Celebrating 25 years of Media Design School

It started with a bright spark and for the past 25 years, Media Design School has been creating graduates that are prized by industry, both in Aotearoa New Zealand and abroad. It’s a mission we intend to continue into the future.

In 1998, Liz Valintine founded Media Design School on a modest campus in Queen Street, Auckland. At a time when the ‘dial-up internet’ was starting to take off and new jobs in digital and creative technology were rapidly emerging, Media Design School was the answer to a growing industry’s call for digitally fluent, design-savvy graduates.

Over the past 25 years, our journey has been as inspiring as the thousands of creative minds we’ve nurtured. From our humble beginnings, we’ve evolved into a leading force in digital design and creative education – not only at the forefront of the industry but also at the core of its evolution, growth and diversification.

After a decade on Albert Street, in 2021 we relocated to a custom-built, 6 Green Star campus in the Wynyard Quarter in the Innovation Precinct, better reflecting our outlook. Today, Media Design School is the most awarded private tertiary provider for digital and creative technology qualifications across the Asia-Pacific.

“Since we first opened in 1998, a connection to industry has always been a vital part of the Media Design School story,” said Darryn Melrose, Chief Marketing Officer and Industry Partnerships.

“Our success is interconnected with the guidance, time and direction that industry gives to us and our students so we can ensure that we are shaping graduates with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce.”

A history of firsts

Year after year, we’ve remained at the pinnacle of innovation. We became the first tertiary institution in the Southern Hemisphere to offer a dedicated programme of study in 3D Animation. Graduates of the programme have secured employment at prestigious studios such as Wētā FX, working on the likes of Avatar and The Lord of the Rings.

In 2009, we adopted a VFX studio approach to third-year capstone production and produced our first film, Slightly Fishy, which screened at international festivals. Ever since, our students’ work has been featured worldwide, from Comic-Con in San Diego to SIGGRAPH Asia. 

Recognising the potential of interactive media, we introduced the country’s first specialised Game Development course. In 2014, we became the first and only institution in New Zealand to offer PlayStation development as part of a degree programme, offering students the rare opportunity to develop games for the platform. A few years later, this innovation led to our first commercial releases, with Reverie on PlayStation Vita and Sky Noon on Steam.

Media Design School became Unity Technology’s first and only Training and Certification Partner in New Zealand, ensuring that graduates from our Bachelor of Creative Technologies and Bachelor of Software Engineering enter the industry as Unity Certified Developers.

2012 marked a significant development in our offerings. To complement our short and diploma-level courses, we launched our first Bachelor's Degrees. The following year, we welcomed our first cohort of Bachelor of Art and Design students.

In 2016, Media Design School became the first in New Zealand to offer qualifications in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality (VR/AR). We also pioneered the country’s first Bachelor Degrees in Artificial Intelligence and Cloud Computing.

At Media Design School we strive to be at the forefront of innovative research in the fields of design and creative technology and over the last eight years, we have been developing our research profile with a belief that research is critical to the success of teaching and learning, industry innovation and community engagement.

This year was a milestone for research at Media Design School. The research team was awarded a $213,000 grant from the NZ Ministry for Culture and Heritage Te Urungi: Innovating Aotearoa Fund to finance the first stage of the project, ‘Digitaonga: exploring new methods of repatriation using blockchain technology.’

“Learning by doing”

This philosophy has been the cornerstone of our education since the beginning. Our award-winning programme leaders and lecturers leverage their extensive industry experience to deliver work-ready skills. Additionally, our partnerships with industry juggernauts such as Apple, Sony PlayStation and Houdini position our students at the forefront of the creative sectors.

Our hands-on approach has set us apart, says Ruth Cooper, Media Design School’s Country Director.

“What I’m most proud of over these 25 years is our ability to serve the industry. Everything from working closely with industry to develop programmes and keep them current, to making sure that our graduates are leaving with the skills and knowledge demanded by industry.”

Our graduates achieve a 98% employment rate, surpassing the national average of 69%. And often, our Graduate Diploma of Creative Advertising, secure them swiftly - even in lockdown we had 90% of our graduates securing agency roles within just a week of completing their studies.

As one of the programmes that Media Design School launched 25 years ago, we can truly celebrate 25 years of our creative students making it in industry both in Aotearoa and across the globe.

“From the very outset, we recreated the environment of a creative department with students working in creative teams of art director and copywriter on every project,” explains Kate Humphries, Programme Director of Creative Advertising. “And we earned our reputation as ‘the awards powerhouse’ by pioneering the use of industry awards entries as part of learning, which has since become a defining feature of other programmes at Media Design School.

Based on its first 10 years, the Creative Advertising programme was rated in the top 5 most creative programmes in the world by the Young Guns Association.

“Industry’s input in our awards model of education has been invaluable throughout the course; their insights and experience help guide our students. Since the 2nd year of the programme all our students have been mentored for 12 weeks by Industry creatives and that has helped make them successful as soon as they graduate.”

Globally connected graduates

Media Design School’s impact extends far beyond New Zealand’s shores, affecting global issues and communities. In recent years, our alumni achieved notable recognition by linking air pollution to property prices in the UK, prompting legislative changes; establishing HIV+ sperm banks, reshaping public perceptions about living with HIV; and teaming up with scientists in Germany and the World Wildlife Fund to discover and name a new deep-sea species, attracting worldwide attention.

As part of Torrens Global Education and owned by Strategic Education Inc. from the United States of America, Media Design School is strongly connected to Torrens University Australia and has a symbiotic commitment to continually improve academic quality on both sides of the Tasman, and beyond.

