In the windy, hilly, picturesque capital city of Wellington, students from all corners of the world are delving deep into the intricacies of Design Technology at Wellington ICT Graduate School. They’re not just learning valuable practical skills, they’re also immersing themselves in a unique experience that gives them access to on campus industry experts. They are learning from the best and forging a network of strong professional connections in a vibrant and technologically advanced setting.
The Master of Design Technology programme at Wellington ICT Graduate School is renowned for developing career-ready graduates through these types of industry connections. World-leading professionals are there to teach and enrich the study experience — inspiring and shaping future leaders by imparting the latest industry knowledge they are seeing and doing firsthand in the multi-layered world of Design Technology.
New Zealand is a country where creative and innovative film talent flourishes. Studying in Wellington enables students to apply for internships and gain relevant hands-on experience in Design Technology. Just around the Wellington area is an incredible amount of leading film production companies. Among these are Park Road Post Production, Stone Street Studios, Avalon Film and Production Studios, and the animation studio Pukeko Pictures. Perhaps the best known is the world-famous visual effects company, Weta Digital — nestled in the Wellington suburb of Miramar.
The campus is located in Miramar, a suburb widely regarded as New Zealand’s digital and film pre and post production studio hub. It’s a powerhouse at the centre of the country’s movie industry.
This beautiful and unassuming birthplace of Weta Digital is where artists and innovators make the visual effects enthralling audiences in some of the highest-grossing and most memorable films of all time — Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, The Hobbit films, and Umbrella Academy are just some of their projects.
Learning from the best in the industry
The programme is designed and led by inspiring experts with impressive portfolios in the design technology industry in New Zealand. One of them is Jessica Millar, Lighting Technical Director and Trainer at Weta Digital, who served as a teaching fellow for the Lighting and Rendering class in the MDT programme. Having worked in the VFX industry for 17 years on several notable movies including Harry Potter, Avatar, The Hobbit, and The Avengers, she reflects the calibre of teaching fellows at the university who are passing on valuable industry knowledge to the next generation of budding VFX designers.
Recalling her experience, Millar says that the course is combining traditional VFX lighting and real-time game design lighting, so students benefit from hands-on experience with the latest technology and equipment.
“The cutting-edge facilities in this building are amazing,” says the seasoned industry professional. “There is a MoCap [Motion Capture] stage that they can use at leisure and any cameras or lighting equipment that you would ever need or want are just there. It’s incredibly well-stocked and the machines are high spec.”
The Master of Design Technology, delivered by Victoria University of Wellington, builds upon students’ existing VFX, gaming, animation, and extended reality (XR) skills through real-world projects with academic and mentoring support from industry experts such as Millar.
The programme is taught at the Miramar Creative Centre (a partnership with Miramar Creative), among the Weta group buildings on Park Road, offering unbeatable access to work experience and professional connections.
Other lecturers who have previously worked at Weta Digital include Programme Director Raqi Syed, previously a Senior Technical Director at the company. “Wellington is home to many of the world leaders in the field, and students have ready access to industry experts and veterans as instructors, teaching fellows, and guest lecturers. Our staff each come to academia with significant industry experience,” she says.
“We have worked at top feature film VFX studios, but across a range of disciplines such as lighting and rendering, effects, compositing, and pipeline development. What’s especially unique about our staff is that we are defining what practice-based VFX research looks like and how this research can be meaningfully integrated into the courses we teach.”
MDT students are not only are well-versed in the latest industry trends but also get to help define “what is next” for the industry, according to Areito Echevarria, who was previously Head of FX at Weta Digital and is now a Senior Lecturer teaching Compositing & Motion Graphics and Creative Coding. He says, “There are opportunities to engage with cutting-edge research projects in virtual production, interactive narrative, and more. Wellington is home to many leading-edge research groups such as the Miramar Creative Centre, CMIC, and of course Weta Digital.”
They have also worked around COVID-19 restrictions, ensuring that students still have access to the latest high-quality software. “Currently all our courses are being delivered in a dual-mode as our programme is small with a maximum of 15 students per cohort, we can operate in-person at COVID alert levels 1-2,” Syed outlines.
“Additionally, we have rolled out a virtual desktop pipeline, allowing each student to access their on-site physical computing station. This means our students can work from home when we move to a higher alert level and still retain access to all the specialised high-end software we offer in our labs.”
She explains that students have access to high-end computing stations with industry-standard software such as Nuke, Houdini, Redshift, Arnold, Maya, and the Adobe Suite of tools. “We also have a 30-camera live motion capture stage and Red cameras. This hardware forms the core of our toolset which integrates live-action, virtual production, computer graphics, and real-time and offline rendering solutions. We believe capability with these tools and more importantly—the conceptual thinking that guides their use — ensures our students are well equipped for professional careers in the screen sector.”
Bridging the gap between education and employment
The Master of Design Technology programme is ideal for those with industry experience who want to achieve new career heights and further develop skills in the field, as they can gain acceptance with a Bachelor’s degree from any field with a B average or equivalent industry experience.
Additionally, the university offers mentorship and professional development such as CV workshops and networking events, to ensure that graduates gain successful career placement.
Syed shares: “For the past two years, students have participated in the annual MDT Student Showcase, a premier of our Capstone films sponsored by Miramar Creative and held at the Roxy Theatre in Miramar. They also attended TechWeek NZ talks where they engaged with international keynote speakers from both VFX and XR industries, and are routinely invited to attend a range of events hosted by organisations such as the Visual Effects Society in Miramar.”
She also emphasizes that students get to benefit from pitching Capstone projects to industry mentors across areas such as feature film VFX artists, game developers, independent artists, writers, graphic novelists, and motion graphics artists.
“By bringing mentors to MDT students, we capitalise on the range of talent in Wellington and keep the focus on student work. These mentors function as a sounding board at pivotal moments in the development of student work. They offer a fresh perspective that is grounded in contemporary practices.”