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April 03
2018

ISSUE

Spring 2018

VES New Zealand: Building on Strong Bonds of Camaraderie and Community

By NAOMI GOLDMAN

The Boat Sheds at Wellington’s iconic Oriental Parade. (Photo by James Ogle, New Zealand Section Board member)

New Zealand Section Board members Jason Galeon, Georg Duemlein and local VES members at Teq Talks.

“We’re not a traditional Section – we’re a family of members. We have a lot of VFX practitioners who migrate here for the work, as well as other longstanding community members who have been here since before The Lord of the Rings.”

—Emma Clifton Perry, former Section Chair

Director Christian Nicholson and New Zealand Section Board member Jason Galeon at the VES preview screening of This Giant Papier Maché Boulder Is Actually Really Heavy.

Much of the Visual Effects Society’s growing international presence is due to its network of Sections whose members lend their expertise and entrepreneurship to benefit visual effects practitioners in their region while advancing the Society and industry worldwide. Founded in 2011, the New Zealand Section is thriving with more than 160 members, its vibrancy due to the area’s close-knit visual effects community and impassioned leadership at the helm.

The Wellington-based New Zealand Section resides in a country of stunning natural beauty and a dynamic Māori culture, and defines itself as a family town. The Board of Managers believes that its success is largely due to its differences from many of its metropolitan counterparts.

“We’re not a traditional Section – we’re a family of members,” says Emma Clifton Perry, former Section Chair. “We have a lot of VFX practitioners who migrate here for the work, as well as other long- standing community members who have been here since before The Lord of the Rings. We always try to have events and children’s films screenings that are accessible to families who see the VES as the all-encompassing hub of their professional lives and social networking. How many Sections have a kid-friendly holiday party? We do and we love that. Nurturing these bonds among our fellow professionals is an important factor in our planning so that we continue to build camaraderie and rich community.”

In a country of less than four million people and several thousand visual effects practitioners, the New Zealand Section counts almost 10% of the workforce among its members. Especially in Wellington, the VES is the primary VFX industry organization. When the Section was first established, the majority of its members were from the Weta Group of Companies, a national point of pride and major employer in the visual effects community, but that has shifted in recent years as other smaller facilities and VR companies have emerged in the VFX community and joined the Society.

The Section’s membership is primarily comprised of VFX practitioners working in feature film and animation, some with a background in commercials and television, and many whose career trajectories began in the gaming community. The Board of Managers has made it a priority to encourage more educators and multidisciplinary experts to engage as members and leaders.

“We are fortunate to have the active involvement of diverse professionals who see things from another perspective and add to our visual effects proficiency,” states Clifton Perry. “Lance Lones (Chief Scientist at L2VR Ltd.) and Douglas Easterly (Associate Professor, Head of the School of Design at Victoria University of Wellington) are prime examples of leaders who have greatly enriched our programming by contributing their time, talent and resources.”

Easterly helped create a series at Victoria University, entitled “An Audience With,” which showcased innovative thinkers – open not only to VES members, but also to the local student population. This is emblematic of the Section’s commitment to developing the next generation of VFX artists.

“We see it as our responsibility and our opportunity to share our passion and insights with rising professionals to sustain and grow our industry,” explains Clifton Perry. “A lot of our members are industry leaders, and students having access to their expertise and mentorship is priceless.”

At its core, the New Zealand Section has created a diverse roster of programs and special events designed to serve its members by fostering professional development, education, networking – and recognition of the vast spectrum of visual effects talent in the region while adding its unique flair in sync with the culture of the community. The Section is grateful to receive significant support from Weta Digital and Weta Group as a sponsor, including lending their facilities for film screenings and events.

Several years ago the Section launched Teq Talks, a tequila- infused version of innovation jams where technology, entertainment and design converge at a local Mexican restaurant. These seven-minute talks have featured an eclectic array of creative thinkers, including a professional ballerina from the New Zealand Ballet, a mo-cap performer, creators of iPad apps and new start- ups, VFX artists and experts in astronomy and astrophotography. The events were open to the public as a means to share the wealth of knowledge and cement relationships in the community. The popular series has intrigued other Sections, and New Zealand is eager to share its lessons learned throughout the global VES community.

