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Tag Archive: WETA Workshop


Following the designs created under Daniel Falconer, art director and senior concept designer for Weta Workshop, the famed creation house of all things forged and fantastical, is releasing a new line of statues and replicas from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, similar in style, look, and feel to Weta’s highly collected products from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Many of these items will not be released until next year, but online collectible store Entertainment Earth is taking pre-orders now.  The statues and replicas are every bit the quality you’d expect from the company, known for matching the items seen on the screen with the products it delivers to the public.

First out will be four 1:6 statues, including Rian and Hup, both by Weta Workshop sculptor Steven Saunders.  Maudra Fara’s eyepatched companion Baffi the Fizzgig was created by Weta Workshop sculptor Jane Wenley.  The vile Skeksis Emperor is as creepily real, as sinister, and scary, as anything we’ve seen from Weta.  This statue is by Weta Workshop sculptor Hao Wang, and includes all four arms, plus a metal prosthesis for his rotting nose!  If you’re interested, you’ll want to pre-order the Skeksis Emperor now here at Entertainment Earth, as it will be limited to only 400 units worldwide.  The intricacy on this piece is unparalleled, and it will no doubt go down as one of Weta’s finest high-end statues.

 

A 1:1 scale prop replica of the Essence vial is crafted from glass and resin, with LED lighting to replicate the radiant essence seen on screen (operated via battery).  The Dark Crystal necklace is based on 3D scans provided by Netflix, shaped to be an exact replica of the Crystal seen on screen, its draconic claw is inspired by the Skeksis clasp system in the Castle of the Crystal.  It is a resin pendant complete with gunmetal-plated brass claw, includes a 20-inch stainless steel chain, and is encased in a gift box.

Find more information and learn how to pre-order any now from Entertainment Earth at the links above. Check out several high quality images below, courtesy of Weta Workshop:

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Fans of director Yimou Zhang′s international mega-production The Great Wall didn’t need to go all the way to the Great Wall of China to have a chance at obtaining a piece of the 2016 film this past week.  Auction house Prop Store′s Los Angeles location joined with Legendary Entertainment to offer 477 lots of both key and background costumes, armor, prop weaponry, and set pieces from the first partnering of the United States and China on a giant blockbuster film.  The Great Wall is a Chinese dynasty fantasy set at the famous landmark, merging giant battles and action with the mega-sized monster genre, pairing China’s biggest stars with an international cast, backed by a crew from 100 countries.  Although the movie received mixed reviews from critics, what can’t be denied are the visual concepts and craftsmanship of New Zealand’s Weta Workshop and Mexican costume designer Mayes Rubeo, who designed imagery for the film never seen before.  Check out our review of the movie here at borg back in 2016, along with Abbie Bernstein’s ground-breaking book The Great Wall: The Art of the Film (reviewed here).

Weta Workshop kitted out the armies of The Great Wall with an arsenal of color.  The workshop design studio rendered more than a thousand concepts for the film, with 6,000 final weapons used by the key cast and 600 extras, including shields, spears, axes, daggers, crossbows, swords, and arrows featured in the auction.  Mayes Rubeo, known for her designs in Thor: Ragnarok and Avatar (and she created costumes for both the original Total Recall and the halted Mouse Guard live-action movie), utilized historic Chinese fabrics, textiles, techniques, hand embroidery and applique, and leathers in each costume with about 18 components per person, all featuring an animal and unique color combination: the blue crane corps, red eagle corps, gold tiger corps, black bear corps, and purple deer corps.

 

