Tongan/Kiwi, Artist & Creator of Dragons….
Story by Tony Cutting
I caught up with William at Weta Workshop and chatted to him about his career journey to date. What I noticed when we met for the first time was that he reminded me of so many of my other Pasifika friends, he was friendly, open and I immediately knew I was about to have some laughs.
Mt Maunganui Kid
Originally born in Auckland, William was raised in the Mount by his two teacher parents. His Tongan Mum a history teacher at Mount Maunganui College and his European Kiwi ‘Surfer’ Dad a science teacher at Otumoetai College.
Education was always going to be a part of William’s life.
From age 12, William was fascinated by art, make up “effects” and how there was people in the world who were just really good at making things that really did not exist, seem real. He spent many hours sketching, painting and from that early age using latex to help make his mates look like they were mortally injured.
He became so proficient at this early age that when one of the kids at school actually took the top off a finger the teachers first response was “tell William that is very funny” then suddenly realised the finger on the ground was real and the kid needed to get to the doctors real quick.
4th form change. William was dedicated to his Art. He decided it may be a good idea to move from Mt Maunganui College where he was mucking about with school mates to Otumoetai College where he would have no distractions, also Otumoetai had a great reputation in Art. His parents questioned if he was sure he wanted to make such a big move – he was.
This was a great move for a couple of reasons.
1) Being new to a school with little friends to distract him helped him focus on his art.
2) Otumoetai had a great reputation for Art and resources that would really help William grow.
Needless to say the result was an impressive 100% pass rate for Art in his School Certificate year (one of only a few students in the country to achieve this).
At age 15 although still very passionate about visual effects William decided there was little if no chance for a kiwi kid to get into the Movie industry. He started to focus his art using his Tongan heritage as inspiration.
Examples of Williams 7th Form Art portfolio
Elam School of Fine Arts
On the back of this fabulous talent William was accepted in the ELAM School of fine Art. However this move became one he really struggled with. He found he didn’t gel with the way they taught and the Art they wanted him to do was very foreign to what he wanted to do. At the time William admits he really hated the environment. After struggling for inspiration he finally made a massive decision – he would drop out.
The biggest challenge for William at Elam is they did not provide the structure and environment that could provide him with the inspiration to do well. It just did not work for him. The one great thing about ELAM was that it was during this time he met his ‘wife to be’ Maea.
Becoming a Computer Geek
A cousin helped William get a job as a warehouse packer at an Auckland computer distributor. He was working with his cousin and a group of Chinese guys who focused on computers. They would rebuild computers and William’s job was simply to pack them for shipping. This role did give him the opportunity to buy a cheap rebuilt computer and the Chinese guys provided him with all sorts of software. William got his hands on an early version of Photoshop and his passion for art began down another pathway. Along with Photoshop William picked up a number of software packages and started to teach himself by reading manuals and books – he then discovered 3D modelling.
It was 2000 and now William was picking up some small basic jobs ‘after hours’ using his newly self-taught skills. He began modelling for small TV productions based out of Auckland. Shows like “Wired” and “Buzz & Poppy”. He even picked up small amounts of work from overseas clients wanting people with computer modelling skills.
Resene Paints & moving to Wellington.
To help fuel this part time business William took a role with Resene paints in Auckland which paid better and helped him cover some of his costs. His day job was retailing paint and at night he worked on improving his art and computer skills. Maea got offered a great role with Sport New Zealand in Wellington. Resene were great and organised a transfer for him down to their branch in Kilbirnie. It was 2007 and William got his first exposure to Weta Workshop as Resene Kilbirnie was a supplier of paint to the workshop.
He also started to learn about other tools and picked up an article on Digital Sculpting and a thing called the ‘Mudbox’. In true William form he started to teach himself and learn as much as he could about the new tools.
In 2008 William was promoted to Assistant Manager of Resene he was now 32 but still producing art and playing with new digital tools – this time a particular package called Z Brush. Learning was getting easier as the Internet was thriving and full of resources, he took full advantage of chat forums where he could find out answers to challenges he had. He was able to learn this new product very fast.
A concept art company called Massive Black travelled over to Wellington from the USA and held a week’s workshop at the town hall. William was inspired and invested the $800 to go along and learn as much as he could from these guys. During this week he also found out about the types of jobs you could do with the skills he was learning. It was during this time William also started to understand what people in the industry were looking for and with online communities like on Zbrush Central it was getting easier to find the relevant information.
He was “obsessed” (his words) I say ‘passionate and motivated’. At the conclusion of this course he decided to put together a portfolio of his work for Weta Workshop. He sent his portfolio to both Weta Workshop and Weta Digital as well as a few other organisations he knew of that he hoped maybe interested.
Frankenstein from Williams 2008 Portfolio
Weta Workshop @ Age 33
It was early 2009. He got a few calls and had a few interviews off the back of his portfolio. Weta Workshop gave him a week’s trial where he got to work on various projects. During that week offers came from both Weta Digital and Weta Workshop, however Richard Taylor sat him down and swayed him to come work for Weta Workshop.
William started his working life at Weta in the Design department creating concept art for various projects including the Hobbit. He describes Weta Workshop as a huge learning environment and he was encouraged to learn and try lots of new things. In 2010 he moved over to the 3D Department to concentrate on 3D Modelling using Maya and digital sculpting using zbrush.
Since then he has worked on many projects, lately this includes working on the complicated armour worn by the Dwarfs in the Hobbit movies. He loves the family (whanau) environment that Weta have fostered and the fact that all the people enjoy sharing and helping each other with new ideas and skills. He has lots of chance to provide creative input.
Chatting to William about what it is like to be working using his talent, one of the insights he gives me is that he believes “creative’s have got to create or the world just feels empty”.
He continues connecting back to his Tongan heritage and is working on mixed media art works with a Tongan/Polynesian tilt when he finds the time.
Thanks William for your time - I look forward to checking out your extraordinary work over the coming years. Tony C