Ian Taylor was first seen on Kiwi television screens as one of the hosts of Play School, and children's magazine show Spot On. Now, thanks to the work of his company Animation Research Limited, Dunedin has become one of the world centres in the field of computer graphics technology for sports coverage.
Born in Kaeo, Taylor grew up in the East Coast town of Raupunga, where he remembers reading Eagle comics by the light of a gas lantern. The arrival of electricity in the house provided the young boy with a genuine light-bulb moment: "At eight years of age I figured if you could do that by flicking a switch, you could do anything."
At the age of 18, Taylor began singing and touring with band Kal-Q-Lated Risk, until he was called up for compulsory military training. A law degree was delayed after he was invited to co-present TV's Play School. After graduating, Taylor turned down a law job and joined the Dunedin team of magazine show Spot On. In the 80s he began directing, including rowing documentary Pieces of Eight, Journeys across Latitude South, and caving chronicle Two Days to Soft Rock Cafe, which won multiple Feltex awards, including Best Director and Best Documentary in 1984.
At the age of 40, thanks to a generous loan (he had only $1000 in the bank) Taylor went solo. TVNZ had offered him a current affairs job in Wellington; they had also just closed down their Dunedin operation. "I'd already made that decision I wasn't leaving Dunedin so the only option was to buy the place." In 1989 Taylor founded production house Taylormade, and on-line booking company BookIt, followed soon after by graphics company Animation Research Limited (which began as a joint venture with Otago University, before Taylor bought it out). "I went from a staff of none to 20 overnight".
Taylor started by making commercials and corporate videos, and the first of many children's programmes. But it was yachting that provided the big break. In 1991, he was one of four — alongside Paul Sharp, Stu Smith and Otago Computer Science professor Geoff Wyvill — to develop the first ever real-time yachting graphics package. Commissioned originally by TVNZ and first showcased at the 1992 America's Cup in San Diego, the programme allowed races to be tracked and displayed on screen in real time, using global positioning.
Animation Research Limited has gone to to apply the Virtual Eye system to coverage of golf, cricket, and high speed car racing, allowing viewers to follow the paths of a variety of moving objects. In 2006 alone, graphics developed by ARL were used in more than 30 golf tournaments, including the US Open and the Ryder Cup.
In July 2008 ARL trialled a new ball-tracking system, at a cricket match in Sri Lanka. The system allows players to challenge umpire's decisions to another umpire, who uses the technology to help make a judging call. The ball-tracking project had almost led to the company's demise, after a contract in India collapsed unexpectedly, leaving ARL in debt. Taylor almost closed down the business, but the company recovered.
Outside of sports, ARL has contributed computer animation to a range of television shows: among them Kiwi documentary series Human Potential, the BBC's Inventions that Changed the World, and the catalogue of CGI calamities showcased on National Geographic series Mega Disasters.
Jamie Belich's The New Zealand Wars included a half hour of ARL computer animation, recreating Māori Pas and European settlements circa the 1800s. The company has also re-imagined an encounter between a sperm whale and a giant squid (for NHNZ show Animal Face-Off) and in 1996 pioneered the use of motion capture on local television, with Squirt. Co-hosted by a 3D penguin, the show ran 10 seasons. Motion capture was also used to create the virtual dancer Jenna, for long-running live show Studio2.
On the dramatic front, ARL supplied CGI for award-winning Margaret Mahy series Kaitangata Twitch and the part-animated Moko Toa. The Māori language children's drama combined live action with CGI landscapes and characters, to tell a tale of a Māori boy who is the modern transformation of ancient hero Moko Toa. The company were also called upon to create the climactic scenes in 2010 tele-feature Eruption: a volcano emerging from Auckland harbour.
Animation Research won acclaim and awards early on, including a triumphant screening at a SIGGRAPH computer graphics convention, of commercials for Air New Zealand (featuring flying gannets) and Bluebird chips (a skiing penguin). The company has also created multi award-winning air traffic control simulators and worked in building and tourism, including a virtual tour for company Whalewatch Kaikoura. Taylor also helped Dunedin director Robert Sarkies bring his breakthrough short film Signing Off to the screen.
In 2013 Animation Research developed an official mobile app for the America's Cup which allowed fans to follow and comment on races, via tablets and cellphones around the globe. Taylor argued that the app showed that "you don't have to up stakes and move to the big centres to create international products". Aside from ARL's own staff, the app's creation involved "a technology company from Queenstown, a design company here in Dunedin, and a two man operation out of Timaru".
In 2010 North and South magazine named Taylor their New Zealander of the Year. The following year's New Years Honours saw him named a Companion of the NZ Order of Merit, for services to television and business (he became a Knights Companion in 2021). Taylor told The Otago Daily Times that his success owed much to staying in Dunedin, and surrounding himself with talented people.
Profile updated on 2 January 2021
Animation Research Ltd website. Accessed 2 January 2021
Eileen Goodwin, 'Taylor credits staff, partners, wife for success' (Interview) - Otago Daily Times, 31 December 2011
Alan Wood, 'Dunedin turned rock'n'roller into TV entrepreneur' (Interview) - Stuff website. Loaded 31 December 2011. Accessed 9 January 2012
'Ian Taylor - Creative Innovator' (Interview) NZ Hi-Tech Awards website. Accessed 9 January 2012
'America's Cup: Ian Taylor recognised for VirtualEye development'. Sail-World.com Website. Loaded 31 December 2011. Accessed 9 January 2012
'America's Cup Goes Mobile with Kiwi App' Animation Research website. Loaded 17 September 2013. Accessed 7 July 2014