Having created movie magic at Weta Workshop for 14 years, newly-appointed EIT lecturer and technician Jonathan Brough is now passing on his model-making and set design skills to ideaschool’s screen production students.
A “Wellington boy” for almost all his life, Jonathan and wife and fellow artist Michele Bryant moved to a six-acre hilltop block in Maraekakaho with their children, Jack and Evelyn, earlier this year.
It’s been a big change for the self-confessed city-dwellers, blowing their expectations of Hawke’s Bay “out of the water”.
“The contrast to living in Wellington is marked and we are only coming out of the shock of the move now,” says Jonathan, who is teaching design and storyboarding to Diploma of Screen Production students.
With 17 years in the film industry, three of them as a freelancer, he has built up an impressively varied art department cv.
His experience includes crafting props for films that include King Kong, Avatar, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, District 9 and The Hobbit. A model-maker for The Dambusters, he also constructed and painted sets for the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in Blenheim.
Jonathan was an illustrator for the 2001 BBC production The Lost World, model-maker, designer, sculptor and storyboard artist on Lord of the Rings and art department manager for the 2002 World of Wearable Arts Awards.
He also taught life-drawing at Wellington Community Institute and Victoria University’s School of Architecture and Design.
Jonathan says film credits can give the wrong impression, however.
“I may have made only two props for a movie and still get a credit. Sometimes it reads better than the reality.”
While he hasn’t necessarily loved every one of the movies he has worked on, he says it’s important for students to understand that the job is about facilitating its completion.
“Students have a taste of the various facets of film-making while they are at EIT but the reality is that nobody is master of them all. Hopefully the students will find out what it is they want to do.
“They will have hobbies and talents they won’t have dreamt could apply in the film industry and they will find that these will give them a special place. Animal wrangling, for example – there could be a place for someone who can work with animals on set. Who would think of that?”
Weta was a fantastic place to work, Jonathan says, and he wouldn’t change anything about his time at the special effects and props company.
“It was all great fun but it can’t be good all the time. The expectations of the directors and art directors can be frustrating at times but when you get a good team together there’s nothing like it.
“No-one on a set is apathetic about what they are doing. They are very aware to maintain the position they have and are on the ball. There is no lack of motivation.”
On campus two days a week, Jonathan is keen to dovetail teaching work with his art practice. Formerly a leadlighter, he moved to portraiture and now focuses on figurative work.
He also wants to maintain his links with the film industry.
“That means staying current. The industry moves fast and it’s technology-driven so it can quickly outpace your experience. Cameras read things differently from the naked eye. With experience you know what level you can take a prop to but high definition film makes some of those things obsolete.
“You have to be very adaptable,” says Jonathan, who is embracing that approach as the family settles into life in Hawke’s Bay.