It should be no surprise that the top costume sales went for the two stunning, blue, armored costumes worn by the film’s Chinese star Tian Jing as Commander Lin Mae.  Featuring sheathed swords, helmets, leg daggers, feathered suit and hard armor, they sold for slightly more than $9,000 and $17,500 each.  Other hero costumes that sold included Matt Damon as William costume variants ($1,687, $2,625, $4,375 and $5,125), The Mandalorian actor Pedro Pascal′s character Tovar’s costumes ($937, $1,625, and $1,687), Willem Dafoe′s character Ballard ($344, $531, $875, and $1,437), General Shao’s (Zhang Hanyu) black armor ($2,187 and $4,500), Commander Wu’s (Eddie Peng) gold armor ($2,750 and $4,250), Commander Chen’s (Kenny Lin) red armor ($2,250 and $3,875), Commander Deng’s (Xuan Huang) purple armor ($1,625 and $3,875), and Strategist Wang’s (Andy Lau) costumes ($1,000 and $2,500).  A variety of historically-inspired, ornate hero (lead actor-used) swords ranged from $400 to $3,875 for one of the swords unique to Tian Jing.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Using a meticulously designed new robot from Weta Workshop, the Australian science fiction movie I Am Mother has all the components of a good story steeped in the classic sci-fi of the 1950s.  It takes place on Earth after an apocalypse that could easily be interwoven into the Cyberdyne/Genisys destruction from the Terminator series, and has that futurism straight out of a Philip K. Dick short story.  What’s left are robots running everything, some on the surface, but one in particular inhabits what looks like a space station buried beneath the planet’s surface.  This robot is called Mother, voiced seamlessly by X-Men series co-star and Australian actor Rose Byrne.  She has preserved several of the last bits of humanity–embryos–in order to repopulate the species via rapid-growth technology.  The production, the design, the light-up props, and the pacing all create the right framework for a significant sci-fi film.  Unfortunately the story is single-threaded, building opportunities for subplots that get left ignored, much like January’s direct-to-Netflix sci-fi release Io.

The build-up is nicely rendered by first-time movie director and script writer Grant Sputore.  The common theme of this genre, as much sci-fi horror as merely sci-fi, is “things aren’t what they seem.”  Or maybe they are.  The audience sees Mother raise a single child from the bank of embryos stowed on the facility, a girl known simply as Daughter, played first by young Tahlia Sturzaker, then for the bulk of the movie by Clara Rugaard, both giving fine performances.  We believe the humans are long gone outside, until a woman arrives, played by two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.  She’s been shot, and whether she was shot by humans or robots becomes a mystery for Daughter to solve.  Both Swank and Rugaard look so much alike, their likeness simply must be a plot point:  Are they related, and if so, how?  Sisters?  Clones?  Same hair color and length, eyes, bone structure.  Was Swank’s lost human a former captive in the underground bunker?  How many times has Mother created Daughters or Sons?  How many years from Armageddon is this story really happening?  It’s the answers–or lack thereof–to these questions, and the ultimate payoff Sputore delivers that doesn’t match the rest of the film.

Part of the legitimacy of the film as something more than mainstream popular sci-fi is the amazing body movement work of Luke Hawker acting inside the robot suit he helped design and build with the Weta team.  How rare is it that the designer of the tech is also the actor, who is featured in 90% of the scenes of the film?  The added surprise is this was not a CGI motion capture process, but a practical effect that had to be created with real-world materials.  There is some actual chemistry between Daughter and Mother, and Mother is a pretty great mother to see in action.  It’s like watching young Will Robinson interact with his Robot in Lost in Space.  Add to the believable robot the cold and lonely tenor of the film and you have something like New Zealand’s low budget 1985 sci-fi marvel The Quiet Earth.

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Consider this your moment of San Diego Comic-Con zen.

This weekend I got a chance to visit Weta Workshop’s booth at the San Diego Convention Center.  Lucky for me I was there the same time as Mythbusters and Tested’s Adam Savage.  I got to marvel at Adam while he got to marvel at one of the many incredible artisans from New Zealand’s Weta Workshop, presenting at their booth before one of Adam’s panels (the Weta folks gave him his own sword of Boromir from The Lord of the Rings).  This is what genuine curiosity looks like.  Adam often attends the show incognito, so actual sightings are a bit rare, and he was quite fun to watch being another one of us at the Con.

Then a funny thing happened.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Rarely has anyone been able to create a single work that includes so much information in such spectacular fashion about such an epic body of work.  Writer Daniel Falconer has done just that with Middle-earth: From Script to Screen–Building the World of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, his new 512-page, exhaustive, encyclopedic chronicle of the making of both of director Peter Jackson’s trilogies adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Never before seen photographs, never before published recollections of cast and crew of the films that all-told would add up to nearly 24 hours of award-winning cinema, garnering seventeen Academy Awards for The Lord of the Rings films and seven nominations for The Hobbit.  Weta Workshop’s Daniel Falconer, who has written some of the best-reviewed books we have looked at here at borg.com, catches up The Lord of the Rings to the coverage he has documented in his books on the making of The Hobbit trilogy, without providing any redundant content from his prior books, including The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles–Creatures & Characters, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers, The Hobbit, Smaug: Unleashing the Dragon, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Art & Design, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Art of War.  In doing so he has created the definitive resource for fans of the films, and fans of the Tolkien books now have a visual, fully-realized geographic resource guide to Middle-earth.

