• CGSociety :: Education Feature
    1 April 2011, by Paul Hellard


    There are many great productions pouring out of Auckland's Media Design School these days. Their 3D department is headed by James Cunningham, an award-winning short filmmaker.

    James' most recent short film, Poppy, set on France's western front during WWI. It premiered at Telluride in 2009 and went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles 2010, and Best in Show at SIGGRAPH Asia in Seoul 2010.

    The film was selected out of 750 submissions from 49 countries. It also screened at Melbourne International Film Festival 2010.

    Two shorts from last year's Advanced 3D productions class Das Tub and Time for Change, were nominated as two out of only four finalists at the VES awards this year. James has recently started as 3D Course Leader at Media Design School with the expressed goal of making sure students' work from the department is recognised on the world stage.


    Das Tub is also currently an international finalist at Aspen Shortsfest in Colorado and winners will be announced on April 10. Shorts produced by the Graduate Diploma of Advanced 3D Productions feature a winning collaboration of strong scripts by celebrated New Zealand screen writers.

    Park Road Post pitching in with sound design (using their young up and coming talent) cinematography, great acting and high quality 3D modeling, animation, dynamics and compositing. The average turnaround for a Media Design School short film project is ten weeks.


    Media Design School's highly production-orientated qualifications (undergraduate and graduate) target talent into stimulating and specific careers within the creative technologies and digital content sectors.

    Media Design School has collected over 180 awards in the last decade. There is a vibrant and energetic creative culture instilled by the industry practitioners brought onboard as leaders and tutors.


    Industry integration is one thing that's always been at the heart of the School's philosophy. The Media Design School courses have been developed and reviewed by industry professionals, the same people who help with mentoring, lecturing and grading student work.

    "There is a basic 3D animation Boot Camp kind of thing in the first year', explains James Cunningham, "followed by a 3D Diploma. In the second year, it goes into Advanced 3D Productions."

    Industry integration is one thing that's always been at the heart of the School's philosophy. The Media Design School courses have been developed and reviewed by industry professionals, the same people who help with mentoring, lecturing and grading student work.


    A great class of five guys in September 2009 brought together the first two films shown in this feature story. Das Tub, and the Time for Change short film are from the one class. They all found jobs in the New Zealand industry within four weeks of completing the course. One guy went straight into Weta Digital.



    The Media Design School is also working on a romantic comedic short called Rotting Hill starring Anna Hutchison and Jason Smith. Two zombies go out on a date.

    PostScript: At the Honolulu Film Awards, award-winning filmmaker and Media Design School 3D course leader James Cunningham won Best Director for Das Tub, while Time for Change was awarded the Gold Kahuna Award for Best Animation.

    The school's Advanced 3D students - Rupert Ashton, Priyan Jayamaha, Jonathan Hagan, Andrew Junying Xu and Kirsten Dale Pretorius, worked on both films.

    Media Design School NZ
    Andersson SynthEyes
    Autodesk Maya
    Foundry Nuke

    For the First Contact filming day, the actors were in costume, but nothing was obscuring their faces. Using the inside of a welder's helmet, red LEDs were placed around there for tracking the movement of the head.

    Then we object-tracked using SynthEyes. The same technique is used all over the place but it's great to have this at the school. It's a poor man's motion capture, but all through the hero camera. The facial animation is all key-framed straight off the actor's performance, and we built the rig from that.

    One guy in particular could identify the key moments of the face animation really well," says Cunningham. "With a short program course structure like this, it is great to be able to produce at an international standard.

    All the work created at the Media Design School is animated in Maya, rendered with mental ray, and comping is done in Nuke.


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