Were-rabbits, bloody thirsty sheep, na’vi and a pair of of hobbit legs. That’s what I spent the afternoon surrounded by as we took a guided tour of renowned special effects company, Weta Cave.
*If you don’t want to know about some of the things on the tour, then don’t read this blog!*
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After the chaos of yesterday’s bus trip to Wellington, I was quite hoping for a lie in this morning. We’d only managed to get settled in the room just after midnight so as you can imagine, I was really quite tired. As expected, when we arrived we were faced with a wall of blackness and so had to hop over people’s things, annoyingly just scattered everywhere, and see where our beds where without making any noise or turning on a light. It was definitely a challenge and not one I particularly wanted to accept at that time of the night. Still, we didn’t have much choice and just got on with it so we could climb into bed and have a nice sleep. Anyway, even after falling asleep almost immediately and promptly lying on my kindle, waking up at about 9am just wasn’t what I had in mind. It was a right pain. The (oldish) men who had staying seemed to have decided to make as much noise as possible with plastic bags and rattling the beds which was quite annoying as we’d tried our hardest not to wake them when they were asleep. Another guy was sat at the desk right next to the bed and kept glancing up at us which I found incredibly weird and so didn’t move until they’d all left. Hmmm. Not quite the “youth” hostel experience we’ve had up to now but never mind. We had a whole day in Wellington to do what we wanted.
Once Codie had checked the bus times and we’d had a tasty baked beans on toast breakfast, we set off on our adventure. Following our trip to Hobbiton, we were interested in finding out more about the behind-the-scenes on the films amongst others and so had decided to pay a visit to Weta Cave in Miramar. I’d heard about it before and had picked up a leaflet (or two) about them and now we were in the area, I couldn’t wait to go. We left the hostel and wandered along the street to the train station and were almost blown away in the process. It was so windy! I’d almost been blinded by the sun piercing the curtains and so I’d prepared myself for burning but I wasn’t ready for how nippy it’d be. Luckily we didn’t have long to wait for the bus and soon we found ourselves embarking on the somewhat long 45 minute journey to Miramar. Now this was a journey that dragged! The constant stopping and starting was almost unbearable and I was thrilled when we were finally able to get off and make our way to the tour just down the street. It wasn’t too far to walk at all and after about a minute we found the sign for ‘Weta Cave’ hanging over a beautifully kept green garden.
Stepping across the road, we found ourselves confronted by three huge trolls in the garden, towering over us with their menacing faces and ginormous feet. These were the trolls from ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and it was really cool to see them up close especially as I’d watched a little behind the scenes featurette on how they brought those characters to life. I particularly enjoyed being able to see all the little details in their skin and their expressions and it reinforced just how much effort went into each aspect of the films. In a way, it makes you appreciate them so much more and I looked forward to getting to watch them all over again. Now even more excited to go on the tour, we entered the building and went to the front desk to book ourselves a place on the 2:00pm one. On the website it had said that it was best to book online during this season as it does get very busy but with us not being entirely sure when we’d be able to find our way there, we decided it was best to just risk it. I was a bit concerned when we turned up as it really was packed but luckily there was space for us both and we paid and got our tickets. I’m not a huge fan of spending money at the moment as I’m a bit concerned about making it last but I was more than happy to pay for this!
By the time everything was sorted it was only about half 1 which means that we had a little bit of time to wander around the shop looking at the various props. We didn’t have too long to do this though as we’d been told there was a screening of a short film in the theatre we could watch whilst we waited. The film was only screened there and was all about how the company was set up and what films it had worked on and it seemed like a very good way to pass the time. Joining the throng of people piling into the room, we found ourselves two seats and settled down to watch though I couldn’t help but look around the room at all the armour adorning the walls. According to the guy at the from who leading the screening, these were all props from Narnia as they’d made them for them though we couldn’t take any photos due to copyright issues. Grrrrrr. They were really cool to see though and there were so many! The short film was also really very interesting to see as we found out about some of the other films they had worked on other than The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings which I would have just associated them with otherwise.
After the film had finished, everybody piled back out of the room and out of the doors to join the tour which took place in part of their workshop which has been transformed into an exhibition space. The guide, who was working for Weta, reminded me a lot of my friend Mez, which was quite strange but they really were both as enthusiastic as each other! The first section we were taken to had a couple of suits of armour from LOTR (Orc, Gondor and Easterling), which were made from all different materials and demonstrated the complexity of each costume. One of the costumes was made from fibreglass but that had proven to be too easily chipped and marked and so they’d changed it to something different thought I cannot for the life of me remember what.Some kind of polymer plastic thing though and I swear I really was paying attention, there was just so much to take in in such a short space of time! According to the guide, rather than making heavy chainmail which often made it difficult for the actors to move about in, the company enlisted the help of a Wellington womens knitting group to make it out of wool instead. You definitely couldn’t tell the different between the metal and the wool as it just made it look a lot more well used though it apparently shrunk during filming so that perhaps wasn’t the best.
