The co-founder and executive producer at Alt VFX on how working through Brisbane floods of 2011 gave him the belief to start his own visual effects company
Takeshi Takada has grown up with the quote “nil sine labore” – or nothing without the work – imprinted on his psyche. So, it’s no surprise that he has made hard work the core of all that he does. Growing up he spent his early childhood between Singapore and Japan before moving to Australia for education.
He returned to Japan for the start of his advertising career, beginning as an account executive at Publicis in Tokyo and moving to the likes of Havas and BBDO. Shortly after Takeshi moved to Brisbane for work where he met his ALT vfx co-founder Colin Renshaw – and the rest is history.
LBB’s Natasha Patel catches up with Takeshi to hear about his early career, a serendipitous moment during the Brisbane floods that began ALT vfx and what Covid-19 has done for remote shooting in Australia.
LBB> Your early days were spent between Japan and Singapore, tell us more about the experience and how the different locations impacted your sense of creativity.
Takeshi> I was born in Japan in a place called Saitama Prefecture, right next to Tokyo. I also lived in Singapore from age one to three, when my father was transferred to Singapore, on a project to build the famous road from Changi Airport to the city. We then went back to Japan and I spent the rest of my childhood there until 12.
Japanese culture has storytelling embedded into it, from the stories our parents tell us as children to the love of things like comic books and Manga. That love of storytelling is something that was embedded into me from a very young age!
LBB> And then you moved to Australia for your education, this must’ve been a huge cultural change!
Takeshi> Our family moved over to Australia when I was 13. It was the year of the ‘World Expo 88’ in Brisbane. It was a pretty big change for me, that’s for sure. I spoke no English, I went to English class in Japan when I was little, but pretty much spoke none of the language. One of the biggest shocks in my life which made some life changing experiences was attending English learning school funded by the Australian government, with classmates all over the world non-English speaking countries including Cambodia, China, El Salvador, eastern Europe and Vietnam to name a few.
It was very multiculturally diverse, in this alien nation of Australia. People used to have knife fights at lunchtime, who had come straight from places going through civil wars and post-war and were suffering from the traumatic effects of that. I had to adjust from being a normal Japanese kid to this new world, full of people with different backgrounds and experiences from all around the world.
LBB> Wow, that sounds intense. How did you go from that to the world of advertising?
Takeshi> I actually started on the other side of the fence in advertising, working as an Account Executive for Publicis in Tokyo. I spent some very happy times at agencies like Publicis, EURO RSCG and BBDO in Tokyo, which really gave me an appreciation of the whole creative process, from creative ideas to final delivery. As well as dealing with major brands and enjoying that client management aspect, it also made me realise I had a passion for the creative and craft side of things, which led me to where I am now!
LBB> How did the creation of Alt VFX come about from there?
Takeshi> I was actually working at another post-production studio in Brisbane, where I met the founders and my business partner, Colin Renshaw. Almost immediately, Colin and I formed a pretty solid partnership, running projects together, him creative, me the producer. I felt like we just became an unbeatable team. We would sit after hours and talk about how we would do things differently if we kick start our own place, how to make the company and the work life better.
Interestingly enough, it was the greatest Brisbane floods which triggered us to make the decision to take the punt. The whole city stopped, but we kept working in such harsh conditions. It just built this formidable belief in us that we could take it to the next level, above and beyond where we can imagine. As soon as the idea was out there it was like an unstoppable train! We started the company together, with four other founders, and built it up to where we are today, with offices in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles and Tokyo.
LBB> Are there any standout campaigns from those early years?
Takeshi> We get asked this question a lot and there are so many incredible campaigns we have been fortunate enough to be part of. We love and strive to work on creative projects and we are truly thankful to all the brands, creative teams and directors.
I feel like the one campaign that really changed everything – both for me and for Alt – was Toohey’s Extra Dry ‘Nocturnal Migration' directed by Garth Davis. It was the very first job we ever did as a company, and one that caused many sleepless nights on the way! For a start-up, it was a huge undertaking, I think it set the DNA of our team. Nothing is impossible when you are surrounded by talented and passionate artists. It went around the world and won awards at Cannes Lion and many other prestigious festivals, and really set us off on this incredible global journey.
LBB> Speaking of awards and prestige, its no secret that you guys have plenty. Is this industry recognition something that’s important to you?
Takeshi> Nil sine labore – nothing without work - was the motto of my high school and I’m a big believer in working hard and striving to be one of the best in the world.
When your team’s hard work is recognised, there is no better feeling, and you really embrace it together. Also, in our early days, it was definitely a part of our global strategy to put our work forward in many of the international stages, and it definitely helped us grow our business profile. As one of the business owners, I’m very proud of our team and the extensively diverse work we make at Alt, I’ve honestly never met a more dedicated and passionate bunch of people, so when the work gets awarded, it’s really a testament to them.
LBB> How has the visual effect industry changed in the past year – Covid must’ve shaken things up for sure.
Takeshi> In a way it has changed things, yes. Remote directing is part of our world now, and we even did a commercial with Star Wars director Rian Johnson – working remotely from LA, with our team working remotely from Brisbane, with the production crew on set in New Zealand. But like everyone else in the industry, you just adapt and evolve, and try find new ways to keep making great work.
LBB> Outside of work, what do you do to unwind?
Takeshi> Well I have a young family, so that takes up a lot of my time when I’m not at the office. But in the past few years I’ve resisted the urge to become a M.A.M.I.L. (middle aged man in Lycra) and started surfing instead! In Japanese, Takeshi actually means ‘healthy’, my grandfather gave me that name. I’ve always been quite conscious of health and wellbeing.
However, as soon as Alt kicked off, things got a bit hectic and my priorities were always around work. I had to change it up and my best friends encouraged me to start taking up surfing, which is a great way to reset your mind and has been awesome. I’ve even managed to catch a few good waves – in life and in surfing!