Whilst Wētā Workshop is perhaps best known for its award-winning work on The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit trilogies and Avatar; the Workshop's filmography boasts plenty more blockbusters, small-scale independent films, and everything in between.
Whether designing and prototyping an army’s supply of weapons, imagining and building one-of-a-kind costumes from entirely new worlds, or creating state-of-the-art effects that bring scripts to life, the Workshop crew love tackling new challenges and pushing the limits of traditional techniques. Here’s a dive into five films that our talented team have made their mark on, that you might not have known about.
In 2020, China’s legendary warrior Mulan returned to the big screen in an epic live-action adaptation, as the world once again saw the fearless female risking it all to represent her family in battle. Wētā Workshop were the creative artisans behind the armies of Mulan – producing over 4000 weapons, 1110 complete outfits and 300 suits of armour.
It truly was a mammoth collaborative effort and was one of our largest manufacturing projects since the Middle-earth days. Our master swordsmith hand-crafted Mulan’s real-steel weapons with precision and skill, and our specialist costume department created intricate costumes by hand. Mulan’s suit featured over 1300 individual leather pieces delicately laced together amongst metal embellishments.
It was Wētā Workshop’s pioneering injection moulding and casting techniques that saw 47 unique types of weapons created en masse – that’s a sheer number of swords and spears! Over 200 digital effects specialists from Weta Digital also worked on creating a monumental-sized medieval China environment. Cutting-edge scanning and rendering technology saw the spectacular Imperial City come to life, inspired by actual historical locations found in China today. Their visual mastery was also behind a truly enthralling scene where Gong Li undergoes a magical triple transformation, from a soldier to a witch and then into a hawk.
Imagine a bleak 2049 Los Angeles cityscape, populated with soaring skyscrapers and megalithic buildings, that’s been weathered by extreme storms into a wasteland state. Now imagine transforming this onto the big screen – this is the challenge our team faced when working on the long-awaited sequel to the 1980’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner.
Rather than using CGI, our design studio conceptualised and created 38 majestic miniatures to bring three unique environments to life – just like your childhood model-making kit, but of enormous proportions! Assembled, painted, and wired by hand, the team employed traditional techniques alongside 3D modelling and laser-cutting prowess to build these colossal structures. The tallest tower of them all was the L.A.P.D. Headquarters, standing at nearly five metres high. Some miniatures were so vast they needed a crane to lift them into the studio – deservedly earning the title of a ‘bigature’.
Next time you watch the film, you’ll be in awe as our miniature masterpieces, some shrunk to as little as a 1:600th scale, have become a convincingly realistic futuristic world on the big screen.
One of the most hard-hitting science fiction movies to hit the big screen in 2009, and nominated for four Academy Awards, District 9 explores race relations and cultural apartheid through an alien refugee camp where a large company will do anything to exploit their advanced technology.
Wētā Workshop designed and developed the world of District 9, from the alien’s arc generator and assault weapons to the intergalactic vehicles and spaceships, through to the graphic language used in the film. Our friends at Weta Digital also provided their compositing magic, by creating a three-mile-wide alien mothership and accompanying dropships, that rise from underground and hover over Johannesburg, in a stellar showcase of complex multi-layered cinematography.
Perhaps the highlight of the project was creating an out-of-this-world robotic exo-suit, used in the showdown against Multi-National United. After many prototypes and renditions, the final result featured plenty of metal and menace. Designing an all-new alien aesthetic – it’s just an average day in the life of a Wētā Workshop technician!
Bringing C.S. Lewis’ fantasy word to life in all its cinematic glory, we added sparkle of Wētā Workshop magic to the second chronicle of the series: Prince Caspian. What is a two-and-a-half-hour movie was in a fact an epic two-and-a-half-year journey for the Workshop!
Producing weapons, armour and props for the Telmarines were a tremendous task – and included a suite of artillery from 250 shields and 55 crossbows through to rapiers, falchions and polearms. These types of sophisticated weapons were carefully chosen for their subtle and refined flair when used in battle. Plenty of stunt-safe faceplates and helmets were also created to equip the armies.
Our designers exhaustively researched Victorian history and of course, the seven books themselves, when looking for artistic inspiration, paying attention to the finest of details. Look carefully at the Pevensie sibling’s costumes and armoury, and you’ll notice engravings and patterns with medieval symbolism, and colours inspired by the flowers and trees of the era. Many of the Pevensie children’s gifts, including Peter’s sword, Susan’s horn and Lucy’s vial, were also made by Wētā Workshop.
Another feat was building the highly-detailed 1:24th-scale miniature of the evil King Miraz’s great castle and the surrounding environment. Wētā Digital also created over 300 visual effects for Prince Caspian - including a spectacular sequence of the White Witch returning, immersed in ice.
Inspired by a Japanese Manga tale, this 2017 science-fiction film starring Scarlett Johansson follows the story of a human saved from a horrible crash, then cyber-enhanced to become the perfect crime-stopping soldier. Wētā Workshop spent approximately 71,000 hours creating some truly one-of-a-kind costume pieces, including some of the most advanced animatronics the Workshop ever worked on.
There are almost too many highlights to mention – but the iconic Red Robe Geisha is certainly at the top of the list. Picture a beautiful life-sized porcelain doll, complete with a flowing red kimono and traditional hair and make-up… but with a sinister and deadly side. Our team custom-designed the Geisha’s intricately-designed mask, complete with animatronic facial flaps that swing open, revealing creepy clock-like mechanics within.
This amalgamation of traditional and modern designs involved 3D printing and hand sculpting to achieve their glossy and sleek style. In total, 13 Geisha costumes were created for the film, including 25 full masks & wigs. You can see one of the costumes for yourself up close, on display at Wētā Cave in Wellington.
In addition, eight thermoplastic suits were made for the Major to help her become invisible. Rather than using visual effects, a prosthetic suit was created entirely from silicone over an innovative eight-week process. Expert techniques were used to mirror Scarlett Johansson’s silhouette and ensure the suit took on a truly lifelike look-and-feel, that could move just like human skin.
As you can see, whether kitting out the main character, equipping an entire army, or designing fantastical new worlds, we thrive off every kind of creative challenge. Whilst fantasy, sci-fi and horror are Wētā Workshop’s bread-and-butter, the crew are a film-obsessed bunch that will gladly apply tools and minds to all kinds of projects.
Experience the magic for yourself and visit us on an immersive tour into Wētā Workshop’s limitless creativity – our Wellington and Auckland film effects facilities bring you up close to the extraordinary creations of our award-winning workshop. Plus if you’re inspired by the leather-making skills seen above, then join us in crafting with the creators, on a hands-on leatherwork and chainmaille workshop!