Weta Workshop Building
Image courtesy of Weta Workshop (c)

The Window on Workshop Tour is very popular, you are promised a look behind the scenes to see how things are developed and created. Tours sell out fast so it is recommended you book, especially during the school holidays.

Our tour began as our guide, a young lady working for Weta in their sculpture department, led us around the side of the building into a small room that held a few items that represented the things Weta does. She asked if there were many foreign visitors in the group and it turned out we have one British family and several groups of American visitors. One worked at the Disney Imaginarium which sounded really cool and impressive!

Joining the Weta Workshop Tour

Entering the Workshop exhibition space our guide described how many of the weapons used in the films are made including modelling, and often casting using an cheap form of rubbery stuff to cast lots of ray guns for extras to use in District 9, Avatar etc., As our guide spoke my eyes never stopped moving as the walls were packed with weapons and pictures from the related films.  One of the most inventive weapons creators is the imaginative Greg Broadmore, mastermind behind Dr. Grordbort. It seems that casting weaponry is easier than using a 3-d printer, they are tougher and more durable.

We then moved on to an area wherethe face models for the prosthetics were stored. We saw plaster casts (head/shoulders) of Andy Serkis, and Bernard Hill as King Theoden, and Ian Holm the original Hobbit. There is a plaster cast of everyone in the films and you can tell who didn’t like having the cast made – their faces are creased in dislike! These models or ‘busts’ have been used to make the very fine rubber prosthetics used as part of the elaborate make up for the dwarves and characters who definitely don’t look like they belong on our earth. They were able to return to Iam Holm’s earlier cast to make him a ‘younger’ prosthetic for The Hobbit.

Where Creatives work on the Weta Workshop Tour

We saw a mock up of what one of the designers desks would look like. Apparently the computer designers ar seen as the rock stars of the creative Weta World, although we were impressed by the amazing skills of those who worked purely with their hands modelling and sculpting ourselves and know we would love working there.

All around us, as we walked, we saw genuine pieces from the films Weta has worked on, and also a superb model from District 9 which was not used in the film, a last moment decision by the director – apparently it didn’t serve its purpose and his intention in the film – it is over 9 feet tall!  The sudden loss of removal of something from a film seems is common for the creatives – they develop work and propose ideas – but the final say is always with the film director.

We saw the workroom of the armourer who makes the real swords used (rarely) in the films. Why rarely? Well, it seems they are not only beautiful to look at but very heavy to wield in action.  We were told the story of Vigo Mortensen, Aragorn, when he was shooting Lord of the Rings. Apparently he insisted on keeping his (real) sword with him at all times. This caused much consternation to the local police officers when he had a meal in restaurants.

We saw into the weapon making studio where one guy makes all the cast models of swords and other weaponry. He has an amazing machine, adapted from the motor vehicle industry, that does heaps of amazing things to make his life easier. It really does look space age all by itself and is a very effective 3D printer.

We then turned to look at the chainmaille as made by the Weta artisans. We were shown a somple of genuine chainmaille used in armour – it is very heavy and wearing a quit of this stuff would wear you out in no time, so they use larger rings made from aluminium (I think it was?) lighter, and much more easy to assemble. There was a montage of different maille types on the wall and the rungs used are much easier to assemble, they don’t need mum’s ring opener and pliers here 🙂 This absorbed Mum for  quite some time as there were a variety of different weaves and constructions on display.

Our guide them showed us some of the prosthetics made for the dwarves with a sample of Thorin’s ‘arm’ she handed round. It was about the size of a hand; very thick and astonishingly heavy! How did those actors kitted up in prosthetic make up including body parts (!)  on top of their own.

Meeting the Model Makers on the Weta Workshop Tour

To finish up, our guide introduced us to one of the model makers who uses all sorts of odd and wonderful things to create models from a director’s concept or ideas – usually working from some inspirational images the director provides. The creative we watched was working on small model ideas for the new Thunderbirds film. She also made a comment I found interesting. If a model maker feels they lose sight of what they are doing or seeing, the model can be spray painted into a solid colour, such as gray, so the pieces it is made of are masked and become one solid entity – this gives a view of the ‘shape’ not the assemblage of odd little items.

To show how widely Weta’s talents are seen and used we saw some sculptures and art works before we left, including a commission from one designer that the space age machine had sculpted super life size from a 30cm (1ft) high model!  Finally, I saw one of my fave pieces – a genuine life size model of Netiri from Avatar (oh boy – TALL!)

It was a huge privilege to be guided around some of Weta’s treasures and see how things are begin, finished or made in a variety of forms for different tasks in movies.

I hope you enjoyed your visit with us to Weta. If you are ever in Wellington – book a visit and enjoy a real treat. I’m only sorry I was not able to decorate my special visit with pictures, oh boy could I have shown you some treats, but, we had to respect the Weta folks wishes * sigh *

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