James Cunningham made a name for himself after creating a run of stylish CGI-animated shorts — from 1997‘s Delf, and Cannes-selected Infection, through to acclaimed WWI tale Poppy. Now teaching 3D animation at Auckland’s Media Design School, Cunningham is also directing live action shorts, while developing a CGI feature with producing partner Paul Swadel.

Animation is all about distilling a subject down to its very essence. Great animation finds the heart of a subject and shows it clearly and simply for all to understand. James Cunningham

As You Command

2018, Director, Writer, Producer - Short Film

In the middle of a decidedly average day, a house painter (The End of the Golden Weather's Stephen Papps) discovers an old flask in a hole in the wall. This short film, written and directed by James Cunningham and brought to life by 28 of his students at the Media and Design School, explores the idea of wish fufilment. The painter gets a great deal on the usual three wish limit from a blue genie with a Scottish accent, and samples a list of childhood dreams, including fighting fires, racing cars and photographing dinosaurs in the wild. All offer chances to showcase some CGI magic.

The Dragon's Scale

2017, Director, Writer, Producer - Short Film

In this animated short from Auckland's Media Design School, a father and son travel through a magical landscape to find a powerful, wish granting dragon who can fix the boy's stammer. But nature conspires against the father, and the dragon's answer to the boy's request adds a nice twist to the tale. Media Design School lecturer James Cunningham wrote the script, and was granted his own wish from local iwi to film The Dragon's Scale in the dramatic landscapes of Tarawera National Park. The film premiered at the Auckland leg of the 2016 NZ International Film Festival. 

Kitten Witch

2016, Director, Writer, Producer - Short Film

In this children's fantasy created by final year students at Auckland's Media Design School, a motivated (and very cute) kitten named Freda applies for the job as 'familiar' to Zoe, a local witch. Zoe asks Freda to gather an exotic list of ingredients, but the resulting spell isn't what either of them expected. Written and directed by James Cunningham, Kitten Witch joins a gallery of award-winning Media Design School short films. In 2016 it won the People's Choice Award at Show Me Shorts; in 2019 it shared the award for Favourite Live Action Short at a Children's Film Festival in Seattle.

Accidents, Blunders and Calamities

2015, Writer, Director - Short Film

This morbidly funny short, made by students of Auckland's Media Design School, depicts the demise of 26 alphabetical and animated animals at the hands of nature’s greatest enemy — the human. Framed as a father possum (Phil Greeves) reading his children their favourite bedtime story, the alliterative animal deaths are undercut with cheerful giggling from the two young possums. The film won acclaim at festivals worldwide —screening at South by Southwest in 2016, and taking out Best Animated film in the Comic-Con Film Festival later that year.

Escargore

2015, Producer - Short Film

The kitchen might seem an ordinary place to most, but if you’re a snail like the ones in this short film, untold horrors await. When five snails accidentally find themselves in a salad, they must embark on a great escape, and race — as quick as is realistically possible — toward the relative safety of the outside world. Fate, it seems, has other plans. Escargore features the work of 22 third-year students at Auckland’s Media Design School, and was directed and co-written by lecturer Oliver Hilbert. The short won Best Character at the 2015 Animago Awards in Germany.

Over the Moon

2014, Director, Writer, Editor, Producer - Short Film

In 1957 Connie Radar became the first woman on the moon. At least that's what this whimsical take on the space race would have you believe. Years later the heroic Connie (played by Anna Jullienne) brings the fight to two arrogant American astronauts. The short film was created by 15 Bachelor of Art and Design students from Auckland's Media Design School, led by award-winning director James Cunningham. It was nominated for Best Short at the 2014 New Zealand Film Awards, and played at Comic-Con in San Diego. Connie was first created by Kiwi comic artist Karl Wills. 

Shelved

2012, Producer, Director - Short Film

Dr Grordbort Presents: The Deadliest Game

2011, Producer, Director - Short Film

Armed with his trusty ray gun and protected by his pith helmet Lord Broadforce's exotic species search on an alien planet is going swimmingly — until the dame gets colonial angst. The short is based on the sci-fi world of Dr Grordbort created by Weta Workshop's Greg Broadmore (designer on District 9), in which Victorian steampunk meets alien trophy hunting. The live action-CGI film was created over 22 weeks by 11 students of the Media Design School's 3D animation programme, under the direction of James Cunningham. Broadmore followed with a Grordbort video game in 2018.

