Tolkien’s mystical world of Middle Earth comes to life in a new exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.
Four-time Oscar winner Richard Taylor – one of the creative geniuses behind the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy – is describing a place where fantasies are made. It’s not Mordor, or Hogwarts, but a vast fun factory on the outskirts of New Zealand’s windy capital.
Here, at the headquarters of Weta Workshop, is the world’s most comprehensive special-effects facility. This is where 170 highly skilled masters of deception spend their days tricking us into believing their false universe is real.
“We’ve got everything here from chemists to sculptors, miniature builders to welders,” Taylor says on the phone from Wellington. “Engineers, electronics experts, seamstresses. We have a very large leatherworking department. Plus two full-time swordsmiths who have had unbroken work at the company for nine years.”
Obviously this was the city Tolkien built, along with Weta Digital, which focuses on “CGI” (computer-generated images). But Weta is no one-trick pony. As Taylor points out, “Since finishing Lord of the Rings, we’ve done Master and Commander, Peter Pan, The Last Samurai, Perfect Strangers, Hellboy, Van Helsing, I, Robot, Kingdom of Heaven, King Kong and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” He pauses for breath. “We’re on another large feature film at the moment.”
If this sounds like boasting, it’s justified. Twelve years ago, Taylor and his Weta partners – including Peter Jackson, the director of The Lord of the Rings – “realised there was going to be a serious change in the way that visual effects for film were going to be made”.
They formed Weta (named after a native New Zealand insect) and bought their first special-effects computer. By the time they made The Return of the King, the computer power they were able to harness made Weta Digital one of the world’s five most powerful computer facilities (and that, Taylor says, includes military establishments).
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