Today was a Lord of the Rings-filled day in Miramar, where I explored some of the same areas that I had seen in the behind-the-scenes interviews on the LOTR extended editions. Talk about surreal… and it also helped me remember the main reason I moved to NZ in the first place. My passion and geekery for LOTR will probably never fade (yeah, I’ll eventually get my Elvish tattoo, but only when I make friends and get a job first), so it was the perfect remedy to me getting down on myself for being a so-called failure with the job hunt out here.
Aside from yet again getting lost on the bus and having to pay a hefty sum because I apparently missed my stop (I thought I didn’t, since I knew where we were going, but it was just taking longer than normal), I made it safely to Weta Cave. Miramar was a beautiful change from always being downtown, since it’s definitely more of a family/residential community– really tiny and full of schools on almost every corner. Every street was so quiet, though; could be because I visited on a weekday, but all I really heard were the birds chirping. It was so beautiful and sunny with blue skies, so it was an amazing day to see all the Weta buildings as well. I can definitely see why Wellingtonians don’t like Auckland, since the rolling green hills and trees that line the backdrop of every direction really make it hard to grasp the city-like feel of Auckland. And because I absolutely despise city living, it’s always nice to get lost in the countryside/rural areas instead. I found the people to be much more lovely in Miramar than in downtown, too. Either that or I just bond better with older folk (probably because I’ve been encountering immature turds downtown).
I admit to geeking out when I got to Weka St., where the Weta Cave sat on the corner of. It’s so TINY but to see it in person was just so amazing! The cave wasn’t always here, since it was built as a tourist attraction. Othwerise, tourists can’t even go inside the Weta buildings (which look like large white warehouses or school buildings). The giant, scale models of the three trolls from The Hobbit were outside the Cave and looking ever so friendly.
The funniest part was recognizing a guy from LinkedIn who is a tour guide for Wellington Rover Movie Tours. I had contacted a slew of Kiwis back when I was still in CA, and remembered his face when I saw him. We had a little chat and then went for coffee around the corner at The Larder along with another friend who was the biggest Doctor Who fan (she even owns her own jewelry store with Doctor Who-inspired items). It amazed me that I ran into him so randomly, but then again, I’m beginning to see how small Wellington truly is.
The Cave itself is probably about the size of a kitchen. Not that large, but definitely containing enough geeky items for any nerd to get all giddy over (and for any LOTR fan like myself, this was the coolest thing ever). Scale models of Gandalf, Gollum and Lurtz were there, along with all sorts of collector’s items: wall art, bookends, sculptures, weaponry replicas (holy cow, there really are people who pay $575+ for swords and shields), jewelry, plastic Weta bugs, copper Weta bugs, magnets, keychains, books, etc. The One Ring was $500 and the Evenstar (charm only) was $300. Quite glad I got both of those on Amazon for less than $50 combined (frugal nerd)… and my Evenstar glows in the dark, unlike the ones here. 😉
There were all sorts of displays, like models from District 9, The Lovely Bones, DOTA 2, Avatar, etc.– so not just LOTR. The cool thing about the atmosphere was that it was designed to look like a cave (obviously), and I loved the overhanging framed art that was on the ceiling. Definitely an artist’s creative haven/heaven. To me, this kind of thing even blew Pixar out of the water. It’s more down-to-earth, grungy, and intimate than any corporate type of thing, which is more my speed. Plus, the fact that it’s freakin’ Weta… yeah, I’d definitely die to work here. I realized that the company combines my passions in life, which is probably why I admire and respect it so much: film and production, creativity/design, visual effects (I can’t work Maya or any of those programs but I’ve always loved seeing how VFX artists do their thing) and art… the only thing it needs is its own record label and it’s perfection.
There was also a separate area for the mini museum that was attached to the cave. It showcased miniature models of figurines from various films as well as more glass-cased displays of actual hobbit feet, materials a Wetanarian uses, Legolas’ bow and arrow, armour from Narnia, etc. I ended up caving (no pun intended) and just doing the $20 Window into Workshop tour (and I’m glad I did, since I can always go multiple times with other people anyway) because I was already there.
