back in August 2018 at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England, and wrapped in February 2019. “When we first start work in Sydney, we’ll probably be working on one or two shows and then grow to be working on five or six shows a year,” Bredow outlines. Initially, the studio will be focused on international work, with an eye to servicing a local film community further down the road. “Right now we have a bunch of international films and TV shows that have a lot of interest in booking work here in our new Sydney studio,” explains Bredow. “So ‘job one’ is making sure that we can build the studio up to service those existing clients and service this tremendous demand – which is great…then once we have that capability and we’ve proven that the studio can handle all the shows that we want to do simultaneously, then we’ll be looking around locally to be able to complement the local filmmakers as well.”

Sydney will act much like the other studios. “It’s fairly common for us to take one show and have it ‘hubbed’ from one location – meaning kind of driven from one of our studios –  and then have other studios contribute to that work,” Bredow outlines. “We tend to take our shows and have them split between one or two or maybe at the most, three, of our existing studios.”

Luke Hetherington

The new studio will be headed by ex-Aussie Luke Hetherington, who will expand his responsibilities to serve as the studio’s Executive in Charge. Currently, Hetherington is the Executive in Charge of Industrial Light & Magic’s Singapore studio. He joined ILM after spending the prior 17 years at Animal Logic in Australia, where he helped to lead the company through a period of outstanding growth across film visual effects, feature animation, and content development.

ILM is looking to hire a full range of visual effects artists and staff. Bredow explains that the company is, “looking for a range of people. We’re going to be setting up a full studio, which will be an end-to-end digital production. So everything from modelers all the way through to the compositors. There are job postings going up daily right now for the new studio.” ILM is not just hiring senior staff, they have also invested in a training program that will allow a range of creative staff to join the new studio. “We’re making a big investment in training in combination with the New South Wales government,” says Bredow. “And it’s all sorts of different training programs, everything from onboarding of people who have experience, just to get them familiar with ILM’s pipeline, but also people who maybe wouldn’t be quite ready to drop right into a production job, but with let’s say six or eight weeks of training, they could get up to speed. We’re building training programs to kind of fit the gamut of people with different levels of experience.”

“Sydney is an ideal location for our fifth studio,” noted Rob Bredow. “There is abundant artistic and technical talent in the region which are both keys to ILM’s culture of innovation.” ILM Sydney will initially be located at Fox studios, where Episode II & III were shot in 2002 and 2005. Bredow is enthusiastic about the close proximity to production sound stages, “with some of the new things we’re doing in production on set, in real time, in close collaboration with filmmakers – such as ‘live visual effects’, means the sound stages could really make a lot of sense for us. That’s definitely one of the things that appeals to us so much about the Fox location,” he comments, referring to the new real-time, VFX pipeline that ILM has been developing for innovative new TV shows such as The Mandalorian.

Fox Studios are very close to the heart of Sydney

The Fox soundstages are now part of Disney, since completed its acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Fox Studios are actually leased by The Walt Disney Company, under the terms of a 99-year lease from the New South Wales State Government. The new studio expansion move was made possible in part due to the NSW government matching production rebates for any films who spend over $500,000 in NSW and meet the Government requirements. This brings the tax concessions to 40% in NSW.

The Mandalorian

The new studio will be integrated and be constantly syncing with the other studios but it will also have its own infrastructure and its own local renderfarm/data centre. While the first few productions are all major feature films, ILM’s television work is growing. The company’s television work will continue to be headquartered out of their London studio, but Bredow expects to be doing more television and streaming work in all of ILM’s studios. “In fact,” he points out, “I believe all of our existing studios have contributed to the new Mandalorian show. It has already had a big effect on Industrial Light and Magic and we expect to continue to grow our TV and streaming work. So while our first shows here in Sydney will be film based, I expect we’ll have a streaming show done here as well.”

So far the response from artists has been overwhelmingly positive, and there has been huge interest in positions. To find out more visit this special page.