OPINION: A director, animator and puppeteer whose resume includes Shrek, The Labyrinth and The Muppet Show has set his sights on working with Sir Peter Jackson and the wizards at Weta.
Los Angeles-based John Stevenson, best known as the Oscar-nominated co-director of Kung Fu Panda, spoke to an audience of creative professionals in Wellington at the Toi Poneke Arts Centre yesterday.
It was one of five sold-out workshops around the country – including two in Wellington – organised by the GAV Trust, which is behind the annual AnimfxNZ symposium, with Grow Wellington and the Film Commission.
Animators, screenwriters and aspiring film-makers attended the workshops to get Stevenson's advice on how to get their doodles and drafts made into movies.
"Pitching effectively is life or death to your creative efforts – you need to know how to do it and get comfortable doing it. No-one likes doing it but there are some skills you can learn."
In his 30-plus years in the industry, Stevenson has worked as an animation director, story artist, puppeteer and character designer. He describes The Muppets as seminal to his creative development.
"I worked on The Muppet Show with Jim Henson designing new characters for the show if they needed a tap-dancing walrus for a one-off or a punk band for Debbie Harry," Stevenson said.
Other projects included the film Little Shop of Horrors and children's movies such as James & the Giant Peach and Madagascar.
This is Stevenson's fourth trip to Wellington. He gave a talk at AnimfxNZ in 2009 that co-chair of the NZ GAV Trust Jos Ruffell said stood out from other presenters.
"It was very inspirational hearing him share his experiences of how he got into the industry and his advice to really follow your passions and commit everything you've got to making great work, be it a menial toilet paper commercial or a $100m-plus movie. It really resonated with the audience and we've been looking for an excuse to bring John down again ever since."
Stevenson said he'd love to work on a movie in New Zealand with Weta. "I think that would be the best thing in the world. It is a world-class operation."
- © Fairfax NZ News