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The end of the edge

AnimfxNZ is back, returning New Zealand to the centre of the FX world

AnimfxNZ is back, returning New Zealand to the centre of the FX world

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AnimfxNZ co-chair Kim Lavery

We’ve all heard it before: the edge of the world, the tyranny of distance, the last output in the Pacific, the Antipodes of everywhere, and so on. Perhaps we should stop thinking of New Zealand as a place that’s over the horizon and out of sight, and instead think of our islands as the perfect portal for creative people.

It works for AnimfxNZ. Ask Kim Lavery why the animation and special effects conference manages to keep drawing top-flight movie and games talent to Wellington, and she says it’s their dream destination. “I know it’s a bit corny, but New Zealand is a perfect portal for the world to convene in, and then reach to the rest of the world.

“Those top dogs have hardly a second to spare in their schedules. As soon as they hear about New Zealand and AnimfxNZ, they’re like ‘I’m there!’ We’re in a gorgeous location here in the Pacific, and they come to this beautiful portal that is just rich with creativity. Kiwis ooze with creativity and clever ways to achieve things, and produce very high-end stuff. It’s filmmaking in paradise.”

Lavery was part of the team that founded AnimfxNZ in 2006 with support from Los Angeles’ Visual Effects Society. Then, she worked at Weta; she’s now executive producer at Sauce FX Studios, which has offices in Wellington, Auckland and Los Angeles, working for major US studios. She’s also co-chair of AnimxfxNZ 2009, with Jos Ruffell of Wellington game developer Sidhe Interactive.

Ruffell says the games and movie FX industries are getting closer all the time, especially as moviemaking becomes a digital process. “People are moving comfortably between the industries, but also there are interesting perspectives that each side can add,” he says. “For instance, at AnimfxNZ 2008 we hosted Electronic Art’s chief visual officer, Henry LaBounta. Henry is an Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor, who now works on bringing his experience and knowledge from films into game production. Within New Zealand, we have ex-Weta people working at Sidhe on games, and vice versa.”

New Zealand’s games industry is starting to shine, too, says Ruffell. “Wellington has a strong talent pool to draw on thanks to the ongoing success of Weta Digital, Weta Workshop and Sidhe. I think it’s a natural progression for a vibrant game development community to spring up around this and with events like AnimfxNZ ongoing in Wellington there is a real critical mass developing. Auckland has world-class training schools like Media Design school and universities like Otago and Canterbury produce top programming graduates.”

Ruffell and Lavery are currently putting the final touches on AnimfxNZ 2009, which runs from November 5 to 7 at the Museum Hotel and Te Papa. As always, the speaker list is a who’s who of the gaming and FX industries. Lavery is thrilled by the visit of Kung Fu Panda co-director John Stevenson and Rita Street, a producer and producer’s representative, and the return of Sander Schwartz, the former president of Warner Bros. Animation.

Don’t expect a mere talkfest, though: serious business is conducted at each AnimfxNZ as producers and creators discuss their abilities and their needs. “That’s my job,” says Lavery. “Connect those dots and get it done.”