Behind the Scenes with Andrea Weidlich

Published on March 8, 2019

Tanya Buchanan Recruitment Manager at Wētā FX

Andrea Weidlich is one of our talented Senior Researchers. She shares with us the challenges and rewards of her job, and the journey that lead her to work in our Rendering department.

Can you tell us about your background?

I grew up in Vienna, Austria, where I studied technical computer science. Later, I focused on computer graphics and got my PhD for predicting the appearance of crystals. After I finished my studies, I moved to Munich and worked for a couple of years for the automotive industry, predicting, for example, the reflectance and colour of car lacquers or wood décor, mainly in real time.

I later got a degree in art, mainly to show that programming and painting do not exclude each other, but I'm always more drawn to the technical aspects.

What drew you to your chosen field?

Specialising in appearance prediction came due to an interest in physics and a longing to understand why things look like they do. My grandmother was a seamstress, which means I was always surrounded by piles of fabrics, buttons and lace, and I like to think that seeing and touching all these different things and understanding their essence is the reason why I'm interested in materials. Originally, I wanted to pursue a career in academia, but got tired of the academic surrounding and switched to the private sector.

Was it always your goal to work in VFX/film?

When I was 18, I first saw Weta's work through the 'Lord of the Rings' films and immediately wanted to work there, but I never thought it possible. I always thought that I would be way too specialised for the VFX industry, so when I got in contact with Weta I was very surprised that they were interested in my work and I couldn't say no when they offered me a job.

What does your role as Senior Researcher entail?

I am responsible for the material side of Manuka, our in-house renderer. My main focus is making our materials more realistic, especially hair and skin, either by doing my own research or combining outside research, including work from disciplines unrelated to computer graphics. I work closely with the LookDev Department, and I hope that I make their lives easier.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

That there are always new challenges and it doesn't get boring. I enjoy seeing a film grow from its humble concept art beginnings to its final form, knowing that I am a part of it and that every single hair glint is there because of me.

What are the some of the challenges?

With a growing user base and simultaneously running shows, it has become a lot harder to keep track of all the different requirements. Assessing what features will be needed, how critical they are and how much time we can afford to spend on something without compromising the result is always challenging.

Are there any moments in your career that stand out as particularly rewarding?

There are so many special moments I remember. Seeing the first shot I ever worked on in cinema for the first time. Being able to see Manuka used in production. One task that was particularly rewarding was developing a new hair model. For what the client wanted, there wasn't any existing research to build on. It became the most advanced hair model in VFX to date, but after seeing its reception and the amount of furry characters we render today, I know that it was worth the effort.

What do you love most about living and working in Wellington?

Wellington, and New Zealand in general, is a lot less formal than Austria or Germany. Everyone seems a lot more laid back and friendlier. What I love most is the sound and the smell of the ocean.

-Thank you Andrea