New Zealand Section Board member Fabiano Petroni and NASA astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle at the VES NZ NASA presentation with Q&A.

New Zealand Section Board member Jason Galeon and local VES members at the 2017 mixer.

“We are fortunate to have the active involvement of diverse professionals who see things from another perspective and add to our visual effects proficiency … and who have greatly enriched our programming by contributing their time, talent and resources.”

—Emma Clifton Perry, former Section Chair

Former Chair, current New Zealand Section Board member and member of the Board of Directors Emma Clifton Perry and local VES members at the 2017 mixer.

New Zealand Section Board member Jason Galeon and guest speaker at Teq Talks at Boca Loca.

“We see it as our responsibility and our opportunity to share our passion and insights with rising professionals to sustain and grow our industry. A lot of our members are industry leaders, and students having access to their expertise and mentorship is priceless.”

—Emma Clifton Perry, former Section Chair

VES members at Teq Talks at Boca Loca.

New Zealand Section Board member Georg Duemlein, right, and attendee at Teq Talks at Boca Loca.

There is a Sister City relationship between Wellington and San Francisco, both innovative and socially progressive multicultural cities with great love for their natural environment and built heritage. “Just as the cities are exploring a closer relationship, we are working to foster that kind of partnership as well, particularly with the San Francisco Bay Area Section,” says Clifton Perry. “We are already close to the Australia Section and are branching out to share what we have learned with our colleagues worldwide.”

The New Zealand Section exemplifies a welcoming atmosphere and benefits from directors, producers and industry practitioners who come through the area to shoot or scout locations, and brings them in for intimate Q&As whenever possible. Speakers have included Luc Besson (Lucy, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) and Dean DeBlois (How to Train Your Dragon franchise), who shared personal stories on the evolution of their careers, their approach to filmmaking and passion projects. Rob Cavaleri, CG Supervisor at Blue Sky Studios, talked about the artistic and technical challenges they faced on The Peanuts Movie in bringing the classic pen lines of Charles Schulz to the big screen. And Director of Weta Digital and VFX master Joe Letteri, VES, has given talks about using technology to create unforgettable worlds and CG characters that speak volumes about our humanity. A standout for the group was Letteri sharing recollections about the “early days” on Jurassic Park.

And last year, the group enjoyed an out-of-this-world experience with two NASA staffers who journeyed to New Zealand for the Space and Science Festival in Wellington. The Section held a meet & greet with Astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle and Mars Curiosity research scientist Dr. Jen Blank, who shared their experiences training for space missions, their views on technological and scientific advancements, and their approaches to out-of-the-box creative thinking and problem solving.

Moving forward, the New Zealand Section is focused on broadening its outreach – both geographically to areas outside Wellington as an ‘entire country Section’ and professionally to VFX talent at emerging companies. It also would like to bring back the popular Teq Talk series and build on its roster of educational programs for its members and burgeoning VFX artists.

“I’m enormously proud to be a part of this energized organization,” comments Clifton Perry. “From our Section leadership under our first Chair, Matt Aitken, to our hard-working Board of Managers, to a thriving membership, we are very lucky to be a part of this community. Joe Weidenbach and I have the privilege of serving on the overarching VES Board of Directors representing our member- ship and giving voice to ensure equal opportunities for members worldwide. We have can-do, proactive people with real passion for the VES – it shows and has enabled our Section to shine.”

“We always try to have events and children’s films screenings that are accessible to families who see the VES as the all-encompassing hub of their professional lives and social networking. How many Sections have a kid-friendly holiday party? We do and we love that. Nurturing these bonds among our fellow professionals is an important factor in our planning so that we continue to build camaraderie and rich community.”

—Emma Clifton Perry, former Section Chair

Former Chair and current New Zealand Section Board member Emma Clifton Perry and former Board member Charles Armstrong greeting guests at the Winter Mixer at the Roxy Cinemas.

VES members at the Winter Mixer at the Roxy Cinemas

Oriental Parade, Wellington. (Photo by James Ogle, New Zealand Section Board member)

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