Rotting Hill

2011, Director, Producer - Short Film

This gleefully violent "zombie romcom" is another offering from Auckland's Media Design School, where 3D CGI students collaborate with their tutor, director James Cunningham, and industry veterans. Based on an idea from course grad Philip Magnussen, Rotting Hill sees two lovers — played by Anna Hutchison (Go Girls, The Cabin in the Woods) and Australian actor Jason Smith (Home and Away) — finding that "true love never dies" in a post-human future. The short has netted over one million views on Vimeo. Keep tissues handy: you may shed a tear ... or maybe an eyeball.

Slightly Fishy

2010, Animator, Writer, Producer, Director - Short Film

First Contact

2010, Director, Producer, Editor - Short Film

This live-action CGI short attempts to find the answer as to why UFO sightings have been in decline recently. The truth is indeed out there, but in this sci-fi spoof, it turns out to be the result of alien bureaucratic cover-ups, outsourcing and an unorthodox use of space probes. The film was made by students in the 3D Productions course that director James Cunningham teaches at Media Design School — a one day green screen shoot, 14 weeks of post-production. Written by Nick Ward, First Contact won selection to computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH 2011.

Time for Change

2010, Producer, Director - Short Film

The adage that in a long-term relationship things can get a little like clockwork is given a twist in Time for Change. A simmering spousal feud between two wooden figurines on the town clock of an Austrian village, comes to a head with unexpected results. Lederhosen, accordions, and desire for a young blonde are oiled with a keen sense of black humour. Made by students in the 3D course that director James Cunningham teaches at Media Design School, the film won viewers online, selection for SIGGRAPH, and a Big Kahuna (best animation) at the Honolulu Film Awards.

Das Tub

2009, Director, Producer - Short Film

Das Tub kickstarted an award-winning run of CGI short films for Media Design School students working under their 3D animation tutor, director James Cunningham. Part live-action, part CGI, its tale of a German U-boat crew facing danger under the ocean pays homage to submarine classic Das Boot — before a Pythonesque twist which features a cameo from writer Nick Ward. Short, sharp and lovingly rendered, the film won 'best short short' at the 2011 Aspen Shortsfest, while Cunningham (Poppy, Infection) took Best Director at the Honolulu Film Awards.

Poppy

2009, Director, CG Supervisor - Short Film

In Poppy two Kiwi soldiers discover a baby in a muddy WWI trench. For Paddy it will lead to redemption amidst the hell of war. From a David Coyle script — based on his great-grandfather’s war story — Poppy was another successful computer-animation collaboration between producer Paul Swadel and director James Cunningham (Infection, Delf). CGI evokes a bleak Western Front landscape on which the (motion-captured) human drama unfolds. Cunningham spent over 4500 hours making Poppy; the result was acclaim at Siggraph, and invites to Telluride and SXSW festivals.

The Devil Dared Me To

2007, Visual Effects - Film

Matt Heath and Chris Strapp dragged their characters from bogan TV series Back of the Y to the big screen for this movie, which follows Randy Cambell's rocket car driven mission to be "New Zealand’s greatest living stuntman". Gross and petrol-fuelled mayhem ensues, as Cambell romances a one-legged female Evil Knievel and fights a family curse. Scott Weinberg (Cinematical) praised this "cross between The Road Warrior, Mad Magazine and Jackass" as "loud, raucous and adorably stupid" when it premiered at US festival South by Southwest in 2007. 

The Big Picture - Episode Five

2007, Special Effects - Television

Infection

1999, Writer, Director, Animator - Short Film

In James Cunningham’s award-winning short a mutant three-fingered hand attempts a brash virtual heist, seeking to wipe a student loan debt in a government databank. The “digital action thriller” was a third collaboration between Cunningham and producer Paul Swadel. Infection’s fast-paced action, humour, and (then) state-of-the-art 3D CGI rendering (punctured eyeballs, hypodermic needles) was in confident contrast to the realist Kiwi short film tradition. Infection won selection in competition at Cannes, Sundance, and numerous other international festivals.

Blinder

1998, Writer, Director, Animator - Short Film

Delf

1997, Writer, Animator, Director - Short Film

Two tadpole-like creatures with enormous eyes chase each other around, to a driving techno soundtrack. Then these digitally-animated characters find themselves plunged into a different reality - one where a single wrong move could mean they exist in only two dimensions. After completing this mind-warping mini-rollercoaster ride, creator James Cunningham and producing partner Paul Swadel worked together on bank robbery tale Infection, which won invitation to the Cannes Film Festival.