Diploma in Digital Creativity

After leaving Auckland Grammar School in Year 12, James was looking to continue his studies in a subject area he enjoyed. He enroled in a Diploma in Digital Creativity at Media Design School, which he says gave him a "...great chance to explore web design, illustration" as well as an "introduction to 3D." After completing his Diploma, he started his Bachelor of Art and Design. Here he tells us about his time at Media Design School and what life in his new role as an Assistant Technical Director at Weta Digital is like.


How did you find out about Media Design School?

I found out about Media Design School by watching the end of year short films on YouTube. I was amazed at the creativity and quality. Once I had my first interview and got a place in the Diploma program I was over the moon. After finding high school not my thing I was in awe of the atmosphere at the campus. It was a big change coming going from high school where you’re taught to learn and do tests in a lockstep fashion. The welcoming atmosphere really promotes you to want to learn on your own accord.

What was it like working collaboratively as a team on your third year project for the Bachelor of Art and Design degree? What was the most challenging aspect of the experience? And the most rewarding?

I helped create Impasse (2015). Working on this project really got me in the mindset of working in the industry. The most rewarding part was creating a cohesive animated short; none of us had ever done something on this scale before. I was proud of our teams' ability to overcome the problems which arise when creating a full 3D film.  The whole team was great at communicating issues and deadlines. We all had our own vision of the film in mind and the end product has a little bit of the entire team.

What was you reaction when you discovered you’d been nominated as a finalist for the 2015 CG Student Awards Oceania Bootcamp?

When I first entered, I didn’t put much effort into my profile. After seeing the amazing work students were submitting I knew I had to raise my standard. I was very excited when I found out I was a finalist. It was a great chance to get my name out there. Having an opportunity to have my work looked at by very respected artists was an honour. I found out how small the world was when I came down to Weta and found out that I was working in a room next to one of the judges!

How is working at Weta? What does an Assistant Technical Director do? Take us through a typical day?

An Assistant Technical Director does a broad range of tasks. We’re primarily at the end of the pipeline where Maya is. You could really find an ATD at any stage of the pipeline though. The ATD program at Weta is setup to provide assistance to other departments when needed. An ATD has a great perspective on how the pipeline works as they might be asked to help any part of it.

What was the step up from Media Design School to working at Weta like? Was there anything in the course that helped prepare you?

Everything. There isn’t a single section of my studies which I could do without. When you leave university,you know a little about a lot of things. When you get into the industry, depending on where you go, you may be specialised in a single section. Having studied for four years gave me a great base in all sections of the pipeline and was an excellent foundation to become an Assistant Technical Director. 

When you first start learning Maya, everything you do is on top of the surface and doesn’t require going under the hood. Near the end of my time at Media Design School we really started getting getting into the foundations of 3D software and seeing how things worked. When your tools are constantly being developed while you’re still working on a project, you have to be able to adapt to the shifting pipeline under your feet. Understanding the basics and the building blocks of a 3D package makes this made the training process a lot easier

Media Design School prepared me well. The tutors were great at giving us insights into how we should hold ourselves as we moved into the industry. I think the biggest surprise is how much it matches my expectations of being a world class VFX studio. Its interesting to see how problems which you encounter on a small scale are solved when you have over 1000 people working together.

What are some of the largest projects you’ll be working on (if you can say)?

When I first started Weta was just finishing on The Hobbit 3 extended edition. My initial training was test shots from the film. After watching all the films, actually getting to spin around the final models that were used in the film in Maya was almost surreal. Once training finished I spent some time in the lighting department before I went to the shaders department to work on The Jungle Book. Each film has its own set of problems that have to be solved and I am stoked to be a part of the process.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about studying at Media Design School?

I would say think about what industry you would like to go into. The jobs available to you when you finish at university are diverse. You have so many opportunities to try your hand at  different roles while you study. Be open minded and take advantage of this, put all your effort into every single assignment you are given. Don’t submit work you wouldn’t want your name on, don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to hand in work you doesn’t meet your standards. Every day your work ethic is noticed by your peers and colleagues. Managing your social graces and personal habits is as much a part of studying as the learning part.