Lord of the Rings. Avatar. The Hobbit. District 9. Some of today’s most popular
and well known movies which combined have grossed billions of dollars worldwide. What do they all have in common? The special effects, costumes, weapons and/or other props in these films all come from a little suburb in the
coolest capital in the world, Wellington.
Weta Workshop, based in Miramar, is only a short trip from Wellington airport and worth a stop on your way in or out of town. The name ‘Weta’ comes from the name of a native New Zealand insect, one of the largest/heaviest insects in the world. Weta was founded by Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger in 1987, and since then the growing team have worked on a huge number of high profile films, TV series and computer games producing not only special effects, but also armour, weapons, miniatures, prosthetics and creatures. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was their biggest job to date, with no less than 48,000 pieces of armour and 19,000 costumes created for the three movies.
Being a fan of Lord of the Rings myself, a visit to Wellington meant a visit to Weta Cave. The Cave itself is free and open seven days, but the visit isn’t complete without the behind the scenes tour. Get online to book a ticket at least a day before you plan to visit to guarantee a spot. I arrived a little early for my tour after overestimating the distance from the CBD to Miramar (it’s only a 10 minute drive) so while waiting for the tour to start I was able to explore the Cave. There is a mini museum filled with hundreds of sculptures from Weta’s various films, books, T-shirts and other film merchandise to purchase, and even sold out collectables on display. It was difficult to drag myself away from the 18 carat gold authentic One Ring, complete with the original Elvish inscriptions for a
neat sum of $5123 (I just couldn’t settle for the gold plated ring; despite being a more realistic $149). There’s also a thirty minute behind-thescenes film to watch with interviews with the founders of Weta, so make sure you leave time before or after your tour.
We were collected from the Weta Cave and taken outside and down to one of the warehouses where all the work takes place. All the tour guides are also part of the talented creative team so you get plenty of insider information about what goes on behind-the-scenes. Our guide was a street artist before he became a props painter at Weta; using his skills with spray cans to create
the illusion of texture on the props he works on. Throughout the tour we were shown the step-by-step process of how the props are created, from District 9 weapons to Halo vehicles. Many of the props that were on show we were able to hold, play with and swing around, getting more of an idea of the effort and weight the actors have to deal with. I was most surprised to find that a majority of the armour is made of plastic and foam, making it lightweight and easier for the actor to move around in. It’s the skilled people like our tour guide who are able to paint it to look exactly like a metal armour suit Because the tour is in one of the actual Weta workshops, you can see designers, sculptures and painters working on actual projects through a number of large windows around the room. One of the large 3D machines which cuts moulds out of pieces of wood was running during our tour, and we were able to watch exactly how it works.
The tour gave me an insight into the immense amount of time, effort and skill that goes into each film, and I understand why the talented Weta team are offered to work on so many Hollywood blockbusters. I also found out a few secrets behind the movie magic, but we were sworn to secrecy. You’ll have to visit for yourself to find out!