His eye on the ball

New Zealand company Animation Research Limited is on the cutting edge of computer graphics production. And part of its forward-thinking team is 32-year-old Reece Witters — a Gisborne man who has turned the sporting world into a travel oyster in his job as a software operator for international cricket games, the European golf tour and Formula One. Gisborne Herald sports editor and fellow golf enthusiast Chris Taewa caught up with a man whose passport has more stamps than a rock star’s.

New Zealand company Animation Research Limited is on the cutting edge of computer graphics production. And part of its forward-thinking team is 32-year-old Reece Witters — a Gisborne man who has turned the sporting world into a travel oyster in his job as a software operator for international cricket games, the European golf tour and Formula One. Gisborne Herald sports editor and fellow golf enthusiast Chris Taewa caught up with a man whose passport has more stamps than a rock star’s.

VIRTUAL EYE: Gisborne’s Reece Witters prepares for the Ashes cricket test at Sydney Cricket Ground in 2014. Witters' job as a software operator for the Virtual Eye sports division of Animation Research Limited has taken him to more than 40 countries in the past few years.
BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE: Reece Witters on the fairways of the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland during the 2014 Ryder Cup.
Reece at the track.
Reece in the studio.
On tour.

REECE Witters isn’t sure how many countries he has been to in the past few years.

“I think it’s about 40, with more pending this year,” he told The Gisborne Herald from a hotel in Doha, Qatar.

He was there covering a European golf tour event for the Virtual Eye sports division of Dunedin-based company Animation Research Limited, owned by innovative Maori businessman Ian Taylor.

Witters, 32, is a software operator, and he provides the computer/digital images you see onscreen.

“In a nutshell, I travel to live events to deliver our graphics, which we are paid for by the broadcaster,” says the son of Ian Witters and Glenis Openshaw.

“We are a small piece, with regards to airtime of the final package, but important nonetheless. I work with and report to producers at events and operate our software live or ‘off tape’ to form part of the production.

“The engine behind the software is built and developed by extremely clever cookies in our Dunedin office. The guys that make me look good. I’m a storyteller using fancy software to illustrate small animations to add extra value to the production, which the live pictures cannot always show.”

On the road

The European Tour contract means Witters will be on the road for nearly seven months straight, an intense schedule he describes as “a dream come true”.

Witters loves his golf. A member of the Poverty Bay Golf Club, he describes himself as “a pro golfer trapped in the body of a single-figure player who regularly shanks the ball violently”.

So what better way to be inspired — and get paid at the same time — than watching those who do it best.

“The year ahead will see me deliver 34 tournaments for our company, which includes three majors and the Ryder Cup (Europe versus the United States in Minnesota in September/October).

“The one major we don’t go to is the Masters (currently on), which will remain on my bucket list until I make it to Augusta."

While he misses home and always looks forward to returning to see family and for a spot of golf and trout fishing (another passion), he won’t be too lonely overseas.

With him are two assistants, including younger brother Jimmy, who fill the role of “ball spotters”.

“While I’m stuck in the truck or cabin, these lads do the fun part — walking the fairways with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods, and marquee groupings, to swiftly give me GPS coordinates of their drives and ball positions for me to build the animations for the live TV production.

“They get a front row seat for the best drama any golf or sports fan could only imagine. As an 18-year-old fresh out of school, I don’t think anyone could be more excited than Jimmy.”

Gisborne born-and-bred

Gisborne born-and-bred, Witters went to Gisborne Boys’ High and King’s College, then followed “the scent of Speight’s” to Otago University.

That lasted a year. He headed to Auckland to study audio engineering then on to Wellington to do broadcasting before working his way into the radio industry, including club rugby commentaries and graveyard radio shifts. It led to a producer role with Radio Sport.

A year’s sabbatical saw him travel to Europe and work for the famous “Beige Brigade” — his easygoing and sociable personality making him a natural to lead tours to Black Caps and All Blacks games, among other cultural experiences such as Okotoberfest.

A stint with Radio Live Sport’s news desk back in New Zealand was followed by a creative role with an Auckland digital agency managing high-profile campaigns for the likes of Telecom and DB Breweries brands such as Tui, Monteith’s and Heineken. Among his wide range of duties were writing Tui billboards and bottle cap questions.