In September Media Design School launched a Bachelor of Information Technology in response to a local and global demand for skills in areas such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and cybersecurity.

“Our approach to information technology is influenced by human centered design and applied, project-based outcomes where future graduates have the technical skills, the understanding of how people use technology and the skills to apply this into real-world applications,” said Professor Scott Thompson-Whiteside, Executive Dean – Design and Creative Technology at Torrens University Australia and Media Design School.

“Being able to draw from the experience of our team at Torrens University Australia has resulted in a programme that combines design, creative technology and information technology reacting to the future landscape of the industry. It’s an opportunity to combine creative and innovative thinking with highly technical skills, which is what the industry is demanding,” said Professor Thompson-Whiteside.

As the home of New Zealand’s premier 3D Animation and Game Development programmes, our graduates have also made a significant impact on the local and international gaming industry. In 2022, we celebrated 10 years of Game Development courses, contributing to an industry with a $300 million annual pipeline. In fact, around 270 of our alumni make up 25% of the industry’s workforce in New Zealand.

“We've come such a long way from the days of having to convince parents that Games was a serious career choice, to this position now with so many industry success stories and a strong export sector, all without any direct government support,” said Darryn.

Breaking barriers

As a Certified B Corporation, Media Design School amplifies its impact beyond academia.

“It’s not just a job for us; we want to change lives,” said Ruth.

“We recognise that education needs to be personal, impactful and sustainable, offered in an environment that is supportive caring and considered.”

For more than a decade now, Media Design School has championed the representation of women in technology with our Girls in Games initiative. By nurturing their talents from high school, we seek to build a diverse, inclusive industry.

This year, 57% of our new, on-campus students in our Game Art programme are female. Initiatives like Girls in Games created this change and allowed us to challenge the status quo for the greater good.

“It’s been amazing to see this transformation over these years and it is so important for us to demonstrate how to correct the balance. I remember when the Games classes were 90% male, so this year marked a significant achievement for Media Design School,” said Darryn.

We have also forged pathways for Māori and Pasifika students and seen our participation rates soar. Initiatives have included the integration of Matauranga Māori in the curriculum, live briefs and assessments, partnering with the likes of IBM and their PTech programme, connecting with high schools and community hubs (referred to as our Satellite Learning Centres) in regions that do not have access to high quality digital technology education. These initiatives enable students to earn NZQA accredited qualifications that provide a clear pathway to higher education or entry-level positions in creative technology.

Awards and achievements

Media Design School’s reputation for excellence has been consistently highlighted through prestigious awards and international acclaim. We are the #1 animation school in New Zealand and ranked #12 in the world (Animation Career Review 2023).

But our achievements aren’t limited to rankings alone. In 2022, we reached a significant milestone by being officially recognised as a Houdini Certified school by SideFX, joining the ranks of Warner Bros. and Dreamworks. This certification not only enhances our curriculum but also offers our students special access to SideFX staff and exposure to top VFX and games studios.

Moreover, our students have secured coveted internships and accolades competing against global institutions. This year, our 3D and Animation student Xipeng Jiang (Jasper) distinguished himself among competitors from 521 schools around the world, securing the runner-up position for Rookie of the Year and an internship at Wētā FX in the Rookie Awards.

What’s more, we continue to set new benchmarks at the Mad Stars 2023 Awards, sweeping the highest number of wins in the non-professional category and earning the only Gold globally for our Creative Advertising students.  

“At this year’s Mad Stars, every single student made the shortlist in at least two categories each. We broke our own record-breaking results from last year,” said Kate. 

“Our students make us look good.”

Our students have also triumphed at the ONE SHOW Awards in New York and that global hallmark of creative excellence, the D&AD Awards in London, winning Yellow, Graphite and Wood pencils.

“Awards accelerate students' learning by making them aim high on the local and global award circuits, their learning is acknowledged outside the classroom by industry judges, and they are continually benchmarking themselves against creatives across the world,” said Kate.

As we reflect on our 25-year journey, we do so with gratitude to our founders, staff, students and partners. From pioneering the first programmes in 3D Animation and Game Development to securing a prominent place on the global creative stage, Media Design School has consistently pushed the boundaries of innovation and education.

As we look ahead to the next 25 years, we are passionate about supporting the growth of Aotearoa New Zealand’s established and emerging creative technology companies and about producing talented graduates ready to make an impact in Aotearoa and around the world.

MDS 25 Years
As we reflect on our 25-year journey, we do so with gratitude to our founders, staff, students and partners.
Prickly Jam Comic Con

Prickly Jam was internationally awarded and has been selected for over 17 international film festivals, including Comic-Con International: San Diego in 2022.

Decade Arcade

In 2022 MDS celebrated 10 years of gaming with 'Decade Arcade' and a $300 million per annum industry pipeline.

Girls in Games 2022 Participants

Girls in Games was founded in 2013 and ever since has run workshops aiming to inspire young women into a career in tech.

Girls in Games

The end goal of the Girls in Games development workshops is to inspire and build the foundation of our young female game developers to eventually bring more diversity and balance into the industry.


In 2022 we were delighted to officially announce our involvement in P-TECH, a three-way partnership between industry, high school and tertiary education to help students transition from education to technology careers.


In addition to Reece O'Gorman and Lola Luo winning the Gold at Mad Stars this year in South Korea, MDS also won a Silver, two Bronze and fourteen Crystal awards. Once again we were the most awarded campus globally in this year's competition.