Centrestage

Hael KobayashiUTS’s Executive Director of the Creative Innovation Unit, Hael Kobayashi’s distinguished resume includes a role on the Oscar-winning movie Happy Feet. He talks to Cameron Cooper about Sydney’s emergence as a hub for creative industries.

As a pioneer of the digital revolution who has worked in smart cities such as San Francisco and Copenhagen, Hael Kobayashi has a keen sense for trends and the next big thing. So it is no coincidence that he is now at the heart of Sydney’s emergence as a hub for creative industries and innovation. The signs are clear for the NSW capital: clusters of entrepreneurs; collaboration among educators and industry leaders; and government and city investment.

“Watching those kinds of things happen in an ecosystem, I’d say, are very similar to the kinds of dynamics that you would see in San Francisco and Copenhagen,” says Kobayashi, who’s also the Associate Director of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre (CIIC) at UTS. “And there are early indicators that the ecosystem is beginning to connect. That’s very exciting.”

Born in Canada, Kobayashi has a distinguished résumé spanning 30 years’ experience in film, digital, broadcast media and the visual and performing arts. Now through the CIIC, launched in 2009 as part of the Australian Government’s Enterprise Connect initiative to support the growth of creative industries, he is again at the forefront as Sydney follows in the footsteps of California’s Silicon Valley, Denmark and Sweden’s Medicon Valley.

The cutting edge of creativity Of the CIIC, Kobayashi notes that the business advisory service has helped more than 600 creative enterprises connect with funding, technology, training and networks to help them flourish. “It’s the first time we’ve had this kind of centre in Australia,” he adds.

In May, Federal Minister for Industry and Innovation Greg Combet announced an additional three years’ funding for the CIIC. Kobayashi believes complementary support from the NSW Government and the City of Sydney has been instrumental in Sydney becoming a hot spot for creative industries collaboration.

Digital Sydney, an Industry and Investment NSW program to promote the state’s strengths in the converging ICT and creative industries, is also playing a key role in linking government, education and industry in a creative industries precinct that includes inner-city suburbs such as Surry Hills, Ultimo and Pyrmont.

“You are now getting a critical mass of activity in the city,” says Kobayashi who chairs the group. He believes UTS is also cementing its leadership position in this space on the back of a whole-of-university Creative Innovation Strategy and a $1 billion campus redevelopment that will ensure a cutting-edge campus of the future. “So there’s a great deal of interaction beginning to happen between all these different groups,” Kobayashi says. “That’s when you see this kind of fantastic alchemy that can transform a city. And it’s wonderful that the university is smack bang in the middle of it.”

A career highlight for Kobayashi was his engagement as associate producer for visual effects company Animal Logic on George Miller’s production of Happy Feet – the endearing cartoon hit about penguins which won an Academy Award for bestanimated feature. Kobayashi says it was gratifying to work with such a talented team. “In any culture it takes a lot of vision and integrity of vision for those creative groups to come together and realise a project like that,” he says. “And there were several UTS graduates who were in the core group in Animal Logic and some of them were in lead roles and supervisory roles.”

In a further indication of Australia’s and Sydney’s standing as a creative industries success story, Kobayashi was invited to speak in April at the 13th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Doha, Qatar. Presenting an overview of Australian activities in this space, including the role of the CIIC, entrepreneur groups and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, he outlined initiatives to build a creative economy.

Kobayashi says he was proud to have the opportunity to showcase Australia’s progress in creative industries in front of a UN audience. “Australia was referenced as a country that is able to create great strategy and implement it.”

Growth of the inter-connected world Looking ahead, Kobayashi says it is clear that technologies around social media will be one of the big plays for the digital economy in years to come. While formats such as Facebook and Twitter have already built valuable brands on the back of facilitating connectivity between people, he has no doubt that there is a long way to go as communities and businesses become more agile and visually literate courtesy of new social media and digital technologies.

“But I don’t think it detracts from the fact that the content still needs to be well developed and articulated in that environment, and we actually need to allow this kind of dialogue to happen.”

On a personal level, Kobayashi is pleased to be part of the fast-growing Sydney digital economy. As was the case with San Francisco and Copenhagen, he seems to be the right person in the right place at the right time. “UTS is a very inspiring environment,” he says. “[We] have a critical mass of wonderful people with a great deal of vision and also the skills to implement the vision.”

Photography by Anthony Geernaert