Beginning with a fabulous map of Middle-earth that includes cross-references to the pages of the book where each location is discussed, the reader can take his or her own tour across the film (and book’s) fantasy realm and real-life New Zealand filming locations.  The journeys of Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring from The Lord of the Rings and Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and the other Dwarfs in The Hobbit are overlaid so that the reader’s tour sweeps across the landscapes and environments created entirely by concept artists, artisans, and skilled workers of every imaginable category, required to faithfully reflect Tolkien’s and Jackson’s visions.  Even more exciting are accounts, including descriptions and photographs, of places that Jackson filmed, but did not make it to the final cut of the film.  The weight of this task–the task of creating the films and also in creating this hefty document–are reflected in the artistry and organization of every single page.

Along with the primary narrative focusing on selection, planning, building and filming each environment, readers will discover several sidebars covering topics like key characters, races, and creatures, and a veritable how-to guide to making an epic film series that takes readers through breaking down a script, set conceptualization, set drafting, use of “big rigs”–a twist on forced perspective filming, sound design, location scouting, art direction, set construction, set decoration, cinematography, performance/motion capture, building model miniatures, previsualization, aerial and scenic photography, organic sets, the greens department (charged with plant life set dressing), talismans and props, set and prop finishing, post-production, color grading, lighting, shooting on location, using locations responsibly, and creating digital environments.

Throughout the book readers will learn what materials and settings could be re-used from The Lord of the Rings for The Hobbit.  Initially environments were not built to last, but after the success of various filming locations in New Zealand as tourist attractions when filming wrapped on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, many sites were rebuilt to survive past production for The Hobbit films.  This included the creation of 44 Hobbit holes that can be visited today among many other sites.  The journey across the map of Middle-earth will take readers to The Shire, Lands of Arnor, Rivendell, The Misty Mountains, Khazad-dûm, Wilderland, Mirkwood, Lothlórien and the River Anduin, Realms of Rhovanion, Rohan, Enedwaith & Calenardhon, Realms of the North & Wastes of the East, Ithilien & the Morgul Vale, and Mordor and the Shadowed South.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The best thing about reading a book about the making of a film, without first watching the film, is that your view of the book is not skewed by your opinion of the film.  If you knew nothing about The Great Wall, the new behind-the-scenes look in The Great Wall: The Art of the Film will prompt you to want to see it.  Not only will you find incredible concept art, set design, costumes, and props, the book itself is unique.  In the past five years “making of” film and art books have vastly improved in quality.  Abbie Bernstein’s new book from Titan Books features the best quality images, the best layouts, and the best book design of any book yet reviewed at borg.com–the book itself has a traditional Chinese book binding and gilded edges.  It also features an element left out of many film books these days–it includes images of the entire film, and doesn’t remove spoiler elements, such as, in this case, detailed images of the film’s monsters and ending (the art book for Star Wars: The Force Awakens provided no final image of Luke Skywalker and several costumes and props, as an example).

An icon of China cinema, the man behind several “art house” films in China and the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics, director Zhang Yimou discusses in the book why The Great Wall is unique and how it became the biggest production in China film history.  If you have watched stunning Chinese film work over the years and aren’t a fan of dubbed or subtitled films, the barrier is language–how can you connect U.S. and Chinese film audiences?  Yimou intended just that by making a Hollywood-esque film as a Chinese production in English with a cast and crew from dozens of nations, including more than 100 on-set translators.  Beyond that goal, the powerful imagery of the film as displayed throughout The Great Wall: The Art of the Film, is the stuff of Academy Award-winning costume design and art design.

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Along with interviews with Zhang are chapters featuring producer Peter Loehr, actors Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, and Willem Dafoe.  The most visually stunning chapters detail The Nameless Order, with Zhang’s color coding of each fighting corps, including the royal blue Crane Corps–the fighting unit consisting entirely of women.  We see frosted plastic pages displaying each corps symbol, and poster quality designs highlight each leader, along with their shields and weaponry.  Detailed sections feature the creation and design of the film’s monsters–the mythical Tao Tei–and how WETA and Industrial Light and Magic created them.  And each key sequence of the film is revealed with photographs of special effects and the actors in action.

