CLAS Alumni Fellow, visual effects producer David Conley leaves big impact on Cinematic Arts, CLAS

Friday, November 3, 2017 - 4:00pm
david conley

David Conley (BA 1990) is Executive Visual Effects Producer at New Zealand-based Weta Digital, one of the world’s premier visual effects companies, founded by the renowned New Zealand director Sir Peter Jackson. This puts him at the heart of such acclaimed films as Valerian, Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes, and the Hobbit 2 & 3, in addition to the Academy Award-winning Life of Pi and other cinematic masterworks.

In October 2017, however, Conley was working with a different group of excellent filmmakers, animators, artists, and scholars: students and faculty in the Department of Cinematic Arts, the School of Art and Art History, and other departments throughout the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Conley came to the UI campus as a CLAS Alumni Fellow, in recognition of his professional achievements. During the course of three days, he participated in two masterclass-like interactive sessions with undergraduate and graduate students about careers in visual effects and the art of cinematic visual effects; met with faculty; and held a public conversation before a packed house with Cinematic Arts Chair and Associate Professor Paula Amad.

 Amad said the chance to host such a distinguished alumnus and artist had far-reaching benefits for her department and the university.

"David Conley’s visit allowed faculty and students from the Department of Cinematic Arts and beyond to learn from a distinguished UI alumnus who, as the Executive Producer for Weta Digital, is at the cutting edge of the visual effects industry in global cinema," Amad said. "During the course of three presentations, David shared his highly specialized and expert knowledge, along with career advice and inspirational stories of working with major award-winning film directors like Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg. It was especially gratifying to hear a leader in the tech-heavy visual effects industry caution students interested in careers in cinema against narrowly focusing on technology, instead encouraging them to embrace the life-long benefits of all that a liberal arts and science education offers, such as critical reading, writing, and thinking skills and a broad cultural, scientific, and artistic knowledge."

Jake Calomino, a fourth-year Cinema major from Lansing, Illinois, seconded Amad's appreciation for the visit.

"Having the opportunity to learn from and interact with David Conley was an honor," Calomino said. "As an undergraduate student, I found it extremely motivating to hear from David that his skills in close reading, watching films, and writing have been fundamental to his success in the film industry and his ability to work with other filmmakers at such a professional level. Also, David explained how much fun he has making films, even through all of the hard work it takes to do what he does. Hearing this from someone working at the highest level of creative work in cinema, as well as the business side of cinema, was reassuring to me that I am in the right field of study.” 

david conley talk

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Alumni Fellows program, established in 1999, formally recognizes College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduates or former students for their outstanding contributions to society, their professions, the college, and the University of Iowa. The program is made possible by funds from the UI Alumni Association Dean’s Chair in the Liberal Arts and Sciences.