Saturday, July 18, 2015

My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world

My nephew just got a job in Wellington New Zealand with Weta Digital, which makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. This is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department.

A while back, when my nephew connected with me on Linked In, I said, ‘this will give me far more street cred than it will ever give you.’ He’s a visual effects artist, one of the new internationally sought after labour aristocracy of the digital universe. He’s currently head of Visual Effects at Resin in Adelaide and has worked for Image Engine Design in Vancouver.

‘In the new digital industries of the future, work is international and workers travel the world looking for opportunities to develop their skills and expand their experience’

I don’t even understand exactly what he does but I know he’s described himself as a character rigger, someone who ensures that the figures in digital animations actually move as though they are real. He’s worked on Hollywood blockbusters like ‘Elysium’, the remake of ‘The Thing’ and ‘Battleship’. I’ve never seen any of them but ‘Elysium’ was made by the South African director of the quirky ‘District 9’, produced by Peter Jackson, which I haven’t seen either but it sounds cool.

Australia, the largest island, is just the start of the island kingdom of the Greater Pacific. Compared to the tiny isles further East, New Zealand rises from the ocean like a large lost world.

Nowadays he’s like so many of us, someone who manages other people to help them do better what he used to do and would still probably really like to do himself.

The neighbouring world of Weta Digital
Now he has got himself a job at Weta Digital. You may ask what Weta Digital is but when I heard the news, my response was ‘wow’. Weta Digital is part of a stable of companies, including Weta Workshop, and makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. If you’ve seen ‘Lord of the Rings’ or the remake of ‘King Kong’ you’ve been watching Weta at work. It’s named after a New Zealand insect, supposedly one of the largest on the planet, reflecting I presume Peter Jackson’s fascination with all things insect – so strangely evident in ‘King Kong’.

Close friends have a son who is a musician. He managed to get into an international program where he did music workshops in New York with Julian Lennon. He’s now based in Berlin. It’s along the same lines as this news – another sign of our times.

There are several interesting things I draw from this very personal achievement. Firstly, in the new digital industries of the future, work is international and workers travel the world looking for opportunities to develop their skills and expand their experience. My nephew lives in Adelaide, he used to live in Vancouver, where when he wasn’t working on blockbuster movies, he was improving his skills as a DJ and taking photographs. Now he’s moving to Wellington.

Secondly, expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. The New Zealanders long ago recognised that the creative industries and design were the way of the future. Shrink wrap that with stunning physical attributes and a reputation for clean and pristine and you have a winning streak with a lot of momentum. Australians used to joke that going to New Zealand was like travelling back to the 1950s. I’m sure that’s true in some respects, but in other ways it’s like travelling to a country Australia might want to become sometime in the future.

'Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible'

In a similar way, the city he is leaving for however long is also able to be an industrial base for the creative industries, despite not being one of the two main cities in Australia, like Sydney or Melbourne. Whereas once it’s future depended on a local car manufacturing infrastructure – now on the way out – new, cleaner industries are taking its place. Another local Adelaide creative firm he has previously worked for, Rising Sun Pictures, is attracting a considerable volume of high end work and is building the industry there by employing local talent.

Knowledge about the knowledge economy
This might seem like a personal story but all personal stories are really about the broader times in which they occur. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape.

Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. They are mainly service industries that make up the knowledge economy, based on intellectual enquiry and research and exhibiting both innovative services or products and also new and innovative ways of doing business.

At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business, and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.

The main downside for those working in the sector is that though these industries may often – but not always – pay relatively well, they, like most arts and culture jobs as well, tend to be short-term, project-based and, as with most small business environments, precarious and subject to the vagaries of international markets.

'Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business, and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally'

Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not. As part of Australia's culture sector they share the critical function of managing meaning, which distinguishes this sector from other parts of the knowledge economy.

They are also closely linked to central social challenges Australia faces, such as responding effectively and productively to cultural diversity and Indigenous disadvantage. These industries depend on innovation and innovation occurs where cultures intersect and differing world-views come into contact and fixed ideas and old ways of doing things are challenged and assessed.

'Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world'

Their focus on content has other implications. In attempting to address the major issue of Indigenous disadvantage, to take just one example, it is critical to recognise that one of the most important economic resources possessed by Indigenous communities is their culture. Creative firms are already drawing on that cultural content. Through the intellectual property that converts it into a form that can generate income in a contemporary economy, the culture is pivotal to jobs and to income. It may not be mining but they mine a far richer seam – authentic and rich content that has already been recognised internationally for its high value, just like our iron and coal.

Transforming the political landscape
These changes in the economic life of the nation are also linked to the way the new knowledge economy is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department. Near enough is not good enough any more.

