Travelogue: In New Zealand it’s yesterday once more in wondrous Wellywood

Bollywood actor Sidharth Malhotra flaunts elf ears as he poses with Weta Workshop founder Richard Taylor
Bollywood actor Sidharth Malhotra flaunts elf ears as he poses with Weta Workshop founder Richard Taylor

For a film aficionado, the overwhelming suspended sculpture of Gollum – the popular fictional character from “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy – gives just the right vibe about the treasure trove of talent, creativity and imagination that Wellington, New Zealand’s largest film production hub, truly is.

For someone curious about the behind-the-scenes action in visually stunning cinematic delights like the “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” series… oh, and not to be missed “Avatar”, “The Amazing Spiderman” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” and more, Wellywood, as the city is informally called, is a wonderland!

A trip to the Miramar suburb of Wellington will take you to not just Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post Production — a world-class facility – but also to multiple Oscar awardee Richard Taylor’s Weta Workshop, which will stun you with the limitless possibilities of art and creativity.

A stop at the film props and special effects company Weta Workshop, part of the greater Wellington-based creative community of Weta Digital, Park Road Post Production, and Stone Street Studios, will tell you why Taylor is a five-time Oscar winner. And, oh boy, the sight of his Oscar statuettes (the real ones!), glistening in gold, left me star-struck – well, only until I met the man himself at his workshop!

Actor Sidharth Malhotra with Aragorn's sword from "Lord Of The Rings" at Weta Workshop. Don't miss the other real props behind him
Actor Sidharth Malhotra with Aragorn’s sword from “Lord Of The Rings” at Weta Workshop. Don’t miss the other real props behind him

From starting up in the backroom of their flat in 1987, Taylor and Tania Rodger (now his wife) have come a long way, a guide told us – an entourage of Indians who were accompanying Bollywood’s emerging star Sidharth Malhotra, the newly appointed tourism ambassador of New Zealand in India.

With childlike excitement, we began a guided tour down the Weta Cave and Workshop – where the story of the creative process is told with the showcase of props, models and weapons. We also chanced upon some talented minds on the job, who were working on costumes of a new period drama (details were a secret), on prosthetics, props and more.

The detailing and thought behind each piece of costume was awe-inspiring to say the least, because on the silver screen, these may seem as just one teeny-weeny aspect, but singularly, they add a lot to an aura of a film. An Indian film, Shankar’s “I”, was also worked upon at Weta.

Coming face to face with different departments – 3D modelling, leather work, metal shop, imaging, make-up, prosthetics and creatures, sculpting, weaponry, miniatures, model-making, moulding, and painting — showcased the synchronisation needed to produce award-winning material for movies. A closer look at the prosthetics department was possible when Sidharth chose to dress as an elf, complete with pointed ears!

You can only see it all with amazement, and what’s more heart-warming is the preservation of the props. Yeah, don’t hesitate to ask which sword was held by Aragorn or Frodo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy – they’re all there!

As many as 100,000 visitors a year flock to take this 45-minute tour, during which they sample a lot of behind-the-scenes fun. And you can take a piece of it with you from the Weta Cave Shop, which houses collectible sculpture by the artists and authentic prop replicas from the movies.

From the Weta Workshop, we headed out straight to Park Road Post Production. Just to be at a spot occupied by master filmmaker Jackson was exhilarating in itself. Imagine the joy of sitting on the sofa spot that he occupies when he okays the sound for his projects.

Sparkling clean and well-organised, the facility almost exuded the look of a hotel. A theatre within the property was like a fairyland. Moving on to the foley suite, editing room, fully automated digital audio mixing suites, and recording room, you could totally tell why the clarity of sound is as magical as it is when it has Jackson’s stamp on it.

Overall, you walk out with a deeper understanding and, most of all, newfound respect for the talent that works day in and day out for months, sometimes years, to put together the larger than life spectacles for film buffs.

And not before you finally board your flight to leave Wellington does the Weta experience leave you! You won’t just see an eery life-like installation of Smaug the Great Dragon, which catches your eye. But, hey, don’t miss Gandalf the wizard atop one of two Great Eagles, swooping down, before you say ‘Bye bye, Wellywood!’

Points to remember:

* A standard tour to Weta Workshop would cost you NZ$25.

* Online booking in advance is recommended, especially during peak season between October and April.

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