Portrait of Ryan Rogers in the Wellington Scenery.

Ryan Rogers moved from Los Angeles to Wellington for a job with Wētā FX, formerly Wētā Digital — then discovered that this was the city where he wanted to raise a family, be part of a community, and start a small business. And he’s not going anywhere.

The 43-year-old grew up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming — a small ski resort and mountain town. While studying graphic design at university in Utah, Ryan taught himself computer animation. He then worked in the film industry in LA for seven years.

Working in film, Ryan had naturally heard a lot about Wētā — and Wellington held an almost magical appeal for him. “I knew it was this very creative place where amazing work was getting done at the forefront of the film industry.” When the ‘Avatar’ movie came out, he realised he longed to work at Wētā, and landed a job there in 2011. Ryan would become lead lighting technical director for animation projects, overseeing a team of 12 to 15 people.

While it was work that beckoned him to Wellington, Ryan and his then-partner both wanted to experience living in a foreign country. They had heard a lot of good things about New Zealand and, in particular, Wellington. When they moved here with their son, the transition was pretty easy. They found the capital a welcoming place, and established a network of friends.

Two people stand on the rocky shoreline on the Southern Walkway in Wellington.

Island Bay Beach on Wellington’s south coast.

In LA you would pay big bucks to own a home a few blocks away from the ocean, with a sea view. But that’s exactly what Ryan has found in Island Bay. He enjoys walks on the beach, and the hiking, walking, and exploring in nature in and around Wellington.

For Ryan, the best thing about living in Wellington is being part of a tight-knit community. On his street, the neighbours know each other and often hang out together.

“Wellington feels like how things were when I was growing up in the 1980s. You could play in the street, go ride your bikes, and feel safe doing all that.”

Ryan’s work-life balance is better in Wellington than it was in LA. He has particularly noticed a difference in his commute times. “Wellington is like a big city in a small city — it’s compact but there’s lots going on.” Ryan enjoys the food scene, especially food festivals like Visa Wellington on a Plate and Beervana. And it’s a bonus that Wellington is New Zealand’s craft beer capital. Garage Project is a favourite brewery.

At the Garage Project Taproom, numerous beer tabs line the tiled wall as a server in a Garage Project t-shirt pulls a tap.

Garage Project is an independent New Zealand brewery based in Aro Valley, Wellington.

In 2018, Ryan set up his company Wilde Signs. Employing five others, the company makes bespoke signs for commercial and retail businesses and developments, from initial concept through to installation. Ryan had always wanted to own his own business and in Wellington, that felt feasible. The process was also straightforward, unlike in the US with the burdens of business licensing, health insurance and bureaucratic red tape. “Also, small businesses support each other quite well in Wellington, and there is a great entrepreneurial spirit.”

Wellington is home now. “I’ve put down roots, and this is the spot for me and my family.”