My name is Emma Wittwer.  I am the blessed recipient of two scholarships via the Rookies in 2018:  Visual Effects – Rising Sun Pictures and University of South Australia and Visual Effects – CG Spectrum.

"Success is the progressive realisation of a worthy goal."  - Earl Nightingale

Below I talk about my personal experience with The Rookies and my time at Rising Sun Pictures completing the Grad Cert in Visual Effects, specialising in Dynamic Effects and Lighting.  

How did you hear about the Rookies? What was your Rookies experience like?

I heard about The Rookies from my teachers at Flinders University/CDW Studio. I entered my best work to The Rookies and applied for all the relevant awards and scholarships. My motivation was simply to have my work judged, get a ranking, and just to see where I stood in relation to everyone else that would be going for similar jobs and positions as me on graduation.

My 2018 Rookies page and entries.

In 2017 I was a finalist for an Oceania Internship at either Alt.vfx, Luma Pictures, or Weta Digital. I didn’t win, but I was just so excited that these people saw my work. Over the next year, I refined my skills from generally good at most things, to a specialty of Digital Matte Painting/Set Extension. I spent all the time and effort I could spare on improving my work.  

In all honesty, you have nothing to lose by submitting your work, and absolutely everything to gain.

In 2018, I had a better understanding of what I needed to do, and so I put my best work (at the time) forward and applied for all the relevant scholarships and internships and then waited. I was flattered when I got an excellence award for two of my works. I was also asked to write an article about Matte Painting for the Rookies about my work as they had received a lot of traffic.

You can check it out if you have a moment. Click HERE

I found out I won at nearly 1am when a friend texted me “Congrats.” Being almost asleep, I went back on the computer and I checked The Rookies website to prove to myself that it was real, and to my genuine surprise, it was there and it was real!  I had won two scholarships. I didn’t even know it was possible to win two!

Over the next few weeks I was in contact with all the relevant people via email. With the support of my workplace, TAFE SA, I quit my job. It was really sad and a really bold move, as I loved my job but this was a chance to get 'as close as possible' to industry experience, but in a safe training environment. One step closer to becoming the digital artist for films that I want to be.

My school, Flinders Uni/CDW Studios won best Digital Illustration school in the world two years in a row! I am so proud of all my fellow students. I had seen first-hand how hard everyone had worked, and the love they have for what they do. To know that a new generation works this hard, gives me such hope and excitement for the future of entertainment and Digital Art itself.

Any advice for entering The Rookies?

Yep. . . .Sure you have seen it, but watch it again! 

                Just do it!
In all honesty, you have nothing to lose by submitting your work, and absolutely everything to gain. The voice in your head that quietly whispers to you, day after day after day after day “you’re not good enough, your works not good enough, why bother”, is just that, a voice. It may sound like your mother, or your best friend, or your high school art teacher.

You may feel like an imposter and it’s okay, it really is actually super intimidating to see some of the work on The Rookies, but just submit your best work anyway. You don’t have to apply for a scholarship or internship or anything, but like why wouldn’t you apply?

It’s just an extra tick box as you’re applying. Do it! Get a ranking, and then you will know where you stand. Not as proof that you suck, but as a clear point in time and be able to see where you need to improve and be able to look back on and see "Wow, look I did improve!"

My first attempt of a lighting exercise in Houdini. I was given the 3D models of the first two billiard balls, and the camera angle and image and told to match it. So I had to create all the lighting and the shaders on the billiard balls. 
Even better, the new Rookies system they are setting up, you can use your Rookies entry page as an actual portfolio for you work and will be able to keep it. It's just like ArtStation, but just for students, and your art isn't lost in the amazing professional portfolio work and it’s free (the best price for students!)

No one will know, if you don’t show. Show your artwork. Show your love and passion! Show that you care and show that you can. Make it as easy as possible for the people you want to find your work and ultimately give you a job and money to do what you want to do. Because from all the talks I have had with talent scouts and hiring managers, they want to find you too! The Rookies is now one of the easiest platforms for them to look for you!

Rising Sun Pictures – Adelaide South Australia.

So RSP and Uni SA offers two Graduate Certificates that are similar but different. One is a Graduate Certificate in Compositing and Tracking and the other Dynamic Effects and Lighting. I chose to do the Dynamic Effects and Lighting, as I had done work in Nuke at Uni, and I wanted to know more about Effects and Lighting to improve my Matte Paintings. Even with 2 separate courses running, we were encouraged and naturally began to chat and talk and learn from each other, and each other’s courses.

Scholarship with Rising Sun, First 4 weeks.

Oh that’s a random title you might be thinking. You see, on day two, I received a full time job offer for a job in Visual Effects! So exciting, but ah, what to do? I had a conversation with Anna at RSP and Josh from Uni SA, as well as my new boss and I understood the workload and time commitments, and it was not going to be easy. I agreed to everyone’s terms and conditions. Thus my story begins and I was so excited and super nervous.

Inside RSP Studios.

We were informed at the start and a few times throughout, in excellent detail, that the inner workings of RSP and any projects that they are working on, and anything we may or may not learn about them is not to be discussed outside the classroom or RSP walls ever, and we all signed Non-Disclosure agreements (NDA’s).

As we were being trained as real employees, we worked on closed systems and no internet and other safety things like that. This meant that no work was to be taken home. . .so this meant no homework! (a foreign concept after 4 years of study) Then it quickly dawned on me, that if I am going to get all my work done, this is going to require many hours on site at RSP.

