Cumulus VFX is a successful and fast growing visual effects studio, based in Byron Bay, that produces high quality visual effects for film, television and other visual media. Will Gammon, the CEO and founder, explains how creating a culture based on creativity, learning and having fun breeds successful innovation and productivity in a fiercely competitive industry.
Will’s personal film credits include Lord of the Rings, Mao’s Last Dancer, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Terminator Salvation, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Superman Returns and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Will’s studios, a stone’s throw from beautiful Belongil Beach, vibrates creative energy and youthfulness. Like Will himself, most of his staff left school early to follow their passion.Cumulus, currently employing around 16 people, is on a sharp growth curve. Will expects that to grow to 30 by the end of 2018 and 45 next year.
An early digital disrupter
Always an innovator, in 2001, a school dropout and decidedly non-academic thinker, Will was working on Hollywood blockbuster films through Adelaide based Rising Sun Pictures. Will somehow convinced his boss and mentor Tony Clark to let him move to the seaside town of Kingscliff and work virtually.
A key challenge of working regionally, then and now, is remarkably poor internet reliability and speed. Animation and visual effects use huge amounts of data – so Will pioneered a way to navigate terabytes of data remotely.
This early experience convinced Will he could live where he chose (Byron Bay), have the life he wanted (surfing, family and community time) without either the inconvenience or services that come with big city living.
Will’s business model
Today Will has developed his proprietary software Syclone, which allows him to reroute terabytes of material freeing him to operate from an area with notoriously poor internet services. Will has set up Cumulus satellite studios all around the globe including Scotland and Canada. This model has helped him to minimise costs and pass the savings on to his client.
Will has also found that employing very young staff is a boon. Firstly, he is able to attract government subsidy and support for trainees. Secondly, he finds that young minds are ahead of the IT game.
“I’m from the in-between generation” Will (born in 1981) says. “I wasn’t a boomer but I wasn’t an IT native either. The young guys coming through now are so on their game”. Trainees working with Cumulus can earn a Certificate 3 in their field thus getting a valuable world class education that would otherwise cost them thousands. Will pays them a minimum wage and gets a small government rebate.
Recently, Will’s trainee Ralph Atkins, one of Australia’s youngest Visual Effects artists, worked on the ‘Peter Rabbit’ movie in conjunction with award-winning Australian company Animal Logic.
Disrupting the disruptor
Global competition in visual effects and animation is fierce and change is constant. Will finds that the quality of the service and communication Cumulus provides along with their skills in project management lead to continual repeat work and a growing global reputation.
To boost profitability, Will has created an incubator for those with new film/TV ideas. This will be a fee for service company which will constantly generate new content. “Content” he says “is king”. Subsidised by Government, Will now mentors and trains filmmakers and invests in those projects wherein he sees the greatest potential.
Will believes that living regionally is a big plus. People are prepared to work for less for the opportunity to work in a beautiful seaside area surrounded by places where the cost of living is way below that in the capitals. Moreover, Will encourages his staff not to watch the clock – but rather to take family and surfing time out, but when the projects demand it be prepared to put in the hard yards. The important thing as he sees it is the results – not that they were produced in a normal working day.
Creating the future
Will and his model of working is surely pioneering the future, where distance workers, innovation, flexibility and business savvy will be the key markers of success.
The huge risks and leaps that Will and Cumulus have taken raises the question:- “How will large corporations – so hide bound with tradition, risk management and lumpy corporate structures – keep up with the speed of change?” Outsourcing to bright entrepreneurs is part of the solution, as is acquisition. The trick there is how to allow a vibrant creative culture to flourish under the control of corporate juggernauts. The guys at Cumulus are having fun, doing what they love, learning, growing and creating while living in a seaside paradise. It’s a model worth considering.