Published on May 21, 2021
Anne Taunga talks to us about starting her career on 'Lord of the Rings' and her journey in VFX.
Can you tell us about your background?
I was born in New Plymouth, Taranaki, a small town on the West Coast of New Zealand's North Island. I am of Cook Island descent on my Dad's side and Kiwi/Irish descent on my Mum's side. I'm the middle child of three women. I have a 13-year-old son and a 5-year-old dog.
When did you join the Weta Digital team?
I originally started at Weta Digital in 1998 as a Production Assistant. I was studying for a postgraduate degree in Library and Information Systems after finishing my BA in Theatre and Film. I was fortunate enough to get an interview when Weta Digital was shooting the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy and decided to pause my studies to take up the position - I've been here ever since, apart from four years at Animal Logic in Sydney where I worked on 'Happy Feet'.
What does your role entail?
As Facial Motion Department Manager, I currently manage a team of 18 facial motion animators and work alongside the Special Projects team on any projects that require motion.
My days are never the same. Working alongside our Head of Department, I oversee all the resourcing, bidding and casting for our team on a diverse range of projects that span both film and episodic.
We recently partnered with Epic Games on 'Meerkat', a fun animated short of a cute meerkat and an eagle created in Unreal Engine - you can watch it here.
What would you say is your biggest career achievement to date?
I'm most proud of my first ever credit on 'The Fellowship of the Rings'. It was very exciting to see my name at the end of a film for the first time after so many years of working on such an excellent project.
It was also a very exciting time to be working in film and VFX in Wellington, and Weta Digital worked on so many new and ground-breaking technologies.
I was lucky enough to work in some very diverse roles - it was hard work and long hours but such a lot of fun. I made lifelong friends and have been mentored by some of the world's top filmmakers.
I was Weta Digital's Art and Reference Production Assistant on 'The Lord of the Rings'. I got to go on set to collect miniatures, wardrobe, maquettes, jewellery and props for reference so that our digital artists could build digital doubles, creatures and environments. I have fond memories of carrying Sauron's sword and Galadriel's gowns, as well as trying to carefully manoeuvre a giant-sized eight-legged Shelob maquette through doorways and into cars.
What was your favourite show to work on?
I have many favourite shows - 'Avengers: Infinity Wars' and 'Avengers: Endgame', also 'Jungle Book'. But I was particularly fond of working on 'Furious 7'. Like many from my home town I love a good V8, so I'm a hardcore fan of the 'Fast and the Furious' franchise. I remember seeing early previs of the final scene before we started working on it and sitting at my desk bawling my eyes out. I was a real honour to work on that film!
What was the best piece of advice you were given in your career?
Even though you may be the quietest person in the room, your voice is still important.
What advice would you give to young people starting out in VFX?
Find your passion and discover what you are good at and believe in it. It takes a whole community to make a film and there are lots of exciting roles to support the filmmaking, from production assistant to producer, and IT to marketing. If you want to work on movies but you're not an artist, technical or creative, embrace any opportunity to use your skills and follow your passion.
What do you love most about living and working in Wellington?
I love the compactness of the city. I live just a 5-minute drive from work and from the central city. There are never traffic jams and I love being able to walk my dog on Lyall Bay beach (also only 5 minutes from home!) - even in those crisp brisk southerly winds that Wellington is so famous for. Driving to work I often see pods of orca or dolphins frolicking and feel so lucky to live here.