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Richard Taylor champions local industry at Animfx

The Animfx conference got off to a good, if belated, start this morning, with Richard Taylor flawlessly fulfilling the role of NZ’s head cheerleader at the international gathering. Name-checking many of the people he works with, and repeatedly referring to Weta’s achievements rather than his own, the four-time Oscar winner easily charmed the crowd.

Starting out by saying that he couldn’t imagine having built Weta anywhere in the world other than Wellington was as contentious as he got.

Even then he couched his reasoning in such positive terms – talking of the intimate scale of the city, the huge amount creativity housed within it – that it was almost impossible for even a JAFA to dispute his love for the city and the creative community Taylor has played a large part in developing there over the last 23 years.

It’s always about that sense of community, right back from its beginnings when Richard and Tania looked to their community of friends, including Peter Jackson and Jamie Selkirk, to start what’s become a substantial force in the animation and visual effects (VFX) arena, both domestically and internationally.

Richard spoke of ‘the press’ wondering why Weta had chose to go “from the dizzy heights of the Lord of the Rings to The WotWots”, but for Taylor there was no sense of descent in the development of a show aimed at pre-schoolers.

It certainly wasn’t the case that, even with four Oscars under his belt, Taylor and Weta have had an easy ride in getting their children’s television sold into the lucrative US market. They might well have had an easy time getting meetings because of Weta’s post-LOTR profile, but Jane and the Dragon was the 17th show they pitched in the US, and the first one to get past the gate-keepers.

Obviously, this is where the hard work of 20+ years in business paid off. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in NZ being in a position to devote the amount of time necessary to develop that number of shows and pitching them internationally without going bankrupt, and that’s where Weta’s track record and all those awards pay off. Other work keeps coming in to pay the bills.

Introducing a Weta showreel, Taylor name-checked some of the recent films that weren’t included because of the reel’s age (about two and a half years old ) … District Nine, Avatar, Red Cliff, Under the Mountain, TinTin, Lovely Bones ….

The business model is successful.

Although Taylor is driven by passion and love for the projects in which he involves himself and Weta, there are also very sound strategies underpinning the company’s development. Andrew Smith, Weta Workshop’s business advisor, briefly addressed some of these in an afternoon session on launching and marketing properties.

One of the things Taylor is most proud of in creating shows such as Jane and the Dragon and The WotWots is that they provide employment as well as pleasure.

A large number of graduates leave NZ tertiary institutions each year, and while many of those graduates aspire to work on projects such as LOTR and District 9 and Avatar, they’re often not yet ready for the demands of productions that are, in Taylor’s words, moving forward at a thousand miles pre hour. Programmes such as Jane and WotWots offer experience to help turn academic knowledge into realworld capability, so that these people will feed through into the industry with higher skill levels.

Weta engages in a very active process of pursuing relationships overseas, not only in selling its skills and products but also in sub-contracting work. The company has had much of its merchandising manufacturing done in China for 8 years now.

For all Taylor’s love of and passionate support for the local industry, one wonders if, in time, more of the work currently carried out in Wellington won’t move overseas into the less expensive labour markets. It would be sadly ironic if that was one of the results of arrangements such as those being signed between New Zealand and Hong Kong-based organisations this week.

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