Earlier this morning I was allowed access to the coolest place on earth, WETA Workshop. Located in a non-descript area of Wellington near the airport, this small groupings of offices and warehouses has produced some of the best practical and special effects seen in this century (and the last one too). Not only that, but it is also a digial studio, miniatures unit, production facility and more. If you’ve seen, held, or heard anything from Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Narnia and a few other films in the last few years, chances are it was made here.
My tour began with a meet and greet with Richard Taylor. Richard gave us a detailed background of WETA. From its humble beginnings to the huge powerhouse operation it is today, Richard outlined it all for us. The conference room at WETA HQ is most likely the most ‘polished’ place on the complex. It is filled wall to wall with photos, plaques and awards on one side, and the other side is full of WETA Collectible statues, busts and figures. One shelf in particular holds 5 golden Oscars that Richard proudly displays for all guests. He promptly took them out for us and passed them around. Richard was kind to take time out of his busy schedule (two cell phones that kept ringing) and was not short on words detailing their work on King Kong as well as LOTR and Narnia, easiest the three biggest projects they have taken on so far.
The details that went into the Skull Island people was so complexe that I felt I was listening to an anthropolgy course about real natives than a film production house. Richard and his team really work on these characters from the ground up to make sure they seem believeable to the movie going public.
We were next shown the WETA showreel. This, I assume, is shown to producers or toymakers or any sort of suit who need a quick demo of what WETA can do. All the ‘money’ shots from the LOTR Trilogy, King Kong and Narnia was seen on this video. We were given a great DVD copy to take home and enjoy as well.
Next we were introduced to an old friend of any TORN regular, Daniel Falconer. Daniel took us on the rest of the WETA tours. After saying goodbye to Richard we headed down into the main complex of the building that housed the metalworkers, leather area, paint, sculpt, models and more. The folks at WETA seem to pride themselves that they are still very down to earth, which in itself is kiwi philosophy. You can tell by walking around the complex that they don’t like to pamper themselves with things that will only get in the way of their work. However you can also see how proud they are of some of the major work they’ve accomplished. All along the buildings there are props, art and photos from earlier work. Swords and other weapons, maquettes, paintings, models, clothing, along every hallway and around every corner. I got the feeling they use it to inspire themselves to achieve even better and higher quality of work.
These days the team seems to be in between major projects. The buildings were not that busy today. Daniel assured us that during LOTR production people were working 24/7 on models, props and other things. Today we saw some great Narnia bookends they plan to have out by Christmas. We also saw one of the Venture ‘bigatures’ alongside a corsair ship being repaired for the grand opening at the Te Papa museum (It seemed very surreal to see those two together). There were also a few smaller jobs being worked on like a plane wing model and some sculpt work for a children’s feature.
WETA‘s latest pride and joy is a new computer animated feature called ‘Jane and the Dragon’. Canadian fans can currently see season one on YTV. We were given a tour of the digital studio they use to create the show, as well as the ‘mo-cap’ stage where they shoot the main characters. (Think of an entire show being made the same way they made Gollum and King Kong with Andy Serkis). We were then privy to a special few minutes of an as-yet unfinished episode of the show. I have seen the show on YTV before back home and think it’s a great show for kids. You can tell the folks at WETA are very proud of it.
That led us back to the main offices where we started. It really went WAY too fast and I know the folks with me and my wife wanted to hang out a bit more just to smell that air of creativity around the place.
I know a TON of fans have made the trek to Camerdown Street to see the studio and only managed to get a shot of the front door, so I feel extreemly lucky to be able to get down here and see a place I have only read about for years. Thanks to Richard Taylor and Daniel Falconer for the tour and special thanks to UBISOFT for the trip!