Issue date: 
Thursday, 11 May 2023

The NZFC was privileged to co-partner with Walt Disney Studios and Wētā Workshop to offer a ‘Keeping Things Practical’ Workshop on the 2nd of April in Wellington, this was made possible through the New Zealand Screen Production Grant – International.

This knowledge sharing workshop provided an opportunity for aspiring and working filmmakers to learn about practical effects from work leading experts at Wētā Workshop including case studies from Walt Disney Studios films including Thor, Mulan and Avatar: The Way of Water.  

Sir Richard Taylor led the workshop offering first-hand knowledge of what goes into the artistry of practically built components for film and television. Throughout the day participants heard from his colleagues who covered the following: Rebekah Tisch – Design for a practical pipeline; Luke Hawker – Case Study: I Am Mother; Flo Foxworthy – Costume Case Study for Avatar: The Way of Water; Gino Acevedo – Practical to Digital and; Danielle Prestidge – Production pipeline management. Participants also got an opportunity to get creative with a head bust creature modelling exercise.

Survey responses to the workshop were overwhelmingly positive with respondents quoting:

“This was a Workshop like no other. It felt like being a kid and winning a ticket to the Willy Wonka factory. I learned so much in one day, that may assist myself and others, for a lifetime.”

“The workshop was super inspiring, and I'm now motivated to use practical effects.”

“This workshop was hugely valuable in learning the advantages and possibilities of practical effects and I’m extremely thankful to everyone involved for making it happen.”

“I wanted to learn the extent to which practical effects (as opposed to digital) could be used in modern genre films, especially those on the lower end of the budget spectrum. I was not disappointed.”

“Finding out what goes on in the world of people working at the highest calibre of creativity, in our country was amazing. Now I’m wanting to take that knowledge back out there and share on my journey.”

NZFC was keen to dig a bit deeper into the knowledge sharing experience so reached out to a few of the participants to get a more in depth understanding of their take on the day.  Kerry Ann Mills, a filmmaking student and aspiring production designer said:

“Lifting the veil to see the wizardry beyond the curtain, Richard Taylor and his Team took us for a dive into their mysterious realm. World class leaders of creativity, renowned for craft and visual showmanship; they too have their stories to tell.

From humble beginnings to a global design, LBE, game, FX and manufacturing powerhouse. The collective knowledge these down to ‘middle earth’ folk have is astonishing. From shaping mud and margarine, to prevision and conception, nature and bikini making, practical effects and robots, SFX innovation and conversations with Dick Smith, to budget and worldwide logistics. Inspirational tales of all sorts came forth of how Wētā imagine, design and build.

Whether you were present as an artist, butcher, baker or candlestick maker; this day was a once in a lifetime gift. Knowing that anyone, anywhere can begin with a lump of clay and pencil. There has always been art, light and shadow as evidenced in the earliest form, via ancestral cave paintings. Make stuff in your bedroom; it doesn't matter as long as you make something.

This workshop has dramatically altered my life and thinking. At six years old or sixty, if you have passion, enthusiasm, tenacity and talent you can bring your dreams to life. And be the unending burning bright, that shines a light, to guide the way for others.”

Linda Niccol who describes herself as working on the periphery of New Zealand filmmaking as a writer/director had the following to say:

“I applied to attend the workshop with a view to creating a monster. The workshop covered the possibilities of physical effects using sculpture and animatronics from a practical perspective which gave me a firmer idea of the direction to take. Richard Taylor and his heads of department gave genuine, usable advice. It would be great to think that original New Zealand conceived genre films such as horror will find a sustainable way of attracting finance that will enable utilisation of Wētā’s world making skills."

Steven Wooller a production designer for more than 10 years shared:

“I found the Keeping Things Practical Workshop to be a fantastic and very valuable experience. I really enjoyed hearing from Richard and members of the Wētā team, and gained many valuable insights into their roles, processes, and the world of practical effects. It was particularly great to see how dedicated and excited the team were about their work and the quality of work in their products. I felt very privileged for them to come in on a Sunday just to share their knowledge with us.”

The afternoon's modelling exercise was probably my favourite part as we were asked to get our hands dirty and mock up a head prosthetic concept in 20 minutes, in clay. I have to admit my hands were shaking, but the opportunity to create something for Sir Richard Taylor and his team, some of the best practical effects masters in the world, was unbelievable.

Living in the deep South (Invercargill), having a day job, and working on projects in my spare time, this kind of experience is invaluable. Events like this can change filmmakers' lives”.


Last updated: 
Friday, 12 May 2023