Upon arrival in Wellington we headed to “Weta Workshop” — we’d booked a tour, which we thought would focus on how Lord of the Rings was made. Some of us were more excited than others.
The two tours turned out to be less Hobbit-focused and more interesting than we’d expected. Weta Workshop makes props, costumes and models for movies and TV shows, including Narnia, LOTR, District 9 and others. The first tour showed us lots of examples of their work (including a full-size, laser-printed body cast of Matt Damon; animatronic zombie sheep; over-sized hand-sculpted silicon dwarf hands; and chain mail made by hand by two people for two years out of tiny loops of gardening hose) and explained their production processes. The second focused on a show called Thunderbirds — a remake of a 1960s favourite that now combines computer graphics with actual miniature models made from “model bashing” (literally raiding packages of old model cars and planes and trains from the 1960s and beyond to build sets), and “junk building” (components included juicers, springs and lids from ballpoint pens, lids etc.). We were amazed at how “old school” it all felt for such a successful place (we might say that about several of the towns we’ve visited here too), and how much is actually done by hand. They said that high resolution digital cameras are forcing them to ‘up their game’ since it’s harder to fool the audience than it used to be — so they’re doing more hand sculpting and painting etc. than you’d expect. With some 3D printing thrown in. Weren’t allowed to take many pictures, but you get the idea.