Former Marlborough Boys’ College student Jon Baxter is helping to bring some sparkle to Wellington’s 150th anniversary celebrations this weekend, including a birthday cake which will be projected onto the Parliament buildings.
The founder of Auckland company Perceptual Engineering is the audiovisual director of the sound and light show at the Big Birthday Party, created in collaboration with Wellington company Story Inc.
Jon says the show is nine minutes long and will be projected onto the walls of Parliament. It reveals different aspects of the city’s history, using a combination of physical models and technology.
The first ‘‘act’’ is a exploration of the artistic atmosphere of Wellington.
Then the show moves onto ancient Maori times and the myth of Maui pulling the North Island from the sea. The third sequence is ‘‘flying into the fish’s head’’ and features a ‘‘doll’s house’’, which is built around a scale model of Parliament the size of a dining room table.
Political machinations are represented by levers, pullies and boilers inside the house.
Finally there is a ‘‘shout out to the suburbs’’ which focuses on different areas, and then a spectacular, Parliament-shaped birthday cake will be projected onto the building.
Having to portray so many different aspects of Wellington has meant he has had to go ‘‘quite deep’’ into the city’s history. He is finishing work on the doll’s house model this week, and it has been both ‘‘exciting and exhausting’’, he says.
‘‘It’s been a really awesome project, the dive into history and culture is awesome. I’ve had a cool crew to work with,’’ he says.
Many different people were involved with different sides of the project, with Jon ‘‘crossing over everything’’.
The doll’s house segment involved people filming, Wellington artist Stephen Templer physically creating the model, and ‘‘physical and 3-D animations’’. Jon’s brother-inlaw composer Cam Ballyntyne created a ‘‘screaming soundtrack’’ which is a real ‘‘toetapper’’.
‘‘It’s very much a zoo,’’ Jon says.
In addition to the light show, musician Dave Dobbyn and Wellington’s Orpheus Choir will be performing during the evening.
Jon founded Perceptual Engineering 15 years ago after working freelance in visual effects in New Zealand, Australia and Asia. It was ‘‘constantly evolving’’ and he had a variety of projects to work on, he says.
In the next two months a ‘‘time machine’’ for Wellington will be completed, which will take the viewer back to the start of time and into the future. It will be exhibited in Wellington museum for 10 years which is ‘‘quite exciting’’, Jon says.
He works with many different freelance artists and the company tended to ‘‘shrink and grow’’ depending on what was on, Jon says.
Jon went to Marlborough Boys’ College for a few years before moving up to Palmerston North, and going on exchange to San Francisco. He was interested in film and technology from his school days, he says.
Jon studied commerce and psychology at the University of Otago, before taking a course in TV broadcasting at Christchurch Polytechnic. His interest in perceptual psychology comes into his work ‘‘every day’’ and the light show itself will be ‘‘quite trippy’’ and will challenge people’s perceptions.
Jon has some fond memories of living in Marlborough, and jumping of the jetty at Ngakuta Bay stands out to him. He still likes going back to the area, though he does not get to return as often as he would like.
‘‘In the school holidays I take the kids to see their grandparents: that’s the good thing about the holidays,’’ he says.
Jon Baxter with the birthday cake for Wellington’s 150th anniversary party.