First graduates from TORO tech academy immediately get internships

By Trenton Doyle

By Trenton Doyle, Te Rito journalism cadet. Photo: Two graduates from the first intake of TORO Academy: Kody Kingi (left) and Terri Toxward (right).

The first 14 graduates from a te ao Māori-based 3D animation programme have secured internships at creative tech companies.

The lack of talent pipelines, combined with the rising demand for Māori in the creative industry, led to the establishment of the TORO Academy.

Kody Kingi's 'Space Māori' animation. Credit: Kody Kingi.

The 16-week pilot programme, based at the Mangakōtukutuku campus at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in Kirikiriroa, Hamilton, was sponsored by Callaghan Innovation and the Ministry for Business. 

The global 3D animation market is valued at $20 billion dollars, and in 10 years’ time, it’s predicted to more than double in size to $51 billion.

Giving games a te ao Māori upgrade. 

Kody Kingi and Terri Toxward are two of the TORO graduates who are keen for a slice of that pie.

Ngāti Maniapoto descendant Kingi says he was working at a Raglan recycling centre but “I just felt a bit lost. When the opportunity came up I was like,’ I'm doing that!’"

Stories from Whāingaroa (Raglan) are a big part of what influences Kingi’s mahi, such as Te Ātai o Rongo: “He's like a guardian of Whaingaroa and some representations of him are as a stingray,” he says.

Another graduate, Terri Toxward (Ngāti Kahungunu), says having a fully funded Māori-orientated programme was part of the attraction, as “being surrounded by a Māori environment really made a huge difference. The support and love was amazing."

'Such good role models'

One of Toxward’s final works, Fishception, “took three days and some long nights to finish. It was a short turnaround,” she says.

Despite the benefits of the programme, some students had to juggle work, study and whānau commitments, and lockdowns also made it difficult to commit to the course.

"I have a son, and he was my reason to keep going," Kingi says. "Whenever I was having a rough time at the course, I just personally wanted to provide for him in the future.”

Toxward says it was good to see Māori there and being “such good role models, and really inspiring with their stories and experiences in the industry”.

Terri Toxward's 'Fishception' animation. Credit: Terri Toxward.

Two Auckland-based creative tech companies, Staples VR and Disguise, were mentors originally but have since hired all graduates - key to TORO Academy’s success.

MBIE and Callaghan Innovation are looking to fund a second programme in Te Tai Rāwhiti next year.