The holiday party of a lifetime…

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Pictured: With the lovely flatmates (Kelly and Mo, both talented Wetanarians) and the main party/socializing area

Madness (in a good way): That’s putting it lightly to describe the Weta Digital holiday party (Dec. 7).

This was definitely the most insane, overwhelming, and themed (well, aside from Disney fluff) party that I’ve ever attended, especially since I’ve never been to a company-sponsored function like this before. I’m blessed beyond belief to have attended with my flatmates. Never in a million years would I have fathomed that I would be able to attend a holiday party of a company that I have so much respect and admiration for.

I’m going to refrain from comparing this to any Disney event, just because I could see pros and cons everywhere with a background in events. Overall, I enjoyed it far more than anything else I’ve ever been to since it was so different from the norm. Keep in mind that last year’s budget was about $1 mill. for about 1,700 people… and yes, poor Weta Workshop does get shirked since they don’t get an extravagant thing like this.

The party was held here at the New Zealand School of Dance in Newtown. We waited in a bit of a chilly line, but it luckily went pretty quickly. I felt pretty underdressed since the majority of girls had on full-blown makeup, five-inch heels, and really fancy dresses, whereas I went in flats, a plain black dress and a flower in my hair that made me look around 12.

The whole party was themed around the invitations, which were Russian passports. Russian guards were yelling at guests in Russian, asking for proof of passports before entering. I knew the party was going to be pretty well-themed, but not to this extent. As soon as we walked into the building, we were engulfed in thick smoke, which was probably supposed to serve as steam from the showers that the Russian boxers/athletes were working out in. We had to file up some stairs and passed a few athletes talking (acting) in Russian… and when we turned the corner, we ended up in a large gymnasium. It was like walking into Russians practicing for the Olympic gymnastics or something. People were jumping in the air, catapulting off springboards, doing flips on balance beams, practicing freestyle routines with ribbons… I didn’t really know what we were doing. Fake spectators were also sitting on the sidelines (I’m assuming these people were getting paid for this, haha). Russian guards were ordering people to either go straight or up the stairs and around a different path. They took our passports (invitations) and stamped them to acknowledge that we entered, and then hurried us along through the queue. At first, I thought we were all going to have to sit through a performance before going onto the event, but I was wrong. This was all just for show, part of the theming.

We then walked through a narrow hallway that was covered in shiny silver/gold paper with guards flashing us with their flashlights. This served as quarantine as they sent us along our way to a large room with people in astronaut-like suits. White wine was being served to the right of us, the astronaut people were walking around and weaving in and out of the guests, there was a DJ in the astronaut suit spinning some tunes, large inflatable star-like designs were hanging from the ceiling, various projections of Russian war clips were being shown on the large wall to the left, and cosmonauts were climbing on some contraption in the back of the room (they looked as though they were going to do their own version of gymnastics). I felt a mixture of, “What is going on?!” as well as, “This is amazing….” by the time I reached this room. We mingled for a bit in this room as Mo and Kelly ran into some of their friends (and by the end of the evening, we managed to run into everyone they knew, despite there being close to 2,000 people packed in the venue).

The next room was the main room, with a live band going and Christmas lights hung from the ceiling. The large dancefloor (much like a club in Vegas) was connected to this main area, but we didn’t hit that until later in the evening. We beelined toward the food (or tried to… Mo couldn’t walk even 1 foot without running into people he knew, which reminded me of my former leader), which was downstairs in a tent. It was interesting how many actors were staged throughout the party. There were researchers, astronauts, cosmonauts, some weird dancers with Nacho Libre-like masks on their faces, people running around and yelling in Russian… this on top of the already-crowded space made for a tight squeeze.

When we finally hit the downstairs area, we were greeted with some lovely gusts of Wellington wind (we’ve been getting some bad wind the past few days) as well as hundreds of people standing and crammed in the area where food was being served. It looked like a sea of heads from afar. There were only two options for each food station (Vietnamese, Russian and Cuban food… we only hit up the Russian and Cuban lines. The fish on crackers (other option was chicken) was the Cuban dish, and it tasted like cardboard tuna and pretty small. There were huge lines for each station, so I heard someone behind us say, “We waited in this line for this?!” Hah! I’m forever ruined from the delicious food we had from the Disneyland Resort banquets team… 😉

After we were done with the food, we checked out another room that was like a mini bar area (it was decorated with scattered papers everywhere of Russian intel or something and typewriters, filing cabinets, etc.). There was also a mini casino room across the way, with another live band (more jazz, slow music) and several roulette/blackjack/etc. tables. All the chips were fake and no one was playing for money, which I thought was a waste of time, but there were tons of people playing anyway.

When we went back into the main area, Mo pointed out Gino Acevedo (Creative Art Director for Weta Digital; he’s in a ton of behind-the-scenes documentaries) in the middle of the room so I beelined it to meet him. He’s probably one of the nicest guys who gave me advice for the move, and it was all thanks to LinkedIn that I randomly stumbled upon his page.

Gino’s IMDB

Kelly pointed out Joe Letteri straight away as well, and he ended up being shorter than me. He’s a huge deal at Weta Digital and won 4 Oscars, including for his work on LOTR. Like Gino, he’s also American and has been in NZ for 7 years.

Joe’s IMDB

We also walked by Matt Aitken quite a few times, who I recognized as being part of the production crew… it was so surreal to see so many people who were part of the production/art/etc. crew for the trilogy and/or the Hobbit films.

Matt’s IMDB

The dancefloor was insane. Sadly, no crazy disco ball or pole acrobatics going on, but there were fake spectators again and this fancy prop in the middle of the room. It also smelled awful due to the lack of ventilation and A/C. The music was pretty deafening, and there was one point past midnight where we could feel our chests and feet vibrating since the music was that annoying level of loud and pounding. The DJ was great in the beginning, but after midnight… hmmm. Let’s just say that Jason Jass could have brought down the house suitably. 🙂

They served waterbottles, wine and beer throughout the evening on the house. I think everything had to seem grungy/a bit dilapidated because of the theming. In the last hour, I ran into Alan Lee with Bridget, and I froze. He’s a huge deal, really phenomenal artist. Bridget introduced herself and talked to him about her work at Workshop, so I just awkwardly stood there… I didn’t want to seem lame just because I was a fan and didn’t work at Weta, sadly.

Moral: Geeks sure know how to party, especially animators/visual effects artists/technical crew who have massive deadlines to meet and can work up to 100 hrs/wk. It was insane, and everything I could have wished to have experienced… I think my move to NZ is complete enough because of this one party.

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