I loved getting feedback as it would allow me to narrow my focus on the improvements needed instead of getting lost or side tracked on things that were not relevant to what I needed to achieve.

Before I started, I took it upon myself to learn the very basics of Houdini, and that made it a little easier to keep up. In the mornings Dan Wills, our Houdini teacher, would go through a demo, showcasing a part of the program, and then our job was to recreate that in the afternoon. He did record what he did, but it would take 24 hours before the recording would become available if it worked. So, it was still very important to take notes.

This was learning about the projection capabilities in Houdini. I found the image on, and added in some 3D geo, the camera move and the water all in Houdini. 

Fridays were my favourite, as Dan would take the morning to go through a “Dailies” with us. “Dailies” being when you supervisor comes around each day to check on your work and provide feedback.

Dan would help us during the week if we asked, or even if we didn’t, he would still offer help. I loved getting feedback as it would allow me to narrow my focus on the improvements needed instead of getting lost or side tracked on things that were not relevant to what I needed to achieve.

This exercise was to create footprints in reaction to the animation. I had to think of things like displacement of the ground, any flying 'dirt' and have it all work with the animation.

Another aspect of the course that I genuinely loved was the “Day in the Life of”. This was an hour presentation given by a RSP staff member twice a week at lunchtime. It’s open to all staff to attend it they wanted.

During these presentations a staff member describes his or her job and what they do on a daily basis, with a slide show or images, or just waving their arms about dramatically and to great effect. We were then free to ask any relevant questions. We had 3D Modelers, Effects Artists, Data Wranglers, HR and Finance, Producers, and Layout Artists, basically someone from nearly every role at RSP. I learnt so much about other jobs that you don’t necessarily know about or get to know about.

A group of students about to start a 'Day in the Life Of...' experience. 

I completed the visual effects assignments which were really fascinating and fun to pull off. I also completed lighting assignments, which although seemingly simple, where actually quite tricky, especially getting great renders in as short as times as possible.

Getting lighting correct is so much harder and much more intricate than I thought, and yet when it’s right, takes an average image and makes it into a stunning artwork. I loved having access to a professional render farm, it’s amazing!

Can you spot the three CGI elements that I tried to blend in to the background with just lighting in Houdini.

Scholarship for with Rising Sun, Part 2.  (Week 5-10)

I would finish work at 6pm, and relied heavily on my fellow students  kindness and willingness to stay back ‘after hours’ and work with me, so that I could complete the tasks necessary, as two people needed to be on site at all times.

Orientation day for the second group of students at RSP in 2018

To complete the degree, we had to create a full effects scene from start to finish. Given my situation I knew I would have about 12 hours a week (at best) instead of 40. In discussions with Dan, I proposed to add effects to a base project I had made 3 years ago for a video game.

I would rebuild and texture the assets to Film standards so to speed up the process of making base elements. Thus it would allow me more time to work on effects in class which was most of the grade.

The original work I made and even had up in the Rookies in 2017, some reference images, a simulation test I did in the beginning, and what it looked like straight out of Houdini with less that 24 hours before presentation. 

During my weekends, I re-modelled and fixed textures at home, and when it was finished, I brought them into the RSP system following correct procedures.  I followed some of the pre-recorded Houdini tutorials from previous years as well as what Dan would have been teaching during the week for the effects in Houdini.

Throughout the remaining time I ran into some technical issues, as one does, and the staff were really helpful, even if all the problems couldn't be solved.  Needless to say I was working on it, right up until the very last minute of the deadline.

My Final Visual Effects Shot that I presented. 

At presentation, I got positive feedback, and I didn't get any notes to change anything which was a surprise for me, but was also my goal, so doubly pleased!  


I love what I do, and sure, I could have done just enough to pass, but what’s the point of that? I knew that my time was precious and so I wrung every second I could, out of the teachers, out of the students, out of the programs and out of myself. I was given a unique and amazing chance, and I was not going to waste it.

Final image of the class of 2018

I feel so very privileged to have been the recipient of a scholarship for this course. To have fantastic teachers and staff who have gone out of their way to assist me to complete my tasks. To have had the chance to learn Houdini and VFX pipeline techniques. To be able to walk around RSP and talk to staff and learn independently. To be a part of events at RSP, and the Friday night relaxed nature. To have had one on one time with people doing the jobs I hope to be doing. It really was a fantastic experience and I am so glad I got to be a part of it.

Is there anybody you’d like to thank?

An enormous thank you to Katie Cavanagh, for introducing me to The Rookies and being one of the most supportive humans I have ever met. She taught me to navigate the  world of paperwork for the artistically inclined.

Thank-you Tom Mahers and Dan Wills from the bottom of my heart for teaching me Houdini. To be able to translate Houdini into English, and then into Artist without making me feel silly. For being so passionate about the program and your jobs and for helping me outside of work hours when you didn't have to.

Anna Hodge and Josh McCarthy from UniSA, thank you for being kind and approachable. I wasn’t a simple case, but you took it in your stride and never let me feel like I was an inconvenience.

Rising Sun Pictures Teachers.

To the other teachers, John, Sam and Greg, and to the students for staying back with me almost every night, and teaching me what you had be taught, and to the rest of the RSP staff, thank you and I truly appreciate would you have done for me.

Thank you to Alwyn Hunt and Andrew McDonald for believing in students enough to dedicate their time and skills to creating a platform for students to showcase their work.

And finally, to my boss James,  and my family, for supporting how you could though it all, I thank you.