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 special effects being crafted for Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures. It's an intriguing insight into the early days of Weta, the effects house who went on to be the world-making wizards behind Lord of the Rings, Avatar and District 9. Richard Taylor — now Weta Workshop head — crafts a sea creature; George Port gives a tour of the fledgling Weta Digital (him, a computer and a single room!); and Jackson (in a Tintin t-shirt) breaks down Heavenly Creatures scenes, and muses upon Kiwi ingenuity and taking on Hollywood.
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.
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 one-off documentary from NHNZ reveals new information about the origins of the iconic kiwi. Presenter Peter Elliott travels the country investigating how "evolutionary mutants" — like giant meat-eating snails, kiwi, and tuatara — evolved over 20 million years in the face of massive tectonic upheavals and extreme isolation. Elliott answers why Aotearoa has the "weirdest creatures", such as birds that don't fly and mammals that do. Company Weta Workshop used computer graphics to create images of extinct creatures for this TV One programme.
Armed with his trusty ray gun and protected by his pith helmet Lord Broadforce's exotic species search on an alien planet is going swimmingly ... until the dame gets colonial angst. The short is based on the sci-fi world of Dr Grordbort created by Weta Workshop's Greg Broadmore (designer on District 9, King Kong) in which Victorian steampunk meets star-trekking trophy hunting. The live action-CGI film is another impressive product of Media Design School's 3D animation programme: created by 11 students over 22 weeks under the direction of James Cunningham.
After winning attention both in The Thomas Oliver Band and with his solo lap steel guitar work, Thomas Oliver took away the 2016 APRA Silver Scroll songwriting award with 'If I Move to Mars'. The video makes the most of the intragalactic theme, with a Gravity inspired/gravity-defying video made by a pair of effects wizards from Weta Workshop. The visually impressive result sees Oliver in a spacesuit, peacefully orbiting the Earth playing a custom space-guitar as the sun slowly rises behind him.