A pioneer of computer-generated imagery in New Zealand, John Sheils helped conjure angry cave trolls, flying buzzy bees and herds of roaming TV sets. Time as a camera operator fueled his interest in images unconstrained by gravity or nature. Sheils went on to work on The Fellowship of the Ring, Perfect Creature, Spartacus, and a run of video games and adverts — plus Red Scream, NZ’s first CG short film.
That's the thing that's been the biggest inspiration to me working in this industry so far; trying to do things that the software isn't capable of. Especially these days, when the software's capable of everything. John Sheils, in an April 2005 interview with Onfilm
Maurice Gee's classic novel about aliens running amok under Auckland has rarely gone out of print, since its debut in 1979. First adapted as a memorable 80s TV series, this movie retooling sees teenage twins Theo and Rachel stumbling across shape-shifting creatures that are hiding beneath Auckland's extinct volcanoes. American showbiz magazine Variety praised Black Sheep director Jonathan King's "solid helming", and the excellent acting of Sam Neill as the mysterious Mr Jones. Oliver Driver plays lead villain Mr Wilberforce, under four hours of make-up.
Perfect Creature is set in an immaculately realised alternative colonial New Zealand where steam powers cobble-stoned cities, and zeppelins cruise the skies. A race of benevolent vampires preside over the spiritual life of humanity. When one of them turns rogue, a manhunt begins. Starring international actors (Dougray Scott, Saffron Burrows) Perfect Creature was the second feature for director Glenn Standring. It was the first NZ film picked up for distribution by a major Hollywood studio (Twentieth Century Fox), who ultimately dithered with its release.
Presented by an animated pencil, but no less authoritative for it, From Len Lye to Gollum traces the history of Kiwi animation from birth in 1929, to the triumphs of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The interviews and animated footage cover every base, from early pioneers (Len Lye, Disney import John Ewing) to the possibilities opened by computers (Weta Digital, Ian Taylor’s Animation Research). Along the way Euan Frizzell remembers the dog he found hardest to animate and the famous blue pencil; and Andrew Adamson speculates on how ignorance helped keep Shrek fresh.
Peter Jackson’s fifth feature is a playful blend of comedy, thriller and supernatural horror and was an effective Hollywood calling card for Weta FX. Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) resides in Fairwater, where he runs a supernatural scam. Aided by some spectral consorts, he engineers hauntings and “exorcises” the ghosts for a fee. When a genuine spook starts knocking off the locals, the FBI suspects Frank is the culprit. To clear his name, Frank must deal to the real perpetrator – none other than the Grim Reaper ...
Jack Brown Genius is the story of an obsessive flight of fancy. The spirit of a thousand year old Monk (Stuart Devenie) inhabits the mind of a contemporary New Zealand inventor (Tim Balme), who is inspired to turn the idea of human-powered flight into reality. Along the way he creates havoc for his pal Dennis (Marton Csokas), steals his girlfriend (Nicola Murphy), incinerates the factory of his Boss, and incurs the wrath of the Boss's financial backer Sylvia (Lisa Chappell). The film won director Tony Hiles a 1996 Film and Television Award.
New Zealand’s first CGI short film gives “eyes on the road” a new meaning as a pair of eyeballs drive to a mind-bending purgatory. A collaboration between visual effects man John Sheils and his brother Michael, Scream was shot in early 1991; finally 25 minutes of footage was “brutally” edited down to three, and fulsomely scored by John Gibson. The sly ‘based on true events’ title-card nods to the makers’ ambitions to “treat animation like live action.” In 1994 it screened in NZ cinemas as opener to the ILM wizardry of Jim Carrey hit The Mask, followed by a number of overseas festivals.
Eric the Goldfish was the star of a campaign used to promote awareness of the role of broadcasting funding agency NZ On Air (formed in 1989), and to encourage people to pay the broadcasting fee. The campaign used humour and CGI to spread the message, taking the point of view of a pet goldfish watching a family, who are watching TV. Although it attracted attention for its cost, the campaign was rated an "outstanding success" by its funders, and Eric entered popular culture. In 2017 Eric was reincarnated as the name of NZ On Air’s online funding application system.
