Victoria University to hatch baby Weta

Budding visual effects artists and games developers will be able to take a Victoria University computer graphics course backed by Weta Digital from next year.

The course is intended to produce graduates with the right skills to support Wellington's growing and internationally recognised entertainment and digital technology industries.

School of engineering dean John Hine said it was approached by a delegation including Weta, Wellington's Sidhe - New Zealand's biggest games developer - and Palmerston North touchscreen technology company Unlimited Realities about 18 months ago.

"The message was New Zealand wasn't producing students with the computer graphics skills they were looking for," he said.

Weta and Sidhe helped design a course, and in future they and other companies are expected to advise on its content, provide guest lecturers, and offer internships and scholarships, including a PhD scholarship through Weta.

"Weta in particular has a lot of experts visiting its research and development facility in Wellington and we hope to get some of them along to teach our students,'' Professor Hine said.

Sidhe technical director Stu Sharpe said technical positions in creative industries such as film and games required specialised skills that were not covered in depth by many existing tertiary courses.

Applicants for graduate jobs at Sidhe had usually taught themselves the right skills outside of their courses.

"Applicants for graduate-level positions at Sidhe have usually taken the initiative and taught themselves the necessary skills outside of their course work.There has been a clear demand from industry and students for a course like this.''  

"Weta were very helpful in terms of twisting arms at conferences and getting people interested.''

Professor Hine said students skilled in computer graphics were sought by companies in a range of industries working in land information and other industries, Mr Hine said.

"Visualisation of data is increasingly important with the amount of data today and there are a whole raft of areas where graphics can be applied.''
The university had been aware it should ``probably be teaching more graphics'', Hine said.
It had previously offered a course but its lecturer left and not been replaced.

 The course will be available to students in the university's design, and engineering and computer science schoolsas differently weighted majors in the university's master of design innovation and master of science programmes. It would take two years on top of a standard three-year degree and be capped at a certain number of students each year.

Professor Hine did not expect high demand in the next three or four years.  ``There are a few students who have mixed design and computer science that will be able to take the course next year if they want to. But it'll only be next year's first-year intake that will really get the message that there's a path here they can take.''

The Science and Innovation Ministry has contributed $500,000 towards setting up the course and  Grow Wellington has provided ``a small amount of funding'' to help the university build relationships with companies in Wellington, Professor Hine said. 

The Dominion Post