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WelTec Bachelor of Creative Technologies “on the job” at Polytronik Cuba Street Wellington.

Stars out for our tech firms

Dominion Post: 25 September 2014

Wellington tech firms continue to shine on the world stage, writes Fran Wilde.

THIS WEEK two intrepid Wellingtonians have been in Hollywood – not wannabe film stars, but part of the frontline of our digital creative sector.

At the first ever Oculus Connect conference in downtown Hollywood, Brendon King and Joel Floris have been mixing with international digerati, pitching a virtual reality application that has been developed by Wellington firm Polytronik.

Floris is the lead computer generated imagery (CGI) artist at Polytronik and King is a Kapiti Coast businessman with 25 years’ experience in high-end creative IT, now collaborating with Polytronik in a business development/producer role. Polytronik is an exciting venture, at the leading edge of animation and visual effects.

At its poky, cramped office upstairs in a very anonymous building near the Cuba Mall bucket fountain, owner and creative director Tony St George is working with a team, including a bunch of young interns from Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec), to perfect animated visual effect applications that he hopes will transform gaming and other viewing experiences.

As a recent appointee to the WelTec council and Whitireia I visited Polytronik a couple of weeks ago and was blown away by what I saw.

But the most exciting part of the story is that this small Wellington startup was spotted by leading US virtual reality company Oculus VR, who were so impressed that they invited Polytronik to be part of what is effectively the Oculus ‘‘trade show’’ in Hollywood.

Oculus VR is itself an interesting phenomenon – a US virtual reality company founded to develop ‘‘the’’ headmounted display unit, then earlier this year subject of a US$2 billion buyout from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, which gave the company enough cash to attract and assist other entrepreneurs such as Polytronik.

What does all this mean for Wellington?

Well, first, it is absolute proof that creativity is still flourishing here and that we have developed various smart ICT niche companies that are capable of taking on the world. Two examples that spring to mind are PikPok and Green Button.

Second, the Polytronik story is evidence of how wider business and community eco-systems can operate for the benefit of our economy.

King is a Kapiti Coast resident who didn’t succeed in an attempt to set up a digital creative hub at Raumati Beach, but he did meet fellow Kapiti local Teriu Lemon who is the head of the WelTec creative technologies school and St George, who now trains the next generation as a WelTec tutor.

Finally, the Polytronik story is also about how formal collaboration between education/training and industry can work for us.

WelTec and Whitireia are both closely connected with industry, with course content designed to provide industry the talent it needs and a healthy crossover in terms of talent at student and staff level. Internships such as those at Polytronik are a regular part of many courses.

Both Polytronik and the WelTec- Whitireia partnership will be much more visible in the CBD in future.

Polytronik is just about to formally launch Cafe Polytronik in Manners St across the road from James Smith corner. You’ll be able to drink your coffee while sitting in a chair and having a virtual reality experience courtesy of the locally developed software.

And, in a slightly bigger project, WelTec and Whitireia are establishing a joint centre of excellence in creative technologies and arts in Cuba St, planned to be operating in January 2018. The new facility will be a dramatic change for industries associated with digital and performing arts. It will replicate industry standard working environments and provide linkages for students, staff and industry that Wellington has never before experienced.

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