When Chad Moffitt graduated from Digital Character Animation he was ecstatic to be hired by Weta Digital, New Zealand’s leading visual effects company and, incidentally, part of Weta Ltd. an offshoot of Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films. For any graduate, landing a job in your chosen field is a monumental step in and of itself, but in 1999 it just so happened that Weta also took its own giant leap forward by beginning work on what would become three of the most successful movies of all time, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
As a junior animator on Lord of the Rings, Moffitt spent the majority of his first year focusing on animating four-legged beasties, eminently more difficult to construct than bipeds (two-legged creatures). This was an invaluable challenge that helped him develop an intuitive feel for how something should move. But undoubtedly, the highlight of his time spent on the project was when he worked closely with director Peter Jackson on Return of the King doing previsualisation , the task of mocking up a scene with rough animation to plan out how a certain shot will be filmed.
“I was lucky enough to get this one really cool shot to do,” says Moffitt, “which I also ended up doing the final animation for. It was two mumakils (super gigantic elephants) colliding and hitting the ground. Even in the previsualization stage, it was a nightmare to work out, and the final shot took months to finish.”
Having just finished Lord of the Rings this past March, Moffitt is headed to Japan to work in the computer games industry, a job that will provide him with a whole new set of challenges, like working in a Japanese speaking environment, and learning a new animation package. But even in his early days at VFS, colleagues and staff could see how Moffitt would not be deterred by challenges. “Chad came to us with basic skills,” says Program Manager Sabrina de los Rios. “He didn’t have an extensive background in animation, but ended up being one of the best animators.”
Making the transition from school to studio, Moffitt was glad to see how his time at school could really be applied in a professional environment. “One of the hardest things for visual effects students to do is reign in our imaginations,” he says. “Because I was already familiar with the right [computer] programs, I was able to get to work without wasting a lot of time training, and even help out other people that were there. I found that in the industry your work load can ebb and flow slightly but long hours are more the rule than the exception. You need to be able to deal with sustained periods of long hours and hard work, so VFS really prepared me.”