Weta Digital offers scholarship

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 05/06/2013
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
New Line Cinema

SMALL EXAMPLE: Weta Digital's work on Gollum for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

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You thought Gollum looked unrealistic, or you could do more convincing blue aliens than in Avatar?

If so, you might be just the one who Weta Digital and Victoria University are looking for.

The two have paired up to announce a computer graphics PhD scholarship that will put the winner right at the cutting edge of movie special-effects magic.

"The successful candidate will have the ability to go deep and solve a problem fundamentally," Weta Digital chief technology officer Sebastian Sylwan said.

He expected fierce competition for the scholarship - whoever wins will have their PhD fees covered for three years and be awarded an annual $25,000 stipend with the distinct likelihood of a job at the Oscar-winning effects studio behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong and The Adventures of Tintin.

Whoever takes the coveted spot will enter the rarefied world of Weta Digital research to explore mysterious gaming and movie special-effects disciplines such as numerical simulation, computer vision, rendering and the mashing of data structures.

Mr Sylwan, who was head of research and development on Avatar, said that, although it might seem as if movie effects had become as lifelike as possible, computer graphics were far from "hitting the ceiling".

With film directors demanding increasingly realistic and complex effects, there were still two major problems in the sphere of computer-generated make-believe.

"Rendering humans is still a problem, from the peach fuzz on the face to the fibres in clothes. Simulation is still a problem too: for example, a vast ocean moving still takes massive computational power."

The scholarship will be part of Victoria University and Weta Digital's computer graphics programme, which was started in 2011 and now has about 80 undergraduate students.

The postgraduate scholarship is being touted as a way of enriching the "eco-system" around Weta Digital, academia and the capital's entertainment and digital industries. "We want to help grow that eco-system in Wellington and New Zealand," Mr Sylwan said.

University computer graphics associate professor John Lewis said the scholarship would help forge stronger ties between academics and movie industry research.

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- The Dominion Post

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