Kimmie was our tour guide for 45 min for Window into Workshop, which is next door to the Cave (and the entire adjacent buildings are Weta Workshop). Mo and Kelly both know her (who don’t they know); the other guide is Matt, the one I did the haunted house with, so I was sad we didn’t get him but Kimmie was amazing too. She’s a Weta technician (basically meaning she does everything- armour, mithril, chain maille, props, etc.). She said she got hired when she went to a special event at The Roxy (upscale tiny theater that PJ owns, down the street from Weta Cave) and Richard Taylor chatted with her and told her to come to the Cave; he actually offered her a job by the end of the night since he knew she was from Auckland rather than Wellington. How legit is that?! A similar hiring thing happened with Matt, who told me his similar story at the Weta Halloween party. These tours only started in Dec. 2012, so it’s really neat to have done it.
Moral of this tour: Nothing is as it seems in the film. We were shown actual props from District 9, Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Tin-Tin, The WotWots, Chronicles of Narnia, Halo, and a slew of other films I didn’t know much about. She first talked about how a gun is made (one from District 9 was shown), from the replica stage to the molding. I was blown away by how much work is involved– I already had an idea from all the behind-the-scenes documentaries but nothing like hearing it in person and behind the scenes.
The workshop area that houses the tour is actually really small (probably about the size of Sleeping Beauty Pavilion but a lot more cramped). We were shown actual scale models of the armour and weaponry. The Sauron armour suit was about 7 ft tall (supposed to come off as 14 ft tall in the films but they obviously couldn’t build one that large) and she showed us how the hands were just rubber kitchen gloves made to look spiky and dangerous, the armour was plastic, the headpiece was plastic, etc. The spikes were styrofoam and bent when she touched them, hahaha. They did build a metal suit but it was only shown in the films for split seconds. Same with the chain maille- we got to hold the heavy metal versions versus the plastic versions, and obviously they made the plastic versions since they’re much lighter than the metal ones (and easier for the actors to wear when they have to run up and down hills for 20 takes). There were only two guys who worked on the chain maille, having to link a crazy statistic of chains together for the cast (especially since mutiple versions are made for each, much like how 28 versions of a prop can be made). Their fingertips were worn off since they couldn’t wear gloves… sounds like such a physically laborious job.
There were also castings for each actor’s head in order to fit their armour and prosethetics accordingly. She explained how they were actual replicas and sizes of their faces; Elijah’s (eep), Ian Holm’s, Bernard Hill’s, and Andy Serkis’ were shown. Soooo cool. I have a much bigger head than Elijah.
There was this huge scary-looking demonic white fluffy bunny that was massive– Kimmie said it’s pretty old and the stonach fur rubbed off since people would keep touching it as they walked by. Richard Taylor would ocassionally hide in the bunny to scare an unsuspecting Wetanarian at times, which is awesome. Working in props must be a hoot.
She also showed us this huge tank built for Halo, which was never used except in a live-action short. Apparently about 60 designers worked on it under a tight deadline of six weeks or so; it runs and everything. It looked like a huge army tank with all the details down to a T. We could also see into some other rooms including the CNC room, where a guy was standing on some large wooden board at the time. Kimmie mentioned that he is the lead engineer but has never studied a day of engineering in his life– it was his side hobby that became his profession. He’s literally a master in the field now but just doesn’t have a paper to prove it. So insanely amazing! He comes to work on the weekends (unpaid) just to tinker with the machines that he built and continuously improve them. Almost everyone who works at Weta is living their dream because they get to do what they love and play around as well. It definitely entails intense hours and lots of deadlines, but the work environment couldn’t be any cooler than this.
We also got to hold the pieces of the prosthetics that are used to paint on scars, fake noses, etc. “Imagine wearing this on your face….” Ugh, it looked like a thinner slice of tofu. I can’t even imagine how itchy and bad that must be as an actor. Kimmie mentioned that a typical filming day is about 12 hours of filming, 4 hours to get ready with prosthetics, makeup, suited up with costuming, and then about 2 hours to undress. There was also a scale model of Lurtz (played by Lawrence Makaorae, which I probably spelled wrong). He’s about 6’7″ in real life, but he’s Samoan and such a wide-framed guy that Lurtz looks huge. She talked about how it took 10 hours for the Workshop crew to hand-paste each prosthetic piece of muscle for him in the scene where he is born in The Two Towers– that’s more hours in a day, since half the day was already gone by the time they could film him. They couldn’t CG in the muscle movements since it wouldn’t capture or be realistic, which is why they had to hand-glue each prosthetic piece to his body. I think all of us on the tour were just staring with our mouths open at this point. She also showed us one of the models of King Kong, in which thousands of real gorilla hair were individually (INDIVIDUALLY?! I don’t have the patience for that) glued in. There were also a lot of other LOTR props/armour scattered about, like the prosthetics used for the Witch King in Fellowship, Rohan armour, helmets for Helms Deep, etc. Most of the things shown in the tour were the ones shot in the film, so everything seemed so much smaller in real life 😉 She also mentioned that the Workshop team is currently working on a confidential 2015 fantasy film– lots of armor, weaponry, etc. being built. The team is currently up to about 90 (they hired a lot more since she said it used to only be about 65).
