Packed with creatures and landscapes that quite simply boggle the mind, the Nature Collection showcases New Zealand's impressive menagerie of nature and wildlife films. Many of the titles were made by powerhouse company NHNZ, which began around 1977 as the Natural History Unit, a small, southern outpost of state television. In this backgrounder, Peter Hayden — who had a hand in more than a few of these classic films — guides viewers through just what the Nature Collection has to offer.
This excerpt from arts show The Edge looks at the early days of Weta, the Wellington effects company which would win Oscars for King Kong and Avatar. Dressed in a Tintin T-shirt, Peter Jackson talks about the effects being crafted for Heavenly Creatures, and forecasts a future where filmmaking will go digital. Richard Taylor — later head of Weta Workshop — crafts a sea creature for another project; George Port guides viewers through the basics of digital effects. At this point Port was Weta's only digital effects expert. He worked on Heavenly Creatures for seven months straight.
This episode of the series about New Zealanders in World War I looks at Lottie Le Gallais. The Auckland nurse worked on the hospital 'mercy' ship Maheno, which transported wounded soldiers from Anzac Cove at Gallipoli. She arrived to find her brother Leddie had been killed. Te Papa exhibition Gallipoli: The Scale of our War featured a large-scale model of Le Gallais learning of Leddie's death, crafted by Weta Workshop. Weta boss Richard Taylor is interviewed here. The series was narrated by Hilary Barry, and screened during 3 News.
This made-for-the-wee-kids series follows SpottyWot and DottyWot, two playful aliens exploring life on earth. In this episode, a chase around the farm sees the two stumbling upon a sheepdog helping a farmer herd his sheep, which gives DottyWot an idea about how cleaning up could be turned into a game. The CGI-animated WotWots appeared on more than 70 episodes, and screened in many countries. The show was produced by Pūkeko Pictures, a partnership between children’s author Martin Baynton, and Weta co-founders Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger.
Musician and movie fan Chris Knox reviews Heavenly Creatures in this excerpt from 1990s arts show The Edge. Knox calls Peter Jackson's film about real life friends and murderers Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker "brave and often astonishing". He praises Jackson's use of special effects for evoking the teenagers' heightened state of mind, but suspects that during other scenes a more naturalistic approach would have helped the characters. The clips from the Oscar-nominated movie include some of Weta's earliest digital effects, and Peter Jackson's cameo outside a cinema.
Christmas Eve 1953: Cricketer Bob Blair (Ryan O'Kane) is in South Africa, days away from batting for New Zealand. His fiancée Nerissa Love (Maddigan's Quest's Rose McIver) is boarding an ill-fated train, which in this excerpt will plunge into the Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, in the country's worst rail disaster. The Dominion Post's Linda Burgess found this TV movie retelling of the tragic romance "first-rate", noting "consistently excellent" performances from O'Kane, McIver, and Miranda Harcourt as Nerissa's wary mother. Tangiwai won four NZ TV awards, including best cinematography.
In this Attitude episode, 14-year-old Sean Prendeville faces up to a complex and radical surgery: rotationplasty. For the bone cancer survivor the operation involves attaching his lower leg to the hip joint, rotating it and using the ankle as a ‘hinge’ for a prosthetic limb. The programme tracks the nature-mad Sean’s journey, from pre-surgery anxiety to rehab on his backwards right foot/knee; and the things that helped him through: his blue tongue lizard, challenge beads, Mum and family, and design student Jessica Quinn (who underwent the procedure when she was younger).
Screened on a TVNZ arts show, this documentary looks at how the strings were pulled on Peter Jackson's low-budget puppet movie Meet the Feebles. An old Wellington railway shed fizzes with energy and imagination as a team peppered with future Oscar-winners crafts the gleefully subversive Muppets parody. Jackson muses on his influences, processes and propensity for "savage humour" in a fascinating interview. Included is footage of his childhood films — war movies and stop motion animation made with his first 8mm camera. Richard King writes about Meet the Feebles here.
A helmet cam records the claustrophobic reactions of a rookie mercenary (Elliot Travers) as an interplanetary combat raid goes wrong in Ferand Peek's debut short. Peek produced the one-shot DIY Gravity in Wellington over five years. Audio was recorded first, then Travers (shot in a special rig), then CGI effects were forged with the help of Miramar/Weta filmmaking crew. The result was touted by io9 doyen Annalee Newitz: “All we see of the world around him are reflections in his helmet, and yet the suspense is incredible. Plus, the story [is] surprisingly moving.”
This National Film Unit documentary provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the various stages of 40s film production at the relatively nascent unit, from shoot to post production. It was made to be screened continuously (thus the ‘loop’ title) at exhibition theatrettes. There’s genial interaction among the cast and crew (see backgrounder for who they are). Directed by pioneer woman director Kathleen O’Brien, the filming took place at the unit’s Darlington Road studios in Wellington, close to where Weta Workshop and Park Road Post now operate in Miramar.