Welcome to our Weta Cave visit where we explore the amazing treasures that the public can see, the fabulous shop and then our exciting report on the famous Weta Workshop Tour and a look at Gandalf’s Eagles in Wellington Airport.
The luxurious panelled shop
Everything is beautifully presented, check out the map cabinet below, there are lots of samples you can handle too, including weapons from District 9.
The substantial glass cabinet in the picture below divides the large room in two, and there is a lot of glowing old fashioned wood with wall space for dramatic weaponry; plus there are miniatures and books. Films such as Tintin, District 9, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit all had major contributions from Weta and all are represented here.
The work in the two figures is superb, you must visit if you are ever in Wellington to see the quality of Weta workmanship. Both were popular and plenty of people wanted a picture of themselves being scared by Lurtz!
The staff are helpful and informed, dealing efficiently with a customer turns up and their phone is the only proof they booked on a Window into Weta Tour (this takes even longer to process in than a paper form!).
They remain calm despite an amazing goblin leaping out above their heads which is just so cool. It’s easy to get used to the craggy drama of the walls.
The Weta space caters for the fans from super budget to super rich. You can have a genuine Hobbit sword handmade by Weta – sharpened to perfection and ready to slay goblins, or buy a piece of dwarf gold!
The coins are heavy and very large and you could not run fast from Smaug’s lair with a pocket full of those!
The only downside to Weta Cave shop is that we believe it’s too small for the crowds that visit – it is full of magic and wonderful things, such as the superb costume of ‘armour’ with faux chain maille, signed copies of books, and models. Plans for expanding the shop were in hand when we visited.
The outside of the shop is a bit of a show stopper as we saw last week and you trace your way back out of the door to the Window on Weta Workshop Tour.
A Window on Weta Workshop Tour Report
The Window on Weta Workshop Tour is very popular. You get a look behind the scenes to see how things develop and created. Tours sell out fast so fast that we recommend you book, especially during the school holidays.
I went with my partner and our tour began as our guide, a young lady who works in the Weta sculpture department, led us around the side of the building and we entered a small room that held a few items that represented the skills and artistry of Weta.
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.
As we enter the Workshop exhibition space, our guide shows us how many of the weapons used in the films Weta has worked on. These are often cast using a cheap form of rubbery material. The rubbery stuff is used to cast lots of ray guns for extras to use in films like District 9 and Avatar.
As our guide spoke my eyes never stopped moving. The walls were covered with weapons and pictures that related to the films. One of the most inventive weapons creators is Greg Broadmore. He is the mastermind behind Dr Grordbort.
We were told that casting weaponry is easier than using a 3-d printer. The weapons are tougher and more durable.
We then moved on to an area where the face models for the prosthetics were stored. We saw plaster casts (head/shoulders) of Andy Serkis, Bernard Hill as King Theoden, and Ian Holm, the original Hobbit. There is a plaster cast of everycast member in the Hobbit movie.
Our guide then showed us some of the prosthetics made for the dwarves in The Hobbit. The sample of Thorin’s ‘arm’ she handed round was about the size of a hand; very thick and heavy!
- Our guide told us that you can tell who disliked the casting process because their faces are creased in dislike
These models or ‘busts’ have been used to make very fine rubber prosthetics. These are used as part of the elaborate makeup for the dwarves and serve as models for other characters who definitely don’t belong on earth.
Where the Creatives work
We saw a mock up of what a designer’s desks would look like. Apparently, the computer designers are seen as the rock stars of the creative Weta World. The skills of the tech creatives are amazing although we decided we loved those who worked purely with their hands modelling and sculpting.
All around us, as we walked, we saw genuine pieces from the films Weta has worked on. I noticed a superb model from District 9 which was not used in the film. Sadly this was a last moment decision by the director because it didn’t serve its purpose and his intention in the film.
As the model is over 9 feet tall we still were impressed. The sudden loss of removal of something from a film is a common hazard for creatives. They develop work and propose ideas – but the final say is always with the film director.
Armourers at Work
We visited 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. No actor has toe strength to wave one about for long.
Do you know the story of Vigo Mortensen, Aragorn? When he was shooting Lord of the Rings. He insisted on keeping his (real) sword with him at all times. This caused much consternation to the local police when he had a meal in restaurants.
We saw into the weapon making studio where one man makes 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.
We then turned to look at the chain maille as made by the Weta artisans. We were shown a sample of genuine chain maille used in armour – it is very heavy and were told that wearing a suit of this stuff would exhaust you . So they use larger rings made from aluminiumwhich is very light, and much easier to assemble.
There were a variety of different weaves and constructions on display and I noticed that the rings used are much easier to assemble, they don’t need the usual ring opener and pliers here.
Meeting the Model Makers
To finish, our guide introduced us to model makers who used all sorts of odd things to create models. The maker would work from a director’s concept or ideas. Usually working from images the director provides. The creative we watched was working on small model ideas for the new Thunderbirds film.
Our guide also made a comment I found interesting. If a model maker feels they are losing sight of what they are doing or seeing, the model can be spray painted into a solid colour, such as grey. The pieces become one solid entity – this gives a view of a ‘shape’ not the collection of odd little items.
Gandalf and the Eagles
One of the most amazing memories on the Hobbit films is the rescue by the Eagles of Bilbo and his dwarf friends. The Eagles appeared in Wellington Airport and I report on them now.
Gandalf’s Eagles Are They Safe Up There?
The eagles soar above the arrivals and departures lounge in Wellington airport and only the grumpiest of travellers could dislike the drama and sweeping sense of majesty as Gandalf flies with them into action.
It is so cool to be able to sit and sip a latte underneath those sweeping wings and pretend you are in mythical Middle-Earth.
The breathtaking sight has been designed and created by Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor and Workshop Supervisor Rob Gillies, and they compliment the huge Gollum statue already well established in the airport lounge.
Check out our Eagle stats:
- Weta created 1,000 feathers for the two flying eagles
- The longest of the feathers measure 2.6 yards or 2.4 metres
- Each bird has a wingspan of 15 metres or 16 yards
- The whole installation weighs nearly 2 tonnes
- Each bird is situated in the Main Terminal, suspended by 8 cables.
As many of our regular Twitter followers will know, Wellington and the North Island suffered a major quake of 6.3 on Monday the 20th of January 2014.
It was a shallow quake and aftershocks are expected although we didn’t feel any up until now. Mostly, it means things fell off shelves and walls have cracks in – nothing horrible! However………
The quake was strong enough to bring down one of the birds as these dramatic pictures show! Thankfully no-one was hurt by the falling feathers and claws but it must have been close.
The Costumes from the Hobbit
If you loved our Weta Report you can explore the marvellous detail in several of the dwarves, Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield costumes here