Creative insights offered at inaugural professorial lecture


Sir Richard Taylor speaks to a capacity audience at his inaugural professorial lecture at Massey University’s Wellington campus



Fronting a never-ending show reel of work from Weta Workshop, Sir
Richard entertains the audience

Practical effects designer Sir Richard Taylor has shared some of the secrets of his success with a capacity audience at a lecture acknowledging his appointment as an honorary professor at Massey University.

The professorship was bestowed in June in recognition of his long-standing relationship with Massey’s College of Creative Arts and his contribution to New Zealand’s creative industries.

Preferring to be known without the honorific Sir, Mr Taylor, who with wife Tania Rodger is co-founder of award-winning design and effects company Weta Workshop, is an alumnus of Wellington Polytechnic – a forerunner institution to the college.

Evidence of his extraordinary contribution was visible throughout last week's lecture titled Collaboration: forging a foundation for creativity, through a never-ending show reel showcasing an incredible body of work dating back to the late 1980s with Brain Dead; and then a catalogue of movie making with the company he co-founded Weta Workshop, which includes Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, King Kong and Blade Runner 2049, made in collaboration with celebrated director Peter Jackson.

Mr Taylor also outlined how the company had expanded its activities over the years to develop children’s programmes such as Jane and the Dragon, The WotsWots and Thunderbirds Are Go!, publications outlining the story of Weta Workshop, and the development of collectable merchandise that ties in with many of the characters and objects featured in the many productions.

“The same group of people who work on the movies with me, also get to make the collectables, and this has been a joyful experience because it allows us to extend that work beyond the end of the film and allows us to take our art out to the world and share it with the world,” he told a rapt audience.

Most recently the company had established a relationship with the Florida-based start-up company Magic Leap to develop the first ever mixed reality game. Other initiatives include travelling art exhibitions as well as fixed displays such as Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War and Bug Lab, and sculpting statues both in New Zealand and overseas.

“It all makes for a wonderful life in the ever wobbly and wonderful weekly life at Weta Workshop!”

Mr Taylor offered insights into why the work his company produced remained a source of fascination for many people internationally.

“I’d like to think it is because our team project a sense of meaningfulness out to the world,” he says.

“It’s a sense of the love of our craft and the desire to share it with people that we want them to love [the work] as equally as we do. And in turn we have a chance to interact with people where our story can be told.

“I have a true belief that craftmanship is the soul of a country. Craftmanship acknowledges the passage of time, it acknowledges out specific unique cultures. It is the desire to keep alive this craftmanship that is the very heart of who I am as a person, what Tania and I have tried to build within the walls of Weta Workshop, and now our team believe to be is their calling to put craftmanship into every medium that they wield in their daily work."

Taking questions from the audience, Mr Taylor urged people to embrace originality, innovation and collaborative instincts with others.

“Most of us can achieve our aspirations through collaboration,” he said. “Together you are far more powerful than you are in parts and the ability for us as 350-plus people in the Workshop to do something of worth is so much more significant than it is if it was just Tania and I sort of chipping away at our aspirations, or if we were a small cog in a big machine in someone else’s company.”

After hours, Mr Taylor’s constantly bubbling imagination is managed by reflecting on the past day, pigeon-holing events and ideas and seeking the support of equally excited staff to coordinate creative inspiration into a constructive result.

To a question about how the education system could be adjusted to increase more innovation and preparedness for life’s challenges, Mr Taylor asked a question himself aimed at trying to preserve the insatiable childlike curiosity he described as being “bright-eyed and bushy tailed” and which he believes needs to somehow be maintained into adulthood.

“How do universities, colleges, institutions keep a heightened level of inspiration in their students that make them hungry, passionate and desiring of this incredible gift we are being offered?”

Next month some postgraduate students will get the opportunity to explore that question themselves as part of the first intake into the Weta Workshop School at Massey University. It gives students a dynamic range of skills to start their career in concept design and visual storytelling in the entertainment industry.

Students learn from and engage with some of the industry’s finest concept designers as they work towards a Master of Design (Entertainment) qualification from New Zealand’s premier Design School, ranked in the top 100 Art and Design Schools in the world.

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