The Hot List winners: film/TV production company, digital production company

14. Hottest Film/TV production company: Ruckus

Nominees: Motion Sickness, Augusto, Fish, Pango Productions, Rogue Productions, Attitude, Vendetta Productions

From TVCs for Kiwibank to innovative studio-based productions for TVNZ’s What Next, Ruckus deserves the accolade of Hottest Production Company. Co- founder Arwen O’Connor reflects on the year that was and explains the company’s “secret engine”.

“It’s been a busy week,” Arwen O’Connor says to kick off our conversation.

She and the Ruckus team just picked up almost all the New Zealand awards at the Doc Edge International Film Festival for feature documentaries Born This Way: Awa’s Story and Stan, including Best New Zealand Feature Documentary and Best New Zealand Editing.

Evidently it’s not just the week that’s been busy for the production company founded by O’Connor, Nigel Latta and Mitchell Hawkes in 2016, but the last two years.

“Yes, it’s been all go from day one,” she says.

And the work hasn’t gone unnoticed, with audiences, media companies and businesses across the country tuning in and getting involved with the team’s innovative and engaging storytelling.

Although Ruckus is still relatively new on the scene, Latta, Hawkes and O’Connor are no strangers, having worked together for more than nine years producing shows such as The Hard Stuff with Nigel Latta and Nigel Latta Blows Stuff Up.

As passionate storytellers, the aim is to make content they truly believe in and that people want to watch, O’Connor says.

“For us it was simple. We just want to tell important stories and tell them well with integrity and authenticity.”

She says this is true whether it’s a documentary on Stan Walker or an advertisement for Kiwibank. And for a relatively new company, they’ve done a range of jobs.

“For us it’s all about the idea, does the idea resonate?,” she says.

An example is Ruckus’ work with Kiwibank for the Mind over Money series, where O’Connor says the team looked at the bank’s objectives and values and made sure they aligned with theirs.

“They were really great, we didn’t mention Kiwibank at all and they allowed that, they just wanted a series on money.”

Rather than product placement, O’Connor says the value for brands is having their objectives and goals “baked into” the content.

Every story that lands on the Ruckus desk, no matter what genre or length, goes through what the team has coined “the secret engine”.

The engine ensures that whatever’s being worked on has an underlying thread that’s really strong, robust and scientific, before being turned into more humanised relatable content, O’Connor says.

“Nigel is the relatable one, Mitchell is the intellectual one, and I’m the one that goes in and tries to humanise. Mitchell will get this dense intellectual information that you know is rock solid, then I’ll go in – I’m the one that picks it apart, and then Nigel puts it into a language that people really seem to respond to.”

Although very organic, she says the process takes a lot of sitting in the office and talking things through.

“We have a flow that happens naturally and it’s happened for a long time with us, it’s only since we’ve been at Ruckus that we’ve said ‘well that’s how it works isn’t it’.”

A huge achievement for the team was pulling off the new age and very high-tech current affairs Q&A show What Next?

O’Connor says AR, VR, and 360 video are the next big things in content creation and the team are keeping their eyes on advancements in technology and how to use them. But she says no matter what tech brings the teams shared fundamental values and empathetic storytelling will always be at the heart of Ruckus.

“We’ve been blown away by the opportunities that have been coming our way, and at the moment we just keep going,” she says.

“We’re always looking at new, fresh, exciting and innovative ways to tell stories, but it will always come back to the idea.”

People’s choice: Augusto

15. Digital Production Company (web/AR): Assembly

Nominees: Resn, Rush Digital, Gladeye, Wrestler, Conical Studios, Translate Digital 

Assembly has become one of the world’s best animation and production houses. Its skills extend from beautiful animation work, amazing visual effects and stunning digital and VR experiences, like a series of games to promote the film Kubo and the Two Strings, and engaging websites for global brands like Verizon and PwC. Partners Jonny Kofoed, Damon Duncan and Matt von Trottr reflect on the year that’s been and what lies ahead.

How does Assembly define its work?

Craft, with a heavy focus on design. On a practical level, anything that goes on a screen. We have such a broad range of work from creating new technologies to traditional commercial projects and we are very proud of being able to deliver to any brief – but it does make our business a little hard to define!

What have been your biggest learnings or challenges over the past year?

Balancing the peaks and troughs of business in general. Having enough permanent staff to be able to tackle large projects, but keeping enough workflow to survive the quiet times. To combat this, we’ve had to find and use specialist freelancers – especially in the area of visual effects.

What’s the best new technology you guys are using?

We recently installed a sodastream machine which we are already seeing some instant results with, and Damon has started using one of those stand up desk things. Aside from that, our 3D dome scanner (that we built in-house) has become invaluable on some projects. It has a computer-controlled robot arm, and uses photogrammetry to digitally replicate 3D assets. In particular, assets that are traditionally difficult to model by hand. Using gaming engines like Unreal and Unity have also been an exciting development.

We have created a range of projects from VR to interactive games. It has also become a valuable tool for pre-vis and client viewings on challenging projects like Vector Bridge Lights – where we recreated the Auckland Harbour bridge in 3D and presented WIPs in VR. This meant the client could watch the animation from a variety of key viewing angles before the live event. On a smug level, our facility is now solar powered. A good chunk of our image processing is powered off grid. 

What technology is over-hyped?

VR is still exciting to us but is yet to reach the general consumer, so it’s hard to justify for most brands right now. Wouldn’t necessarily say it’s over-hyped as it’s still an impressive technology experience – it just needs more uptake and applications.

This year you’ve picked up a Wood Pencil at D&AD and a Webby Award for Heinz ‘Geoff’. How is it seeing New Zealand on the international stage?

We’ve had an amazing awards run over the last year, primarily with Heinz ‘Geoff’ and Anchor ‘Inside-Out’.

Anchor Milk Slams Inside-out from Colenso BBDO on Vimeo.

We kicked off with a Gold Lion at Cannes for Anchor, followed by pretty consistent wins with both projects through LIA, Clio, D&AD, The Webbys and AWARD. Entering awards is a relatively cost effective way of marketing for us.

The plan from the outset has been to use them to get some international exposure. We feel really proud to be competing at this level. It’s taken a lot of work, and a lot of trust from our clients.

What will a production company of the future look like?

Very similar to now, but producers will be armed with tasers. The challenge with budgets – particularly in New Zealand – doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. Everyone will continually have to adjust their mindsets and the way that technology can create efficiencies within production.

The talent pool in production companies is also evolving – there is still no substitute for talented visual artists – but developers that have a real creative mindset are also becoming a vital part of the team. With so many platforms to deliver to, this mix of technology and creativity is where the truly ground-breaking work will come from.

People’s choice: Resn 

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