We moved into another space where we were able to look at various bits of a gun made for District 9 and see how they’re created and put together. I enjoyed being able to see the different casts though getting to hold it to feel the weight behind it was even better. It was District 9 is one of my favourite films so it was a nice, unexpected surprise to get to see props from that film on the tour. Once the gun had been carefully returned to the worktop, the guide then gave us a sword to hold and it was a lot lighter than I’d anticipated due to it being made of aluminium. Seeing it up close made you really appreciate the time and effort that goes into each one as it was incredibly ornate and intricately designed. I would have like to have had a little bit longer to hold it but the guy next to me practically grabbed it off me so instead I just had to admire it as it went off down the line instead.
Sauron greeted us as we made our way through the next part of the exhibit and he towered over us with his spiky helmet. I’ve never really found him to be a scary character, I’m not sure why, but he was even less so when we were shown his floppy latex gloves. We learnt all about how when his armour was originally made, he just looked a bit weedy and at 20 something kg, it was also a bit too heavy. So, when remaking it they pulled it all out to ensure that he looked a lot more built up and fierce and also made it out of the lighter material (which I can’t remember the name of), reducing the weight to about 11kg. I thought about how, for the time being, my rucksack weighs 12kg and decided that if you were being paid to wear that weight, it’d probably be alright, especially for someone tall. Since nobody had any questions for Sauron, we were allowed to have a little wander around the area and I noticed some of the props from the film ‘Black Sheep’. Now this is one of my favourite films, purely because it’s so terrible and so it came as a bit of a surprise to me that Weta had been involved in it as the rest of their work is of such a high standard. Having said that, it is a comedy horror so I suppose it could have been deliberately made in that way for that reason. Either way, the creature we’d nicknamed “rat lamb” was looking very creepy and I really wanted to take photos to show my Dad and Johanna but of course couldn’t and had to move on instead. In the same area, through a huge window in the wall, we were able to see into the armoury where the swords were made. For a little while, everybody crowded around it to see if we could see anything going on but unfortunately they’d just left. Grrrrrr,
The last part of the tour allowed us to touch some of the chain mail that had been made for a number of different films. It’s all put together by hand which is really crazy to think as it must take absolutely ages to do and getting to hold it allowed us to appreciate the detail of it even more. We also got to hold a piece of the woolly chain mail too and I could tell how much easier it’d have been for the actors to move around in. I could barely hold the metal one so I can’t imagine how hard it was to try and walk around wearing it! Next to this was a pair of “real life” Pippin hobbit feet which we were able to touch and hold though it felt a bit weird touching them. I don’t like toes at the best of times and even less when they’re hairy and rubbery! It was still very cool to see them though and really quite strange to think they’d be worn in one of the films. As we were looking around at the last couple of things like the Avatar transporter thing, there was a woman called Sophia working on what looked like a fairytale building. They had been commissioned to make a series of small fairytale cottages for somebody’s garden so she was busy doing that. It was perhaps a bit of a leap from Avatar and The Avengers to that but they said they never want to turn down projects and I supposed that can never be a bad thing.
The tour now over, we headed back to the trolls and had our photos taken with them before wandering back inside to have another look around the shop. There were so many things I wanted, like the “No Admittance Unless On Party Business” sign or Bilbo’s contract from the Hobbit (at $649 it was a bit steep!) but they were all a little bit out of my price range so I forced myself to look away. It was very hard. There was also an amazing map of New Zealand, in the Middle Earth style of course, showing where all the different locations were. I’d have liked to have bought one but once again, it was a bit too costly and I had to turn away. Grrrrrr, Determined to distract myself we took a few photos with the model of Gollum and some sort of LOTR creature and had a little wander around the little mini museum of things before leaving and walking back to the bus stop to go back into the city centre. It would have been nice to have had a little wander around Mirimar, where we were, as there are loads of different production buildings scattered around but we were quite tired and hungry and still had a timelapse to film. We were also a bit unsure about which bus we needed to catch if we missed that one so it seemed like the best option to catch it then. Looking back it seems like such a shame to not have seen them but at the time it seemed right and there’s not much we can do now!
When we got back to Wellington city centre, the rest of the day was spent shopping for food, filming our time-lapse and doing our washing. It wasn’t the most interesting of things but it all needed doing so we got on with it. Annoyingly the washing machine decided it was going to rip a whole in my only pair of decent trousers so obviously that didn’t go down well but Codie managed to sew them together again and we enjoyed a tasty tea of sweetcorn, reduced sandwiches and fries bought from the hostel cafe. All in all it was a nice night and after a busy and exciting day, I definitely enjoyed getting to sit back and relax for a while. Despite the washing incident, I’ve really enjoyed the day in Wellington. We might not have seen much of the city itself but the tour was amazing and really, really interesting. In the film at the beginning they’d said that the company had taught themselves the effects and things as they went along and this has given me a lot of hope for my future. I work so much better by learning as I’m doing things so it’s nice to know how far you can get doing that and that it’s always an option. We’re off to Nelson tomorrow and have to be up at 6:45am so I’m all packed and ready to go. It’s quite exciting knowing that we’re going to be on a new island tomorrow and in a new place to explore and I really can’t wait to set off on another adventure.