Both the two mainstream parties have recognised that the contemporary political landscape has changed substantially. An article by Rick Wallace in ‘The Australian’ on 15 May, notes that the assistant secretary of the Victorian branch of the Labor Party, Kosmos Samaras, considers that it’s time for the Labor Party to accept Australia now has a three-party system, with the Greens gathering strength and posing a serious threat to both the Liberal Party and Labor. According to ‘The Australian’, in his view ‘the reason I think we now have a three-party system is simple: the Greens basically represent a new class of voter, partly created by the knowledge economy … a different person entirely (who is) a product of the complete contraction of high-income jobs to the centre of Melbourne.’

'These changes in the economic life of the nation are also linked to the way the new knowledge economy is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department'

Similarly Liberal Party powerbroker, Michael Kroger, the Victorian Liberal Party president, has confirmed there had been discussions within the Liberal Party on how to counter the rising Greens vote in safe Liberal seats. According to ‘The Australian’, ‘the Greens polled 22 per cent of the primary vote in Hawthorn and in the high teens in similarly well-off Brighton, Malvern, Kew and Caulfield.’ Kroger commented ‘I am concerned about the fact that the party has not really had a strategy for fighting the Greens head-on, something I propose to rectify with a campaign direct­ly aimed at Green voters in Liberal seats.’

‘The Australian’ concludes by noting that ‘The Greens primary vote has been rising slowly in Victoria, and in NSW it did not rise at all at the March election. But the problem for the major parties is concentration, with the Greens grabbing a Liberal seat in Prahran in Victoria, along with their win in Labor-held Melbourne. In NSW, despite a static primary vote, the Greens held on to Balmain and won the new seat of Newtown, while also taking regional Ballina.’ It adds that the trend is not as pronounced in NSW for the Liberals, but points out ‘analysts such as former senator John Black believe the Greens will become a force in wealthy electorates, just as they have done in Melbourne.’

Interesting times and interesting challenges
Given that the knowledge economy will become more and more prevalent and central to Australia’s economic future, I wonder what this means for Australia’s politics over the next ten years. Interesting times and interesting challenges for the two major parties to remake themselves. To date neither of them have shown a willingness to do so, being consumed with their mutual contest. A good starting point might be a more forceful recognition of the growing importance of the knowledge economy and the creative industries at its heart.

That means acknowledging that Australian arts and culture cannot be understood or fostered without locating them within this broader context. The Labor Party is likely to announce its arts policy sometime after the National Conference in July and this will offer an opportunity to judge where it stands.

‘Given that the knowledge economy will become more and more prevalent and central to Australia’s economic future, I wonder what this means for Australia’s politics over the next ten years. Interesting times and interesting challenges for the two major parties to remake themselves’

Whether we will see anything comparable from the Liberal Party seems doubtful, given the way much of its version of arts support seems to be little more than a personal playground for Senator Brandis. It will be an interesting 12 months ahead as we see where everyone and anyone stands on support for Australia’s arts, culture and creative industries. Meanwhile the world evolves to make them more and more central and essential to our future.

See also

Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles
‘After three weeks travelling round the North Island of New Zealand, I’ve had more time to reflect on the importance of the clean and clever industries of the future and the skilled knowledge workers who make them. In the capital, Wellington, instead of the traditional industries that once often dominated a town, like the railways or meatworks or the car plant or, in Tasmania, the Hydro Electricity Commission, there was Weta. It’s clear that the industries of the future can thrive in unexpected locations. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. These skills which Weta depends on for its livelihood are also being used to tell important stories from the past’, Industries of the future help tell stories of the past – Weta at work in the shaky isles.

Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans
‘In many ways design is a central part of the vocabulary of our time and integrally related to so many powerful social and economic forces – creative industries, popular culture, the digital transformation of society. Design is often misunderstood or overlooked and it's universal vocabulary and pervasive nature is not widely understood, especially by government. In a rapidly changing world, there is a constant tussle between the local and the national (not to mention the international). This all comes together in the vision for the future that is Design Canberra, a celebration of all things design, with preparations well underway for a month long festival this year. The ultimate vision of Craft ACT for Canberra is to add another major annual event to Floriade, Enlighten and the Multicultural Festival, filling a gap between them and complementing them all’, Designs on the future – how Australia’s designed city has global plans.

Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities
‘It is becoming abundantly clear that in our contemporary world two critical things will help shape the way we make a living – and our economy overall. The first is the central role of cities in generating wealth. The second is the knowledge economy of the future and, more particularly, the creative industries that sit at its heart. In Sydney, Australia’s largest city, both of these come together in a scattering of evolving creative clusters – concentrations of creative individuals and small businesses, clumped together in geographic proximity. This development is part of a national and world-wide trend which has profound implications’, Creativity at work – economic engine for our cities.

The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival
‘Across Australia, local communities facing major economic and social challenges have become interested in the joint potential of regional arts and local creative industries to contribute to or often lead regional revival. This has paralleled the increasing importance of our major cities as economic hubs and centres of innovation’, The immense potential of creative industries for regional revival.

Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding 
‘The transfer of substantial program funds from the Australian Government’s main arts funding agency, the Australia Council, to the Ministry for the Arts has had the effect of masking serious cuts to crucial programs run by the Ministry, including its Indigenous cultural programs. There have been cuts to overall Ministry program funds stretching long into the future almost every year since the 2014-15 budget, with the long-term trend clearly heading downwards’, Smoking gun – the invisible cuts to national arts and culture funding.

Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?
‘With a Coalition Government which now stands a far better chance of being re-elected for a second term, the transfer of the Commonwealth’s Arts Ministry to Communications helps get arts and culture back onto larger and more contemporary agendas. This move reflects that fact that the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, are both clever and clean. Where they differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not’, Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?

Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture
‘A far more important issue than arts funding is how can the broad arts and cultural sector become a better organised, effective voice for arts and culture and its wider importance for Australia? Changes like this happen because they are able to happen – because decision-makers think they can get away with it. The arts and culture sector and its supporters have to be influential enough that decision-makers think carefully about the importance and the standing of Australia’s arts and culture and weigh any decisions they make carefully in terms of the strategic needs of the sector. These current dire circumstances may provide the opportunity we have needed to look seriously at this question’, Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture.

Land of hope
‘There were times in our past when Australia was seen as the great hope of the world – when it offered a vision of a new democratic life free from the failures of the past and the old world. It seems we have turned from our history, from the bright vision of the nineteenth century and the great nation-building vision of the period after World War 2, with its sense of optimism and fairness, towards something much more pinched and narrow – mean and weak-willed. For such an optimistic nation we seem to have developed a ‘half empty’ rather than ‘half full’ view of the glass – and the world. If we want to live in a land to be proud of, a fair country that truly inherits the best of Australia’s traditions, while consciously abandoning the less desirable ones, we need to change course – otherwise we will have to rebadge Australia not as the land of hope but instead as the land without hope’, Land of hope.

A navigator on a Lancaster bomber‘Sometimes I think Australia has lost its way. It’s like a ship that has sailed into the vast Pacific Ocean in search of gaudy treasure, glimpsed the beckoning coast of Asia and then lost its bearings, all its charts blown overboard in squalls and tempests. It seems to have turned from the great nation-building vision of the period after World War 2, with its sense of optimism and fairness, towards something much more pinched and narrow. It’s time to rediscover the Australian dream. We need a navigator – or perhaps many, one in every community – who can help us find our way, encourage us as we navigate from greed and complacency to a calmer shining ocean of generosity and optimism’, A navigator on a Lancaster bomber.

Valuing the intangible
‘We are surrounded by intangible cultural heritage – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – and often it’s incredibly important to us but we can’t seem to understand why or put a name to its importance. So many issues of paramount importance to Australia and its future are linked to the broad cultural agenda of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In particular they are central to one of UNESCO’s key treaties, the International Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.’ Valuing the intangible.

Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world
‘Design and the language of design is very broad – much broader than architecture or industrial or graphic design – the forms we are most conscious of. Design is also very much about processes and the development of concepts across almost all areas of human activity. This means it also has a high relevance to the development of policy to solve pressing social challenges, moving beyond the world of design to embrace the design of the world. In a highlight of DESIGN Canberra this year, respected Dutch presenter Ingrid Van der Wacht led discussion about the relevance of design to innovative policy – from local, highly specific policy to grand strategic policy designed to change whole regions and even nations’, Design for policy innovation – from the world of design to designing the world.

Out from the shadows – the other Arts Minister
‘I ventured out through the dark wilds of the Australian National University to hear the Opposition Spokesperson on the Arts, Mark Dreyfus, share his view of what a contemporary arts and culture policy might look like. It was a timely moment, given the turmoil stirred up by recent changes to national arts funding arrangements and the #freethearts response from small arts and cultural organisations and artists. Luckily, as he himself noted, he has a very recent model to work with. The National Cultural Policy is little more than two years old,’ Out from the shadows – the other Arts Minister.

‘Arts’ policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel
‘Faced with the increasing prospect that it could become the next Australian Government, the Labor Party is reviewing its ‘arts’ policy. Whatever happens and whoever it happens to, considered and strategic discussion of arts and culture policy is critical to Australia's future.’ ‘Arts’ policy and culture – let's not reinvent the wheel.

The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
‘The swan song of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, ‘Creative Business in Australia’, outlines the experience of five years supporting Australia’s creative industries. Case studies and wide-ranging analysis explain the critical importance of these industries to Australia’s future. The knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, is both clever and clean. Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture’, The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

Indigenous cultural jobs – real jobs in an unreal world
'Subsidised Indigenous arts and cultural jobs are real jobs with career paths that deliver genuine skills and employment capability.' Real jobs in an unreal world.

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