A Day in Wellywood: Going Behind the Scenes at Weta

Did you know that Wellington, or more specifically, the Miramar Peninsula, is a blockbuster-making hub?! It is home to a selection of movie studios, but more famously, Weta Digital and Weta Workshop. These guys are the ones behind the special effects, the props, the monsters, the costume of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Not only that, but they have worked on huge movies like The Avengers, X-Men, King Kong, The Planet of the Apes, Avatar, Chappie, The Chronicles of Narnia, I-Robot, Tintin… The list goes on and on and on!

Have you ever taken a Trolleybus?

With two behind-the-scenes tours, it just sounds too good! So here we are in the bus to Miramar with Henriette who we met in the Trek Global Hostel. The bus ride is meant to take around an hour to get from the city centre to the Miramar Peninsula, and it becomes obvious why…

Every 10 minutes, the high pitched sound of the bus suddenly stops and the bus driver gets out of the bus. What the hell is he doing? It turns out that most of Wellington’s buses are trolleybuses, meaning they are loosely attached to overhead electric wires for power. We emphasise on the word “loosely” because it keeps disconnecting, so the bus driver has to get out and reconnect to the overhead wires. Hilarious!

Robin troll now... Robin stay at Weta forever Robin troll now... Robin stay at Weta forever
Little Hobbitses feetses Little Hobbitses feetses
Laura's boyfriend Laura's boyfriend
Got our tickets to Thunderbirds Are Go! Got our tickets to Thunderbirds Are Go!

A new kind of caving in New Zealand…

The Weta Cave, the shop and ticket office, is not too hard to miss with three sculptures of The Hobbit’s trolls miserably guarding the entrance. The nerd comes out in us immediately and before we know it, we are taking photos with the trolls.

Forget about the Waitomo Caves, the Weta Cave is the marvel everyone should see in New Zealand, except the glowworms are replaced by movie nerds feasting on movie memorabilia. Swords, figurines, sculptures made to scale, jewellery, costumes, books, keyrings, stones and more are scattered around the small shop.

A mini museum and documentary

What’s smaller is the Mini Museum, holding just some of the props from various movies that Weta have worked on. Robin is interested in the guns from District 9, while Laura is more enthralled by the hairy feet of Bilbo.

Anyone visiting the Weta Cave can visit the Mini Museum and watch a 25-minute documentary of Weta, including its history and an overview of the work they do complete with montages of the movies they’ve worked on.

Check out the Weta Mini Museum in virtual reality!

No photography!

This is just the beginning of our Weta experience, as now we are heading on our first tour here, The Weta Workshop Tour.

About 20 of us follow our tour guide literally around the back of the Weta Cave to start our tour. No photography is allowed on the tours due to movie-rights bullsh*t and scary lawyers. (But to be fair, there are some pretty cool photo opportunities in the Weta Cave).

Holding alien weapons

First on the affordable little tour of NZ$25, is the making of weapons for entire armies using the example of the alien weaponry in District 9. We see how they mould and paint plastic to make these guns look entirely believable. We even get to hold a few weapons along the way. Eek!

Our tour guide is one of the painters at Weta, but makes a really knowledgable tour guide, answering mostly Robin’s questions to feed his curiosity for movie production.

Watching the wetas at work

There are so many cool props and costumes to see, but amongst it all we see some Wetas (we’ll use that as the name of the Weta Workshop workers) actually working away on new projects. There is a window looking into the armoury (although no one is working there today – slackers), but there’s plenty going on in the CNC (Computer Numeric Control) room. We try to guess what large objects the machines are carving here, but, of course, it is top secret!

A badass sword from World of Warcraft A badass sword from World of Warcraft
Are you talkin' to me?! Are you talkin' to me?!
A dwarf statue just looks down at us in disgust A dwarf statue just looks down at us in disgust

From mythical armies to the Thunderbirds!

The Weta Workshop Tour was a cool glimpse into the movie industry using the impressive variety of movies the workshop has made props and costumes for as examples. Although there is much emphasis on The Lord of the Rings when people talk about Weta, the Workshop Tour is more about movie-making in itself. You don’t have to be a fan to find it interesting, which is what we are especially going to find out in the next tour, Thunderbirds Are Go!

A tour for non-fans?

So, apparently there is a new TV series based on the 1960s puppet TV show, Thunderbirds. Other than knowing that Thunderbirds is a famous TV show and vaguely what the story is about, we don’t know much about it. Nevertheless, this tour is new from Weta and we are intrigued to see what it is all about.

Those scary 1960s puppets!

In huge contrast to the first tour we were on, we are now in a group of three with our tour guide, Erica. The first section of the tour pays homage to the old Thunderbirds with old collectibles on display and TV screen showing what the show used to look like. Erica explains how it was made then and how that differs to what Weta does with the TV show today.

The cool thing is that they still use miniature sets in the TV series today and only computerise the characters and vehicles to allow more action and suit the modern audience. (Besides, those puppets were pretty terrifying).

The marvel of junk!

After going through the picky process of the concept work behind Thunderbirds Are Go, we are put before shelves and shelves of… junk!

Erica explains that all much of the miniature sets for Thunderbirds Are Go are made from junk you would usually find around the house: batteries, old computer parts, water bottles, spray cans, soap boxes, those Kinder Egg shells that hold the toy, and the all-famous lemon zester! It’s amazing what you can turn these everyday items into to create a miniature world.

Getting creative

We are passing objects around, thinking about what they could be made into… Our imagination is running wild here and we are actually getting excited about the possibilities.

The next room is about to blow our minds with the possibilities!

A Miniature World

Here is the miniature world of the Thunderbirds: the house of the Thunderbirds complete with a pool that opens to release their rockets. Across the room is Tracy Island with such intricate details in the foliage and the palm trees, made from simple things like mattress foam.

There’s Penelope’s London mansion, inside and outside. It’s like an extreme doll house with such attention to detail down to the pugs on the door knockers.

Then there are the hangers for many of the awesome vehicles the Thunderbirds have. Now that we have a better idea of how the sets are made, we are picking up all the household junk that have been painted to perfection.

We want to work at Weta!

Man, we all feel like a kid again, wanting to get some figurines to play in these sets. Hell, we want to build these sets! It takes everything in us not to cancel this New Zealand trip and hand our CVs into Weta…

But, alas, the show must go on for the guys at Weta and us as we need to head back into Wellington and prepare for tomorrow’s adventure, Zealandia! See you tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

Things get a little out of hand at the Weta Workshop
Things get a little out of hand at the Weta Workshop Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow!

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