Nature and legends inspire Earth Guardians competition entrants

Issue: Volume 100, Number 14

Posted: 3 November 2021
Reference #: 1HAQtZ

A concept design competition in which Year 10-13 students create a ‘Guardian of the Earth’ character gives ākonga an opportunity to explore and develop a range of skills relevant to creative industries, says Astrid Visser, creator of the Earth Guardians competition.

The New Zealand Ultimate Concept Artist Award winner was Molly Campbell, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch, for her guardian, Wareware, a character that is protective of biodiversity and encompasses features of the extinct huia, moa, Haast eagle and gre

The New Zealand Ultimate Concept Artist Award winner was Molly Campbell, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch, for her guardian, Wareware, a character that is protective of biodiversity and encompasses features of the extinct huia, moa, Haast eagle and greater short-tailed bat.

This year, Massey University’s Toi Rauwhārangi (College of Creative Arts) and Wētā Workshop’s Earth Guardians character design competition attracted around 370 entries from Aotearoa and overseas.

Entrants were tasked with creating a character to defend the Earth, using nature and the elements to inspire their designs. They were also asked to supply details about where the character lives, its special powers and links to specific places, and customary cultural narratives and deities.

Concept design uses traditional art and digital mediums to create concepts for new objects, characters or environments. It can include anything from designing characters, creatures, props, vehicles and machines to building entire worlds that form the foundations of feature films, theme parks or computer games.

“Today, visual arts painting students use a range of digital tools in more abstract ways. For example, we’re seeing students paint portraiture and character work on their iPads. This use of digital devices for concept design is echoed in industry,” says Astrid Visser, design kaihāpai at Toi Rauwhārangi, and a former art, design and digital technology teacher.

“NCEA Design within the Visual Arts is seeing a significant surge of interest from students wishing to pursue a more concept, or illustration, focused pathway, over more traditional brand lead inquiries.

“Students are developing complex narratives to support these, and the amount of work required to produce this significant body of work is immense, but students appear to be very engaged and are producing outstanding results,” she says.

Links to industry

Many of the designers at Wētā Workshop and Massey University began their careers in schools across Aotearoa and understand how important opportunities to design and create are for rangatahi, says Astrid.

“The value of time and space to potter on projects and draw, sculpt, sew and digitally make obsessively in their teenage years absolutely lays the foundation for the creative careers they have forged as adults,” she says.

The majority of Toi Rauwharangi’s staff come from industry backgrounds, which means they’re up to date with contemporary practice and the skillsets needed to support students as they move into the industry.

Astrid Visser.

Astrid Visser.

“For a student planning a career in this direction, you’d want them to be taking design within the visual arts: painting or sculpture and possibly design and visual communication, materials technologies or digital technology,” says Astrid.

With a critical digital skills shortage impacting all parts of the New Zealand economy, Astrid believes that it would be good to see all students who arrive at universities able to write some lines of code and have a broad base of skills so they are comfortable exploring and working out digital solutions.

“The most important skillset is students being able to try new things, take risks and to be able to learn really quickly and thrive in the unknown. Some of the leaders in this space are often finding new tools, or developing their own tools,” she says.

Simon Baker, Lead VFX Artist at Wētā Workshop agrees. “Many of our artists are also skilled programmers, helping them overcome the technical hurdles in the pursuit of their artform, but also allowing them to build the platforms and pipelines needed for collaborative workflows in the digital realms.”

Exploring te Ao Māori and pūrākau

Māori and Pacific staff at Massey were involved in developing the brief and categories for the Earth Guardians competition, ensuring that indigenous perspectives are front and centre when investigating issues of sustainability and the environment.

“Our staff encouraged us to move away from describing this knowledge as ‘myths and legends’ as this undervalues it and the complexities and useful nature of these narratives. It was fantastic to see Māori and Pacific students investigating lesser-known narratives, and regionally specific knowledge to inform their Earth Guardians’ characters. We have also seen non-Māori students respond to traditional knowledge and regional locations of importance to them,” says Astrid.

“I personally believe encouraging all ākonga to grow a greater connection to Papatūānuku, and appreciation for te ao Māori only has benefits for our future society and environment. The challenge for teachers is to enable this inquiry with care and with a willingness to be wrong, and to change where needed,” she explains.

With many new achievement standards requiring teachers and students to engage with Mātauranga Māori, Astrid says this is at the forefront for many teachers.

“My advice, as a Pākehā teacher, is to seek advice from Māori leaders in your schools, encourage the employment of Māori staff wherever possible, and connect with people and institutions locally that can support you with the knowledge you don’t have.

“Now is also a time to reflect on current programmes: could engaging with pūrākau as a starting point for projects be more likely to generate new ideas of value which also negate cultural appropriation?”

Judges were impressed with the variety of strong ideas and styles in the competition.

Judges were impressed with the variety of strong ideas and styles in the competition.

Support and collaboration

Toi Rauwharangi understands the importance of secondary school Visual Arts and Technology education, and the value of supporting teachers and schools through initiatives like Earth Guardians.

“We hold annual teacher professional learning days and support teacher lead networks of expertise and subject associations conferences,” says Astrid.

The university has also collaborated with Wētā Workshop to create the Wētā Workshop School at Massey University(external link).

The Earth Guardians competition is in its second year and Astrid sees room for it to grow.

“We love having game creators PikPok onboard and seeing room to grow in the game space and in collaboration with digital technology teachers,” she says.

“We have also had conversations about adding a sustainable costume and textile/material design dimension to the project. There is so much scope within this brief, and no end to the creative ideas coming from ākonga.”

Read this story about the winners of the 2021 Earth Guardians competition(external link).

 

The International Ultimate Concept Artist Award winner was Puntita Chantapoon of Thailand for her design, Lūk h̄ŵā, a guardian that leaves flowers wherever it walks and acts as a forest guard.

The International Ultimate Concept Artist Award winner was Puntita Chantapoon of Thailand for her design, Lūk h̄ŵā, a guardian that leaves flowers wherever it walks and acts as a forest guard.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:09 AM, 3 November 2021

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