Hamish Coleman video transcript

Julian Simmonds:    Alt.vfx is a pretty cool, techy-sounding name but you'd better give us a bit of an overview of exactly what you do and some of the projects you've been involved in.

Hamish Coleman:  Yeah.  So Alt.vfx started back in 2011.  We're a visual effects company concentrating basically on short form commercials.  So we basically work with advertising agencies to produce effectively what you see on television every day.

The big breakthrough for Alt.vfx was early on.  We did the Tooheys Extra Dry commercial with all the mooses that were running around, which they all created from computer generated stuff.  Really, that set them on their way and the rest is a little bit of history, really, but that's really what got them started. 

They went on and they've done some other famous ones that - well, or infamous.  We did the Tooheys Extra Dry with the mouth that jumped out last year, which was voted the worst advertisement.


Julian Simmonds:    You remember it, though, don't you, yeah?

Hamish Coleman:    Well, you do, you do.  So Tooheys are doing something right, I suppose. 

So yeah, that's the business.  Approximately 30 per cent to 40 per cent of our business is overseas.  Takeshi Takada, one of the directors, is Japanese and has some wonderful connections over there.  I was telling James earlier, they make some quite weird commercials over there, the Japanese, but it's extremely welcome.

Takeshi actually couldn't come tonight because we're actually filming a Toyota commercial in Sydney at the moment.  So the Japanese have actually come out here to actually do the shoot, which is fantastic, so yeah.

Julian Simmonds:    You've got a bit of international acclaim now, which is good.  It makes it a bit easier to get the work.  But maybe just take us back to 2011 when the company was first starting out.  What was it like just as a small company in Brisbane, pitching for some of these bigger jobs?

Hamish Coleman:    I actually have a great memory of when they started out.  I wasn't actually with them but they phoned me up one day, Colin and Takeshi who are the two directors.  They phoned me up and said how in the hell are you doing?  I was like alright, fellas, what are you doing?  They said, oh, we've quit our jobs.  I went, oh yeah, that's a good idea. 


They said would you mind coming over and having a look at what we've done.  I said, okay.  So I went over and started having a look at a bit of their business plan and I was with them until about midnight, one o'clock in the morning.  Then I said to them - you know, because they were trying to raise some money to get the company off the ground, and typical artists - I said to them, oh, so when are you presenting to the financiers and all that?  They said, oh, we're on the 6am flight. I’m like okay, well, good luck with that. 


Anyway, they rang me back up a month later and said we're up and running.  Away they were.  There were six creatives.  They'd all left their jobs, backed each other to the hilt.  They basically had a laptop each, was pretty much all it was.  One guy was pretty skilful in connecting them altogether but that's what it was and that's how they did the Tooheys Extra Dry commercial.  So they just went out there and pitched. 

They had a wonderful reputation, which was fantastic and they won that first job and that sort of set them on the path.  They focused on, you know, it was all about quality, the artists and this real desire to win these awards, just award after award, and they continue to do it.  Tonight, Colin is actually in Berlin accepting a golden award at the [Cyclops] presentation, which is another great achievement.

Julian Simmonds:    It started off with just the two artistic directors and now it's got a studio both in Brisbane and in Sydney.  As the CFO you've played a large role in helping to manage that growth, making them flexible.  How have you set up the business and what are some of the tips and tricks that you've undertaken to make sure that they can continue to expand as they need to?

Hamish Coleman:    It's probably the greatest job I've had.  Really, the last 12 months has been so much fun and the guys have totally focused on the artists.  So the whole business is artist driven and it's all around the artists and the brand and quality and they've been absolutely fantastic in continuing that theme the whole way along.

Mind you, from a finance perspective, it's been a little bit challenging because they're happy to sacrifice money for quality.  Sometimes they do some crazy stuff.  I was mentioning before, we're doing this commercial for Toyota at the moment and we're doing a CGA.  We've brought over the second-best CGA from Planet of the Apes out of the States to show us how to move like an ape, so then they can computer generate this stuff.  So they don't hold anything back.

Financially, I'm going what are you doing, you crazy people but it comes back.  It all comes back.  So we're a very young company.  It's three and a half years in.  It's all about investment in the brand and we keep going along the brand.  In the last 12 months all of a sudden it's starting to come through.  So we've doubled in size, both from a revenue perspective and also an employment perspective.  

Julian Simmonds:    So just picking up quickly on the employment side, and also you're saying that you've got to work very hard to protect the brand, as everybody does, no matter what business that you're in.  So it then comes down to, well, how do you pick and find the right staff who will do your brand justice and deliver what you need.

So in your experience with the company, what's the right kind of employee?  What are you looking for in that perfect person to join the company?

Hamish Coleman:    Well, what a great question you've asked.  That is our hardest thing and Tak, Colin and myself would spend at least 50 per cent, if not more, of our time on finding the right artists, the right fit, the right culture.  I've said with the Ape, you know, we've stretched the far regions of the globe searching these guys.  You know we've got a guy from Prague that's just joined us.  We've got a Frenchman.  We've got numerous different people.  We fly freelancers in for specific jobs, to make sure the quality's up there.

The other part we do is we're trying to invest and get more of the youth coming through so we actually have relationships with QUT, the university, in the city there.  We need to develop that further and bring the younger generation through because obviously they are what's going to be there for the next 10, 15 years.  You know, we're all getting a bit older and a bit slower.

So actually doing that is probably the hardest.  What do we do?  It's constant.  You're constantly on the phone in all forms; on the email.  In this business it's very relationship driven so it's who you know and it gets passed around and passed around.

That was also the other reason for opening up in Sydney, so we have two sites.  It gives us a little bit greater field to choose from.

Julian Simmonds:    Having used Brisbane as your launch pad, but you're now going international recognition, how do you find going out and selling the company and selling Brisbane internationally?  Do you have to educate them a little bit on the city and how it's a place for this kind of artistic vision, or do they know who we are?

Hamish Coleman:    It's the same, you know.  It's a little bit they're a little unsure.  Obviously, Sydney's the easy one they know sort of thing.  The beautiful part is once we've had them here once it's an easy sell.  So we've just to get them over here and we get them in - we're in a magnificent establishment.  If anyone looks at our website you can see we're on Brook Street in there in the Valley in an old church.  It's a wonderful office and when they come they have a wonderful time.

One of our big things is client service.  We take them out.  It's not that hard to take them to the Gold Coast, take them to the Sunshine Coast.  Then even just around Brisbane and with what's going on, it's a wonderful city.  It's easy, there are good restaurants.  So the challenge is getting them here the first time and once it's here the first time, if you can't show them it's a good time then you've got more problems than worrying about that.

Return to the Business Masterclass - Innovation and new ideas videos.

11 February 2016