I also watched the Weta Cave-exclusive 30-min. documentary (it was enclosed in another cave-like room that seated about 20… everything is so tiny here, man), which gave me chills. Yes, it was that good and inspiring. It basically debriefed Weta’s history and gave more insight into how Peter, Jamie and Richard/Tania co-founded Weta through their passion for filmmaking and creating things with their hands. Weta Workshop eventually evolved into being 11 different teams now, including Weta Digital and Park Road Post Productions. All sorts of clips from films were shown and it detailed all the various projects the team has taken on, including some I had no idea Weta was even a part of, such as Avatar, The Avengers, Hellboy, etc (well, I did remember screaming in the end credits of Iron Man 3 when we saw “Weta Workshop” credited). I got quite excited when I saw two of the girls who were part of the scare team for the Weta Halloween party in the documentary, as well… it’s really neat to be able to say, “Hey, I know them!” And to think, I can now proudly point out three people (or actually, a whole slew by the time I get to know Weta people more) whose names will be in the end credits for The Hobbit 2 and 3 🙂 I felt my mouth hanging open almost the entire time when I was watching it, since it was so cool to see even more about how Weta came about and how the team is comprised of the most talented, best of the best.
I meandered around Park Rd. and Stone St. (featured in the extended edition DVDs, so I couldn’t pass up a chance to walk along them) afterward, since the only time I had seen stuff was at night when Mo picked me up from the airport. Half the Weta buildings look like run-down white warehouses with no markings. I even passed by Park Road Post Productions, which is the last stage of film editing once everything is done on the Digi/Workshop side of things. It looks like Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa from the outside (the inside too), and I stupidly went inside just to ask if I could take photos of the inside lobby (obviously not). Everyone always says that no one drives nice cars in NZ since no one cares, but there were definitely a handful of fancy cars parked outside this building, and for good reason. It’s across from these crappy-looking warehouses with big signs on them, so it totally looks out of place. Stone St. is home to the studio stages and green screens (you can see the greenscreeens where they shot Weathertop, etc.). TOTALLY geeked out. Kelly mentioned that she helped to paint Rivendell on these sets, since this is where she started out. Even though I couldn’t go into any of these buildings, just standing outside and looking at the vastness of the greenscreens and buildings was cool enough (it’s crazy to know that the cast and crew have been up and down these same streets to film and get things situated).
I lunched at The Roxy (Coco Restaurant & Cafe inside the theater), which is a beautiful 20s theater that Peter Jackson bought out in order to screen special films in Miramar. It’s basically the prime entertainment spot for people in Miramar (aside from Weta and The Roxy, there isn’t a whole lot to do except walk in neighborhoods and take in the pretty view of rolling hills). Everything in the theater was built by Weta Workshop (the sculptures, archways, artwork) and Mo said that when a new film premieres, they feature art displays from that film in the theater. Some of the tanks he worked on for a film were in the theater– so cool! The upstairs area of the theater reminded me of The Great Gatsby– so large and filled with fancy furniture and plants to give it the classy 20s feel. There’s a Gandalf statue outside the theater, as well. 🙂 I was glad that my scone and ham turkish sandwich actually tasted GOOD for once.
I ended up running into another tour guide that I had contacted on LinkedIn later in the day when grocery shopping, too (New World is right next to the Stone St. studios, which is hilarious to me. They could have filmed all these crucial scenes for LOTR and passerbys could probably hear but just not see). He came up to me and we started chatting- it’s such a small world out here, since everyone knows everyone. Social media can be a good thing 🙂
Overall, I love Miramar. I’m so glad I took the day to remember why NZ really has been a place I’ve always wanted to visit since I was 12… everything LOTR-related was worth seeing and experiencing. The fact that Mo and Kelly have all these Weta connections is quite possibly the best icing on the cake, too.