A trip to New Zealand should be on the top of every Middle-earth fan’s bucket list - and no trip would be complete without stepping foot inside Wellington’s Wētā Workshop. The Academy Award-winning creative design and physical effects facility is best known for its work on The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and The Hobbit motion picture trilogies, directed by Peter Jackson.
Wētā Workshop contributed creatures and characters, make-up and prosthetics, environments, miniatures, props, weapons, and armour. 48,000 individual pieces were created for The Lord of the Rings trilogy alone! You can get up close and personal with authentic Middle-earth artefacts on the Wētā Workshop Experience. We’ve put together a list of our favourite highlights from the tour.
The armies of Middle-earth had a well-stocked and varied arsenal at hand, thanks to the swordsmiths and prop makers of Wētā Workshop. Many swords were made using traditional linishing, grinding and polishing techniques. The same Master Swordsmith who created the steel swords from LOTR still works at the Workshop! If you’re lucky, you might see Peter Lyon grinding away at a new weapon through a window into the armoury.
For every prop that is made via traditional means at Wētā Workshop, there is a way to replicate it using a range of products called urethanes. On tour, find out about the process of turning ‘rubber’ into stunt swords, scabbards and axes.
Armour was a huge part of the costumes for Middle-earth. Nearly all races and characters wore it. Before you encase the body in metal pieces, you generally start with a layer of chainmaille. Traditional chainmaille, made from thousands of rings of steel linked together, makes for a hard and heavy day’s work on a film set! Method actor Viggo Mortensen chose to bare this weight during the shoot. However, a process was developed using plastic rings to create a lightweight, realistic-looking maille for his fellow actors. Sliced from alkathene pipe, these rings were linked together, heat welded, and coated in a very fine layer of metal: 12.5 million rings were created in total!
Over chainmaille sat exceptional suits of armour – often made of real metal! One of the most challenging suits to create for LOTR was that of the Dark Lord, Sauron. This awe-inspiring design required technical trickery to pull off in steel, in only six weeks. This was a complete head-to-toe interwoven suit of armour, with more than 60 pieces of sharp and extremely complex components that needed to move and slide over themselves. Once this intricate and extremely close-fitting suit of armour was finished, it was acid-etched from helmet to toe cap with fine and detailed motifs. You can see an exact replica of the original steel suit on the Wētā Cave Workshop Tour – the urethane stunt version has been painted and detailed so accurately, it’s difficult to tell it’s not the real deal!
Some of the most celebrated and iconic characters from Tolkien’s world call Wētā Workshop home. Find Gollum lurking in the Wētā Cave alongside infamous Uruk-Hai, Lurtz. And pluck up the courage to stare down a life-sized Azog on the Wētā Cave Workshop Tour – one of Wētā Workshop’s terrifying creations for The Hobbit. Your trip wouldn’t be complete without a send-off from the three enormous troll sculptures out front. Be sure to say goodbye to Bert, Tom and William. The trolls don’t bite. Usually.
Wētā Workshop is located only a five-minute drive from Wellington Airport, making it a great first or last stop on your trip to New Zealand’s capital. If you’re coming from the city centre, it’s a quick 20-minute drive – and street parking is free! For those without a vehicle, there are convenient tour plus transport options.
Tours of Wētā Workshop run 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day). Bookings are recommended, to avoid disappointment. Book now.