Friday, February 13, 2009

...yeah, we have a Warthog.

It has been a great couple of weeks.

I’m sitting in my hotel in Sydney watching the rain drizzle down outside, blasting my AC to 19C and reflecting on the crazy few weeks I have had here. I came out to work a bit with George and a few others on the Mad Max game/universe type stuff, but ended up on a freaking nerd thrill ride.

Later in the first week Richard Taylor, one of the founders of Weta Studios, (LOTR movies, King Kong, Heavenly creatures, Bad Taste) and a few of his designers came down from New Zealand for a visit. When we went to dinner that Friday, also joined by Zack Snyder who was also out there working on one of his films (very big geek fanboy moment for me by the way. I kept my cool, but it was still pretty sweet.), I got an ear full about how freaking cool this place (Weta) was. All the crazy weapons they built for LOTR and The Last Samurai. The life casts of film celebrities of the 30’ to today as well as "Death Masks" of Abe Lincoln and George Washington. Apparently it was fashionable at that time to get molds of peoples faces when they died. Crazy stuff.

Oh…yeah…and they have a full scale Warthog you can tool around it. So, you know, it’s kind of cool, I guess.

George actually described Weta Workshop as kind of like Disneyland for the film fan. So when Richard said I should come up to check it out if I get a chance it really did not take much more convincing than that.


I booked a flight for Tuesday night that got me into Wellington (NZ) around midnight. It was a bit hard for me to get to sleep that partially because of the two hour time difference, and partially because it was like the night before Christmas. I mean I was going to get to see, touch and possibly ride in a Warthog – so I was stoked!

The next day I went into the office for the whirlwind tour of the entire facility. When I first arrived I was greeted by a beastly and bulging security guard, decked out in full Urukai garb, (Pictured Left) who got in my face screaming when I came in…something about not having a security badge, I think. Or maybe he was telling me not to take photos? Hmmm…☺ Either way, these Weta guys don't fuck about when it comes to security.

As the guys showed me around I kept thinking to myself how much this place was exactly the type of place I imagined I would end up working in when I was in school, pouring over every page of cinefex magazine and dreaming of making miniatures and sculptures for sweet films. Then I realized I could neither build, nor sculpt anything all that well…so that dream died a quick death.
Honestly though, I really felt like I was walking through the secret stash of the “sweet stuff” at some totally non-existent film museum. I wish I could share pictures of that stuff, but alas, it was not meant to be. Just know, that place is filled with an incredible amount of talented craftsman, artists and designers. I felt so privileged to be allowed to look behind the curtains.

I can however show you the pics of my sweet Warthog ride and drive! That’s right, I got to freaking drive the Warthog. Sure, it was just tooling around a parking lot, but who freaking cares, right? I’m driving a damn Warthog! 

I must say, my friends, it was everything I had hoped it to be and so much more. I am now saving to commission the building of my own Warthog…with real working guns. Let’s see somebody try and cut me off on the 405 again.

A few more images from the Trip, including the models from Heavenly creatures! If you haven't seen that film I would highly recommend it! There is also this crazy statue they designed and built in Downtown Wellington.  the close up image shows an N64 controller as part of the leg!

After that I had only a short time before I had to head back to the Airport, but fortunately there was still enough time to stop by Peter’s Aircraft factory. Yeah it is one of the two licensed aircraft Manufacturers in New Zealand. They build a ton of stuff there, but the primary thing they do is build full sized working versions of World War 1 aircraft. When possible they use the original parts, but if they cannot acquire the parts they just create them. The setup they have there is absolutely freaking state of the art! I am not much of a plane buff or anything, but getting to see these aircraft in their various stages of construction was pretty damn cool.  It clearly illustrated what a scary proposition it was dogfighting in a wood/fabric aircraft. 

Granted, dogfighting in any aircraft is scary, I imagine.  But doing it in what would amount to a soapbox car with wings is downright insane.

Then it was off to the Airport and back to Sydney. Today I got to head down to the mo-cap stages to check out some of the Happy Feet 2 stuff with George. I have to say the advances they have made with the mo-cap technology/pipeline are freaking amazing. This coming from an ex-animator as well!!! I still like traditional hand animation, but I have come around to recognize the true power of mo-cap when used effectively.

Now I am back in the hotel reflecting on the events of the last few weeks and getting ready to head out for some drinks.

I have to give a big thank you to Richard, Greg, Christian, Aaron, Peter, and everyone else whose named I have forgotten to mention (So sorry for that as well, I just suck at remembering names!) over at Weta for having me over…being so generous and welcoming…and for being just so freaking cool! Sure, I sound like a fanboy but c’mon…you have seen their work…who wouldn’t be?

Yup, I have to say, it has been a great couple of weeks.