Fireworks and FX

The world’s animation and special effects wizards will descend on Wellington over Guy Fawkes
Kim Lavery

Kim Lavery, at Weta, says New Zealand is ‘a one-stop shop’ for major studios. Photograph by Matt Grace

The world’s animation and special effects wizards will descend on Wellington over Guy Fawkes.

Guy Fawkes will have an extra dose of flash and magic this year as the world’s animation and special effects wizards descend on Wellington for the inaugural AnimFXNZ symposium.

The event’s stellar array of international speakers is testimony to the pulling power of Weta Workshop and Weta Digital, and also New Zealand’s growing importance in the global animation and special effects industry. Keynote international speakers include Sander Schwartz, president of Warner Bros Animations, responsible for nearly half the animated movies on release at any one time; Doug Trumbull, a special effects pioneer who worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner; and Tim Johnson, director of Over The Hedge and Antz. Other speakers hail from cutting-edge companies like Weta, Pixar and DreamWorks.

“This is a real vote of confidence for the industry here,” says Chris Lipscombe of Positively Wellington Business, organisers of the event.

The Los Angeles-based Visual Effects Society has made the event part of its official calendar. “We’re hoping this will become a multi-year event,” says Lipscombe. “There could be animation and visual effects events in LA, Frankfurt and Wellington every year.”

The symposium combines animation and special effects, which share an increasing number of talented personnel. It’s obviously a standout opportunity for the local industry to learn from some of the biggest names in the industry, but what’s in it for them?

“There’s a lot of talented people in New Zealand,” says Barrie Osborne, producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. “It’s a chance [for the Americans] to network and meet all those people, and of course there’s the appeal of a trip to New Zealand!”

Co-chair of the symposium is Kim Lavery, a visual effects producer at Weta who has worked on hits like King Kong, Terminator 3 and Minority Report. Lavery also sits on the board of the Visual Effects Society. She says the combination of talent and tax incentives means major studios will increasingly choose to do entire films in New Zealand, rather than just post-production: “It’s one-stop shopping.”

We’ll need more clever people, though. “One of the missing elements is just the experience in technology,” says Lavery. “It’s a vital time for the educational institutions to bring the natural talent up to speed.” She recommends internships as a great way for New Zealanders to learn all aspects of the industry. Euan Frizzell, a Kiwi animator with 30 years’ experience, says a form of unofficial internship is already happening.

“One of the things that comes with a smallish industry is that people get to do a variety of jobs along the way,” says Frizzell, who will speak on a panel about taking New Zealand to the world. “[New Zealanders] are often a lot more multi-skilled than people from much bigger countries.”

The symposium will include two days of lectures, screenings and workshops on November 4 and 5, as well as a series of business meetings in Auckland and Wellington.

[Since this story was published, Doug Trumbull has had to cancel his appearance at AnimFXNZ, but the event still boasts a stellar lineup –Ed.]

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