Ataahua writes: The New Zealand news magazine TV show, Sunday, had an interview with Weta’s Richard Taylor just two days after the academy awards. Among the revelations were why Richard mentioned onstage at the Oscars the present he gave to his wife of the two live rats, who his favourite LOTR creature is, and why it is such a good thing to be a left-handed person in New Zealand.
Reporter Mark Chrysel: (voice-over) All-conquering Weta Workshop is back on the job, knee-deep in a giant gorilla and a lion you can ride on. (To Taylor) Is that (the Academy Awards) the pinacle? Is it the end for Lord of the Rings?
Richard: Yes I do think ultimately it is. When your name is called out (at the Academy Awards), you feel sick. The worst fear is tripping on the stairs, funnily enough, or falling off the edge of the bloody stage.
Mark: So here you are, you’ve just one an Oscar, you go up on the stage and you thank all those people, and then you talk about giving rats to your wife. What was all that about?
Richard: It isn’t about the win if you like, it’s about the 16 years of working career and the 22 years of relationship that I’ve been in that’s allowed me to get to that point. That was important, that it touched Tania at a very personal level. And it has literally been since the day that she accepted a present from a spotty brace-faced 13-year-old boy that happened to knock on her front door, that had seen a photo of her in a boarding school and had travelled down on the bus, and accepted two live pet rats, that the bond was forged. At 15 we sat on a hay bail in a hay barn and discussed owning a workshop, and moved on from that point. She looks after the business side of Weta and it was an attempt to reach out and touch her in the audience and say, ‘Cheers mate, good effort and thanks for coming along for the ride’.
Mark: Are you over the Rings now? Have you had enough?
Richard: Uh, yep. I have as much as Peter has new worlds in his mind. He’s left Middle-earth. He’s firmly jumped onto Skull Island and ready to hunt large apes, and I want to follow that road. So seven years of Lord of the Rings, it’s a big chunk of career. At no point did it become unpleasant, that we didn’t want to do it, but there’s other stories to be told now. Hopefully one day The Hobbit may be one of those stories.
Mark: (Voice over) The worlds being created by Weta Workshop go beyond Middle-earth. They made 1700 weapons for The Last Samurai, minature ships for Master and Commander, and work has begun on The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – being made here by a Kiwi, Andrew Adamson. And of course there’s a 40,000 pound gorilla sitting on their back: a remake of one of cinema’s great classics. We’re allowed a quick look around Weta Workshop but there’s only so much we’re allowed to see because of Weta’s next big project. [Here we saw an awesome, though small, marquet of King Kong, enraged, alongside a large branch.] (To Richard) It must be lots of fun doing this.
Richard: Oh look, this is wild. We’re possibly the luckiest people on the planet. We’ve got to make a hobby into a career and we haven’t gathered technicians around us, we’ve gathered workmates around us: a bunch of people that just love making things and you ultimately couldn’t hope for better than that.
Mark: Why all the secrecy at the moment?
Richard: Confidentiality is simple: for one the client has asked it but more importantly cinema should be a journey of discovery. I annoys me that so much is revealed in these stories when you should go to the cinema, sit in the dark and go on that journey, and everything should be exciting and new.
Mark: Somewhere within the confines of Weta is a huge gorilla waiting to break out.
Richard: Well, potentially…
Mark: How are you going to do it? How are you going to make this gorilla look real?
Richard: Well, that would be telling.
Mark: Because it is quite amazing to the movie-goer. Some of the things you’ve made look real. I’ve had an eight-year-old boy ask me to ask you if the oliphaunts were real. So are they real?
Richard: Well yeah, in our imagination of course.
Mark: Are they real to you?
Richard: Oh certainly real. If we can’t visualise them as real breathing living creatures running around in our back yards, they’ll never look real for the audience. Just because it’s done in a computer, to me, doesn’t make it any less real. They’re still being created by these [indicates his hands] and by someone’s intelligence. Therefore they’re equally as magical.
Mark: Do you have a favourite then….
Mark: Out of all those creatures that you’ve created, who’s your favourite?
Richard: Lurtz, without question. I love the character that Lawrence Makaore played. The only way I can describe him is when you grow older there are no boogie monsters under the bed who are going to bite your ankles, there are no martians with phaser guns that are going to zap you in the dark. The only things that are scary in the real world is real humans, and into the Uruk-hai we tried to blend in very, very carefully a cross-section of what is the evil in humans: the rougish, bullyish characters that we come across occasionally in life. And Lawrence, with his incredible acting ability, wove that character into the menacing, maniacal character that is Lurtz, the mighty fighting Uruk-hai. And I think of all the characters, he pleases me the most.
Mark: (Voice over) It’s been a 20-year road trip for Richard Taylor and Peter Jackson, which has taken them to the top of tinsel town. They met on the set of an insurance commercial. Their first movies together were the Kiwi DIY splatter classics Meet the Feebles and Brain Dead. (To Richard) Do you ever miss the simplicity of those days?
Richard: Yeah greatly, greatly; when I was on the workshop floor building the stuff myself all the time. I still get a little bit of hands-on but of course when you’ve got 158 technicians alongside you need to manage them and art-direct them. It overrides the ability to have that hands-on experience and there is delight in being in thick of it, making and creating. But you’ve resolved it in your mind that in turn we have a role that is different but no less enjoyable. We’re seeing this incredible group of talented young individuals, most of them New Zealanders, get to weild their mighty talents and in turn create the wonders that we’ve seen on the screen.
Mark: You see what concerns me is that you all seem so nice, you all thank the right people on the night, say the right things, but there’s got to be some dirt there somewhere Richard. What are you hiding? There’s got to be something.
Richard: Um, hmmm, only under my fingernails.
Mark: You and Peter: big fights?
Richard: No. I might be corrected by someone in the long distant past of my working career but I believe I’m yet to raise my voice in the workshop after 15 years in business. I certainly don’t believe I’ve ever sworn at anyone. I’ve only ever heard Peter use a swear word twice on set.
Mark: Very last question, I promise you, but I was reading recently, at some times in Weta, 80% of the people that have worked for you have been left-handed.
Richard: Mmm, that’s correct.
Mark: What’s the story?
Richard: Well, and a phenomenal percentage have been from rural parts of New Zealand, and a great percentage have been south of Christchurch! The creativity that we found from people who have grown up around the bottom part of the South Island is incredible. I look at the story of (New Zealander) Richard Pierce. So much is lost in the argument: ‘Did Richard Pierce fly before or after the Wright Brothers?’ Who really cares? The Wright Brothers flew because they were a well-funded aeronautically-minded, interacting with an aeronautic community, couple of guys. This farmer’s son (Pierce) work up in the bottom of the South Island and decided one day he would build a plane, and he did. That’s the true story of Richard Pierce and that’s the true story of New Zealand.