He continued sports writing and media freelance projects on the side — particularly golf — and while at a New Zealand golf open in Queenstown, he met Ian Taylor.

“Ian and I hit it off and not long after he offered me a job without an interview.”

Computer graphics in the America’s Cup

Virtual Eye is the sports division of Taylor’s Animation Research Ltd company many will be familiar with through its computer graphics used in the America’s Cup.

“This work dates back to 1990 but I believe we’ve actually worked on 30-plus sports.”

The company also created such TV commercials as the slalom-skiing penguin for Bluebird Chips and Air New Zealand’s flying seagulls.

Witters describes the company as a “culture of yes people” who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and have a “can’t see why not” attitude.

He has immense respect for Taylor, who he points out comes from the blink-and-miss-it settlement of Raupunga in northern Hawke’s Bay.

“He’s an inspiring leader with infectious drive and creative nous. He’s always talking about wanting to only work on things we like doing and that it’s all about giving young New Zealanders cool jobs. You can’t ask for much more in a boss than that.”

Focus on cricket

Witters’ focus shifted to cricket over summer, operating the ball-tracking software for the Decision Review System in Australia and New Zealand.

The role was far more intense pressure-wise, he said, but that eased with a few matches under his belt.

“I’m surrounded by a talented team of Virtual Eye operators so the pressure we feel is more of excitement from being part of such rad events.”

In recent years he has also worked on 26 consecutive Formula One grand prix races, an experience he said was “a bit of a blur but the time of my life”.

“In 2014 I took something like 150-plus flights and visited amazing cities all over the world. Tokyo, New York, Rio, Berlin, Budapest and Austin were highlights. I’ve actually lost count but I think I’ve visited about 40 countries.”

Along the way he has worked with some talented and famous people.

“Many of the presenters are ex-players with whom we get to work closely. With cricket and golf it’s particularly choice for me as I have had the opportunity to work with and meet many childhood heroes and famous people, who I saw on the telly growing up.”

Nothing, however, compares with home.

“I’ve been very lucky to visit some of the great cities of the world but one thing I have learned from my travels is that New Zealand is my favourite place on earth, and Gizzy is right up at the top.”

Witters is not sure what his future holds.

“But I do always dream of the fat and cunning trout lurking in the NZ rivers, and the delicious golf courses we’re spoilt with when I’m not here. So whatever it is, it’s hard to imagine these things not being part of my life.

“While we are a long way from the rest of the world, our attitude as an entire country has not held us back from doing innovative things on the world stage, so I’m sure that opportunities will be around when I decide to finally unpack my suitcase after a long stint on the road.”

REECE Witters isn’t sure how many countries he has been to in the past few years.

“I think it’s about 40, with more pending this year,” he told The Gisborne Herald from a hotel in Doha, Qatar.

He was there covering a European golf tour event for the Virtual Eye sports division of Dunedin-based company Animation Research Limited, owned by innovative Maori businessman Ian Taylor.

Witters, 32, is a software operator, and he provides the computer/digital images you see onscreen.

“In a nutshell, I travel to live events to deliver our graphics, which we are paid for by the broadcaster,” says the son of Ian Witters and Glenis Openshaw.

“We are a small piece, with regards to airtime of the final package, but important nonetheless. I work with and report to producers at events and operate our software live or ‘off tape’ to form part of the production.

“The engine behind the software is built and developed by extremely clever cookies in our Dunedin office. The guys that make me look good. I’m a storyteller using fancy software to illustrate small animations to add extra value to the production, which the live pictures cannot always show.”

On the road

The European Tour contract means Witters will be on the road for nearly seven months straight, an intense schedule he describes as “a dream come true”.

Witters loves his golf. A member of the Poverty Bay Golf Club, he describes himself as “a pro golfer trapped in the body of a single-figure player who regularly shanks the ball violently”.

So what better way to be inspired — and get paid at the same time — than watching those who do it best.

“The year ahead will see me deliver 34 tournaments for our company, which includes three majors and the Ryder Cup (Europe versus the United States in Minnesota in September/October).

