With 10 minutes left of my 8 hour coach journey from Rotorua to Wellington I envisioned how I would step out into New Zealand’s capital.
The plan was to take one mighty step from the coach to the grounds of the city, sport a big smile on my face and give it a confident “well hello Wellington.”
The moment was here, we had arrived at Wellington Rail Station and I was one step away from giving it my best hello. Both feet were now planted on the ground, and instead of a triumphant grin a strong gust of wind hit my face and I sneezed. With my hoody in my hand I soon realised it was best on me, as the pouring rain was hitting me hard and I soon began to shiver.
Not quite the scene I had imagined.
Anyway, I was happy to be in the city. I didn’t realise how much I missed city life until I was walking down what seemed like the main high street and I was getting a real sense of the London vibe. I liked this a lot.
I found a hotel at a discounted price on booking.com so I was looking forward to having a room that not only gave me some privacy but also didn’t require me to venture out in the freezing cold just to use the toilets. What I was in for came at a complete shock.
The hotel entrance was swanky, I was greeted by a man in a suit that looked like it cost more that what I had in my bag combined and even the lift had a cool dimmed blue light that told me I had hit the jackpot. I walked into my room, not before using my room card on room 301 misreading that mine is room 310. I hope I didn’t give the folks of room 301 a scare.
Not only did I have a bed that looked like it is regularly cleaned, I soon discovered I had my very own bathroom…WITH A BATH TUB. Oh how I have a life of luxury in store for me these next few days.
(when I got to the hotel and looked in the mirror of a Matt who had not shaven or cut his hair since arriving to New Zealand, the above photo is exactly how I looked…)
I woke up in the morning feeling refreshed from a good nights sleep, wondering what to do today. I found a place known as Weta Cave, self proclaiming that ‘it is your gateway to immersive filmmaking experiences in Wellington, New Zealand,” going on to mention that I’ll be taken on a journey from Middle-earth to Tracy Island and beyond as I’ll be exploring 20 years of award-winning activity.
I was convinced.
After a 30 minute bus journey I arrived. The entrance was small and lead straight into the gift shop. I purchased my tour ticket and took a look around the shop whilst I waited for the opening introduction screening to start. The gift shop was pretty cool, showcasing very detailed models from movies such as The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. If I had a spare thousand dollars it would have been tempting.
I learnt from the screening that Weta Studios is a big deal in the film industry. Top directors such as Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson (his work on The Hobbit and LOTR of course) had done a lot of work with the company. Weta Studios offer a range of services from making movie props to working on a films digital effects.
Weta designed Tintin and his world with Steven Spielberg and created Pandora with James Cameron. They are also responsible for making the props for Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and Chappie, two movies I absolutely love.
In fact, I’m not ashamed to admit that I completely geeked out at the beginning of the tour. As we stepped into one of the workshops at Weta Studios, our guide was a guy who specialises in making armour who was both interesting and amusing. As we stepped into the first area my eyes grew the size of two footballs. There were a lot of props and giant models around the room, but on display on the table in front of us was a gun the alien inhabitants from District 9 use.
We were told at the beginning of the tour that photo’s were not allowed to be taken during the tour. This was because the studios don’t actually own any of the props that they create. They are owned by the film company of that props respected movie.
Our guide was explaining the process that goes on from initial designs of the gun all the way to the team whose job it is to make the item/prop look ‘worn out.’ The middle stages involved making the mould, the extra plastic components a prop might need and the paint job. Our guide made a point of saying that there’s certain colours that portray a certain meaning to people, so it isn’t as easy as just picking a colour from thin air.
He then picked up the District 9 alien gun and it was during this moment I was running ideas through my head of how I could attack the guy, pick up the gun and then make a run for it.
Luckily for me I didn’t have to do this. I don’t think I’d fair too well in jail.
Our guide passed the gun to a man on who was also on the tour. Lucky bastard I thought. The gun was then passed around and after 5 other people before me, it was my turn to have it in my hands.
Time to make a run for it…I kid of course. Or did I?
No, I’m not sat in a prison cell in Wellington right now. I decided against breaking the law. I was too memorised at how light the big weapon was. The incredibly detailed paint job blew my mind. Looking at it, you’d think it was fully made with metal but the whole thing was plastic. It made me appreciate how talented the prop makers and designers are.
As we walked into the next room it was decorated by even more incredible props, from medieval daggers and swords to a giant bunny costume who looked like he had smoked some weird stuff he found on the street.
The next room was occupied by something I quickly recognised. It was an actual M12 Warhog LRV vehicle from Halo 3. The studio made it for the Halo movie that eventually got cancelled, but my lord did the vehicle look impressive. We were told that it was fully working and it actually drifted just like it does in the game.
Our guide mentioned about the finest of details that goes into the props. There is a tiny label/marking in the vehicle that had text on but was hard to see for the naked eye. I was about 5 feet away from it and still couldn’t see what it said. As I looked closer I could see that it stated that it was property of the United Nations Space Commands, to replicate the authenticity of the gaming world. He mentioned that they do this because due to everything in high definition in today’s society, if someone was to pause and zoom in they should be able to read it. Pretty damn cool.
Later in the tour our guide mentioned that the person who makes a lot of their weaponry is a British ‘master swordsman’, a title that is very rarely handed out. He is the only swordsman who provides the British royalty their inventory.
After seeing some impressive detailed model villages (though not quite on the scale of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter studio tour), more movie props from Lord of the Rings, Chappie, The Hobbit, Avatar and a few other movies, as well as standing behind a screen to watch a beastly looking machine carve out a mass production of an item of weaponry, the tour concluded meeting another prop maker and seeing him work on his latest project.
The tour was great. I went from never hearing of Weta Studios from being amazed at what an incredible job they do on big blockbuster movies. We only got a little taste of what the studio offers, but it was an area of the movie industry I have always been fascinated in and leaves me picking my jaw up from the floor.