To achieve your dream of working for the internationally acclaimed Weta Workshop, all roads lead to Wellington.
Some of those roads are longer than others.
For Laura King, a recent graduate of Massey’s Master of Design taught in partnership with Weta Workshop, the journey started in the Isle of Wight. In fact, it was some of Weta Workshop’s best-known work that sparked King’s hemisphere shift. “When I was 12 years old, my family began planning our immigration to New Zealand. The way my mother showed my siblings and I New Zealand before we arrived was through Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.
“These films created awe in my new future homeland, and continues to be massively inspiring to me today.”
While her physical location was about to change, King’s mind was already made up on what she wanted to do when she grew up. “I spent my childhood playing in the fields looking for fairies, drawing and creating imaginary worlds,” King reminisces. “Like many creatives during elementary and high school, I was doodling in my workbooks instead of listening in my classes.
“I always knew my future was in the creative field. My passion for design and fashion lead me eventually to focus as a costume designer.”
While King’s pilgrimage was around 19,000 kilometres in the making, it was more like 19 km for Wellington-born and raised Ivan Vegar, another Master of Design grad.
Vegar’s creative epiphany came towards the end of his school days, where he started to take more of an interest in art and graphic design.
Artwork from Ivan Vegar's Master of Design Portfolio.
“I did the four-year Bachelor of Design with Honours course at Massey (in 2008) that opened up the world of design in New Zealand and around the globe,” Vegar says. “I was doing an illustration major where I ran into Paul Tobin (currently Senior Concept Artist at Weta Workshop and Master of Design co-supervisor at Massey University), who was teaching a digital painting elective at the time.
“From that day on, I always wanted to learn more and be in that league."
“I remember thinking, ‘wow this is really cool’, just the research and design ideas and the fun subject matter we would work on is what influenced me to pursue a lifestyle in concept art and design.
“From that day on, I always wanted to learn more and be more like Paul, be in that league. With Weta Workshop at your doorstep, there’s no reason not to.”
Master of Design graduate Ivan Vegar.
Keys to the Workshop
It would be a few years later that King also arrived at Massey, her focus a Bachelor of Design with Honours, majoring in Visual Communication Design focusing on Illustration, with extra electives in Fashion.
King and Vegar both began knocking on the door that mattered most to them - Weta Workshop. Some freelance and intern opportunities led their paths to cross through the same commonality - Tobin.
Artwork from Laura King's Master of Design portfolio.
Tobin and Massey’s Tanya Marriott were kickstarting a Masters of Design at the Weta Workshop School at Massey University at the time - a collaboration by two of the cornerstones of Wellington creativity.
For both Vegar and King, it was a no-brainer. The course requires you to have either a four-year Bachelor’s degree to your name or a healthy dose of industry experience under your belt. They ticked both boxes.
“It was the chance to essentially level up to take it to the calibre that Weta Workshop and those big studios expect. It was an obvious step for me to do,” acknowledges Vegar.
King agrees. After a conversation with Tobin while working at Weta Workshop, “the main attraction was dedicating a whole year focused on creating a predominantly self-directed personal project, resulting in a portfolio that has no confidentiality restrictions to apply for industry design work.”
Masters of Design graduate Laura King.
Becoming a Master of Design
Having been through the Massey system already, Vegar had an understanding of what the course would entail, but he received several surprises along the way - the good kind.
“You will pick up something you didn’t expect which will be really useful. For me, it was a steep learning curve in composition and communication through design for a concept for a feature film,” Vegar details. “Essentially I was taking an adaptation of a novel and trying to narrate the ideas and core message in a key scene through concept design.
“Prior to 2019, I had no real idea of how to execute that.”
Tapping into the expert resources on offer in the Master of Design reaped near-immediate dividends for Vegar too.
"You can be taught what to think, you need to find the right teachers to be taught how to think.”
“The biggest desire, to be frank, was to get work at Weta Workshop which was awesome. But the biggest benefit was being taught how to think critically when it comes to a design problem. You can be taught what to think, you need to find the right teachers to be taught how to think.”
Image: The Arrival, Ivan Vegar, 2019 Master of Design graduate.
King’s dream of becoming a designer came to fruition, at the end of 2017 she gained a Junior Concept Design role at Weta Workshop for 2 years before leaving to complete her Master's project. Previously, she got the opportunity to join big-name projects as a designer on Avatar, Thunderbirds and other confidential unreleased projects. Although already working in the industry as a junior she says the Master’s helped her create an independent portfolio of a higher level of craft and gained experience surrounding management of her own projects. She explains, “By showing my strength as an individual designer, my thought process and style, I was able to use my [Master of Design] portfolio - along with other personal designs - to gain freelance design jobs in the film industry in Auckland.”
Vegar is also realising his dreams as a designer gaining the opportunity to work at Weta Workshop on an experience design projects. He explains, “being there amongst the other creatives and work colleagues, it improved my skill set of working collaboratively on a design pipeline for a project. That’s something I didn’t quite get as a freelancer, but after the course, I learned that with those skills, you can definitely give more input into a design process. I was comfortable enough to show them I have something I can bring to this project that might be really beneficial.”
Artwork from Ivan Vegar's Master of Design portfolio.
Vegar is enjoying forging his own path as a concept designer for film and TV, and has no hesitation in giving advice to anyone who qualifies for a crack at the Master of Design’s next intake.
“If you have something that you have a burning desire to really flesh out and have something out there to your name that you created, this is the perfect opportunity. They can definitely make that idea a reality.”
King adds “Ask yourself if a year-long course of self-directed practice and idea generation, all with expert supervisory input which results in an industry-standard portfolio, would benefit you? Would having deadlines encourage and give focus to produce a larger quantity and quality of contents?”
It certainly has for these two qualified Masters of Design.
Master of Design graduate Laura King's costume figure Drudge.
Written in partnership with Weta Workshop School at Massey University. For more information or to apply, head to wetaworkshopschool.massey.ac.nz/