“The one major we don’t go to is the Masters (currently on), which will remain on my bucket list until I make it to Augusta."

While he misses home and always looks forward to returning to see family and for a spot of golf and trout fishing (another passion), he won’t be too lonely overseas.

With him are two assistants, including younger brother Jimmy, who fill the role of “ball spotters”.

“While I’m stuck in the truck or cabin, these lads do the fun part — walking the fairways with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods, and marquee groupings, to swiftly give me GPS coordinates of their drives and ball positions for me to build the animations for the live TV production.

“They get a front row seat for the best drama any golf or sports fan could only imagine. As an 18-year-old fresh out of school, I don’t think anyone could be more excited than Jimmy.”

Gisborne born-and-bred

Gisborne born-and-bred, Witters went to Gisborne Boys’ High and King’s College, then followed “the scent of Speight’s” to Otago University.

That lasted a year. He headed to Auckland to study audio engineering then on to Wellington to do broadcasting before working his way into the radio industry, including club rugby commentaries and graveyard radio shifts. It led to a producer role with Radio Sport.

A year’s sabbatical saw him travel to Europe and work for the famous “Beige Brigade” — his easygoing and sociable personality making him a natural to lead tours to Black Caps and All Blacks games, among other cultural experiences such as Okotoberfest.

A stint with Radio Live Sport’s news desk back in New Zealand was followed by a creative role with an Auckland digital agency managing high-profile campaigns for the likes of Telecom and DB Breweries brands such as Tui, Monteith’s and Heineken. Among his wide range of duties were writing Tui billboards and bottle cap questions.

He continued sports writing and media freelance projects on the side — particularly golf — and while at a New Zealand golf open in Queenstown, he met Ian Taylor.

“Ian and I hit it off and not long after he offered me a job without an interview.”

Computer graphics in the America’s Cup

Virtual Eye is the sports division of Taylor’s Animation Research Ltd company many will be familiar with through its computer graphics used in the America’s Cup.

“This work dates back to 1990 but I believe we’ve actually worked on 30-plus sports.”

The company also created such TV commercials as the slalom-skiing penguin for Bluebird Chips and Air New Zealand’s flying seagulls.

Witters describes the company as a “culture of yes people” who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and have a “can’t see why not” attitude.

He has immense respect for Taylor, who he points out comes from the blink-and-miss-it settlement of Raupunga in northern Hawke’s Bay.

“He’s an inspiring leader with infectious drive and creative nous. He’s always talking about wanting to only work on things we like doing and that it’s all about giving young New Zealanders cool jobs. You can’t ask for much more in a boss than that.”

Focus on cricket

Witters’ focus shifted to cricket over summer, operating the ball-tracking software for the Decision Review System in Australia and New Zealand.

The role was far more intense pressure-wise, he said, but that eased with a few matches under his belt.

“I’m surrounded by a talented team of Virtual Eye operators so the pressure we feel is more of excitement from being part of such rad events.”

In recent years he has also worked on 26 consecutive Formula One grand prix races, an experience he said was “a bit of a blur but the time of my life”.

“In 2014 I took something like 150-plus flights and visited amazing cities all over the world. Tokyo, New York, Rio, Berlin, Budapest and Austin were highlights. I’ve actually lost count but I think I’ve visited about 40 countries.”

Along the way he has worked with some talented and famous people.

“Many of the presenters are ex-players with whom we get to work closely. With cricket and golf it’s particularly choice for me as I have had the opportunity to work with and meet many childhood heroes and famous people, who I saw on the telly growing up.”

Nothing, however, compares with home.

“I’ve been very lucky to visit some of the great cities of the world but one thing I have learned from my travels is that New Zealand is my favourite place on earth, and Gizzy is right up at the top.”

Witters is not sure what his future holds.

“But I do always dream of the fat and cunning trout lurking in the NZ rivers, and the delicious golf courses we’re spoilt with when I’m not here. So whatever it is, it’s hard to imagine these things not being part of my life.

“While we are a long way from the rest of the world, our attitude as an entire country has not held us back from doing innovative things on the world stage, so I’m sure that opportunities will be around when I decide to finally unpack my suitcase after a long stint on the road.”

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