Paul Tobin

Tenacious Designer, Tutor and globally celebrated artist.
Story by Tony Cutting

It’s a beautiful sunny Friday morning and I am pretty excited to be making my way from the Kapiti Coast to the Weta Workshop base in Miramar to meet with two of their talented creative staff.  I have been very fortunate to have a relationship with one of New Zealand’s coolest work places since designing their talent pool back in early 2002.  

The stories I am writing today are to be featured on both the new www.weta-people.co.nz website as well as used to help (I hope) inspire other talented people considering a similar career path.

The first interview is with world renowned Paul Tobin who has worked on a few projects you may have heard of; The Hobbit trilogy, Avatar, The Lion Witch & the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, King Kong, Under the Mountain, District 9, Black Sheep, Tintin, to name a few …

What I love about Paul’s story is he probably did not have the perfect start to his creative career but he is an example of what tenacity can really achieve. 

Paul Tobin the early years …
Paul began life in 1972 as a country boy growing up in Hira, a small rural community outside of Nelson..  His memories of his early years are like many country kiwi kids – hunting and fishing.  Dad was a ‘Pyjama’ Farmer (lifestyle Block owner), builder, and jack of all trades and in those days Mum worked as a commercial cleaner.

Paul loved his school life at Hira primary and admitted he enjoyed his time at Nelson Intermediate and Nelson College.  It was his progression to these schools that exposed Paul to another world, the world of Science Fiction, Fantasy – a world he would fall deeply and passionately into.  At College he did well in English and Art but spent most of the time hiding from the Maths teachers.  He scrambled through to his Bursary 7th form year in Art failing dismally in Print Making but scraping through and passing Painting.  However his passion for fantasy art, movies and books was growing strongly during this time fueling his determination to become a fantasy book illustrator.

He applied for Wellington Polytechnic’s School of Design (an applied three year Diploma) and was rejected.  He did however get accepted into a 6 month foundation course at the same Polytechnic, which he passed with “average” marks.  Afterwards, he applied again to the School of Design three year Diploma but was rejected again.  He was also rejected by Christchurch Polytechnic at the same time.

Deciding that perhaps the arts were not for him he applied to the closest thing Wellington could offer in Archaeological training (inspired by his love of Indiana Jones movies) and was accepted into Victoria Universities’ three year Bachelor of Arts programme majoring in Classical Studies and English Language.

After successfully completing his BA he made his way home to Nelson where he secured his first job as a Graphic Designer for the Nelson Evening Mail.  He also did part-time work washing dishes in restaurants to chase his next goal of “getting the hell out of dodge” and traveling overseas.

The Big OE & Archaeology
Inspired by the fictional travels of Indiana Jones, Paul embarked on a real world adventure of voluntary archaeology (based mostly in Scotland) as well as seeking out as many ancient cities and ancient cultures throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and the UK. At the end of 3 ½ years he had begun to entertain the idea of a return to home and having another final crack at art school. 

Massey University (School of Design) & intro into Weta
Upon returning to New Zealand Paul was accepted in Massey Universities School of Design where he pursued a Bachelor of  Design. After 4 years he passed with First Class ‘Honours’.  During his final year while working on his major project he was fortunate enough to gain an industry interview with Jeremy Bennett and Gus Hunter who were based at Weta Workshop working on LOTR.

“These guys checked out my work and told me all the things I was doing wrong.It made me realise how important it was to talk to people in the industry and not just rely on what the tutors were telling you   This meeting also lead to Paul’s first visit to Weta Workshop and a chance meeting with one of his lifetime idols – world famous fantasy artist ‘Alan Lee’.

These meetings help Paul push ahead and create a portfolio of his work for Richard Taylor which he sent off with very low expectations.  Not at all confident of a result Paul decided he would establish his own freelance design company.  

The letter – welcome to Weta Workshop
While working on his freelance business and paying the bills with some  contract Data Entry work for the Coroner’s Office, Paul received a letter he never expected.  It was from Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger inviting him to an interview.  “Its fair to say that my interview with Richard was probably the most nervous and awkward that I have ever been in my life. I got the shakes half way through and I thought it was a disaster. Luckily for me Richard saw some potential and gave me a two week trial starting in March 2004.” 

Paul smiles as he mentions he has been on trial ever since (it is now 11 years later).  “It’s one thing about the industry, we are contractors, our work is project based and you need to be aware that it could all end pretty quickly”. 
One of things that I think is great about Weta Workshop is the freedom they give their contractors to work on their own projects and business ideas.  Paul has his own business running workshops for up and coming artists and speaking around the world at global conventions like San Diego Comicon, 

How do I get into Weta?
Paul mentions he is approached all the time from talented artists on how they get into Weta.  “It helps if you are a talent available at short notice here in Wellington, sometimes we just need people real quick.  We do hire people from around the world and most recently brought in people from as close as Auckland and far away as South America”.

“Weta is a great place to work, despite its growth and success over the years, Richard and Tania have been able to keep a real family business feel to the place, we all support and help each other”.  

“To become part of the family long term you need passion, determination, tenacity and an extreme attention to detail”
As we wrap up I think to myself (Paul displays all of these competencies and more).

Thanks Paul for your awesome story - you can read and view more of Paul’s work at http://www.paultobinart.com/ or visit his other project website www.whitecloudworlds.com

To find out more about how to join the Weta crew visit http://www.weta-people.co.nz/about-us

Paul Tobin