This sci-fi telefeature for kids follows the adventures of runaways Peter (Toby Laing) and Maggie (Toni Driscoll), who meet when Maggie’s attempt to get Picnic bars on a five finger discount go awry and "rich brat" Peter is on the lam on a 10-speed. After falling into a grave of golden light at a farm cemetery, they wake up in the house of the strange Piper family. Laing is now trumpeter for Fat Freddys Drop, and a young Kerry Fox appears briefly as a policewoman in the opening. Scripted by veteran Ken Catran, the telefeature was re-cut from a four-part series.
This 80s relic was a homegrown take on US show That's Incredible!, with spectacular stunts and supernatural happenings replaced with subjects that were more kiwiana kitsch than wow! It was the first show from production company Communicado; presenters included Tim Shadbolt, Neil Roberts, Sue Kedgley, Phil Gifford and Phil Keoghan. In a Vanity Fair interview to illustrate Kiwi's "enormous understatement" Jane Campion famously quipped: "You know, they used to have a program on TV in New Zealand, That's Fairly Interesting. [...] In America, it's That's Incredible!"
This report from 80s current affairs show Close Up introduces the New Zealand public to future Prime Minister Jim Bolger — shortly after the “lightning coup” that saw him unseating urban lawyer Jim McLay, to become leader of the National Party. The focus is on Bolger’s rural roots as a father and farmer. There is also praise from political historian Barry Gustafson, and a mini journalistic joust with ex PM Robert Muldoon, over whether he supports the new party leader. In 1987 Labour was re-elected for another term; Bolger’s party swept to victory in 1990.
This New Zealand television special was made in 1985 (during Rob Guest’s Vegas showman days). It pre-dates Guest’s distinguished career in musical theatre in Australia and NZ, but the late singer’s musical talent and versatility is still on display. It’s a little cheesy (what entertainment special made out of Avalon Studios in the 80s wasn’t?), but Guest shines as the classy all-round entertainer he was. Singers Yolande Gibson and Jan Lampen are the main guest stars. The NZ Maori Chorale and The Lynette Perry Dancers also feature.
Olympic champion Mark Todd is the first recipient of the big red book as host Bob Parker launches the NZ edition of this show. Weeks earlier, Todd and mount Charisma had won NZ's first ever equestrian gold medal at the Los Angeles games; and there's footage of Todd's agonising wait, cigarette in hand, for American rider Karen Stives to make a mistake that would give him victory. Guests include Todd's parents (who recall him as a "lovable horror" as a boy), Captain Mark Phillips (then husband of Princess Anne), Stives and bronze medallist Virginia Holgate.
In an age before Rogernomics, and well before The Office, there was the afternoon tea fund, Golden Kiwi, and four o'clock closing: welcome to the early 80s world of the New Zealand Public Service. Gliding On (1981 - 1985) was the first locally made sitcom to become a bona-fide classic. The series was inspired by Roger Hall's hit play Glide Time and satirised a paper-pushing working life then-familiar to many Kiwis. Gliding On won several Feltex Awards including best male and female actors and best entertainment.
For a generation of music fans rock show Radio with Pictures was their link to local and international music — and essential viewing before TV2's Sunday night horror movies. Following on from the Grunt Machine in 1976, its presenters included Dr Rock (Barry Jenkin), Phil O'Brien, Karyn Hay and Dick Driver. RWP's run coincided with the rise of MTV and the music video, and a burgeoning 80s New Zealand music scene. Videos were a staple but artist interviews also featured and the show staged a number of televised concerts featuring leading local artists.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977 nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen, and the output demands were foundational in developing industry talent.
In the early 80s Ready to Roll was NZ’s premier TV pop show. It emerged in the pre-music video boom mid-70s hosted by Roger Gascoigne (and later Stu Dennison) with bands and dancers live in the studio. By the early 80s it was a seamless video clip Top 20 countdown — introduced by the Commodores pumping ‘Machine Gun’ — and appointment Saturday evening viewing for music fans (and a regular in the week’s Top 10 rating shows). It then evolved into a brand, spawning a number of RTR offshoots (Mega-Mix, Sounz and New Releases), before disappearing in the mid-90s.