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Hobbit Art & Design cover fifth volume

Review by C.J. Bunce

A wealth of concept art for The Hobbit can be found in the fifth volume of Weta’s Chronicles series: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Art & Design.  Writer and Weta artist and designer Daniel Falconer again delivers a stunning hardcover account of the behind-the-scenes artistry that forged the last of Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth series.

Including much more pencil sketchwork and inspirations for the cities of The Hobbit than prior volumes, this edition showcases many designs that made it into the final film but also many that did not.  It’s those pieces that did not make it to the final cut of the film that form a rare treasure trove here.  As costume designer Bob Buck writes in he book, “The designs that were never realized are as important as the ones that were, being part of the process and representing the elimination or germination of an idea that grew into the visuals as seen on the screen.”  Buck provides valuable insight into the ideas behind many of the costumes in the film along with many other Weta designers and special effects artists, including concept art director John Howe.

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Highlights of this volume give a detailed look at concept sketchs and paintings from Weta Digital, 3Foot7, and Weta Workshop of Galadriel’s Maxfield Parrish-esque costume design development from her descent into Dol Guldur, and the ghostly dead Ringwraith kings and the Necromancer, who at many times appeared as if he could have been designed by Bernie Wrightson or Frank Frazetta.  Costume designs featured include the elegant Thranduil, Elven soldiers, Bard, an unused but brilliant set of armor for Stephen Fry’s mayor of Lake-town, and every angle and type of Dwarf you could imagine.  Not surprisingly, it is the culture and artistry of Dwarves that fill the bulk of the pages here.

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Phil Noto Black Widow

The last day of the year is finally here, and with that the last of our reviews of the best content of 2014.

We’ve previewed comic books each month thanks to publishers like Dynamite Comics, Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, BOOM! Studios, and Image.  We sample the best of all that Marvel and DC Comics has to offer, too, and although we don’t have enough time to review everything we review those titles we think our readers might like to check out, especially those with a sci-fi, fantasy, or retro angle.  And we read plenty of books–sci-fi and fantasy, pulp and spy novels, movie and TV tie-ins, even Westerns and steampunk, as well as non-fiction books about movies, TV, and other genre topics.  This past month we have looked again at these titles, as we narrowed our selections to what we think are the very best.  So here are our picks for Best in Print for 2014.

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Best Comic Book Series — Black Widow, Marvel Comics.  We were wondering early on what would take the place of Fraction and Hollingsworth’s Hawkeye series for the most satisfying superhero fix.  It didn’t take long to see this other Marvel series looking at another superhero in a similarly personal–but very different–way.  It was a standout in a great year of comics.  Phil Noto’s art and colors were incredible and Nathan Edmondson’s story didn’t let up once.  Full of action, espionage, and intrigue.  A great series to catch-up on in a trade edition.  See our reviews of the series here and here.

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Best Comic Book Mini-Series — Afterlife with Archie, Archie Comics.  Who would have guessed someone could make Archie and friends so accessible to any demographic in the 2010s?  And whose brilliant idea was doing it via a horror genre story of zombies taking over Riverdale?  Smart writing by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and spooky atmospheric illustrations by Francesco Francavilla made for a sumptuous series like no other.  Not technically a mini-series, it feels like one because of its staggered release.  See our earlier raves about the series here.

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Best Comic Book Writing – Dan Abnett, Wild’s End, BOOM! Studios.  Abnett’s Wild’s End really caught us by surprise.  An incredible fantasy read that is truly unique from BOOM! Studios.  Anthropomorphic characters with incredible archaic dialogue that’s witty and smart.  A crazy mash-up of War of the Worlds, Christopher Robin’s neighborhood, and the dark edge and high stakes of Revival.  We can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of this series.  Check out our earlier review here.

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Hobbit Smaug Unleashing the Dragon cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

To learn what advancements are happening in technical moviemaking, you can always turn to Weta Workshop and Weta Digital.  For the latest in cutting edge film work, you need only turn to the latest book on The Hobbit film series from Weta, its step by step chronicle of the development of the greatest dragon in all of fantasy, Smaug: Unleashing the Dragon.  As a supplement of sorts to their grand Chronicles series detailing the creative story of The Hobbit, Smaug: Unleashing the Dragon is the first look at a single element of the franchise, peeling back the development of one character in all its tiny details and from all vantage points.

A smaller dimension book at 8×10 inches compared to the double size and thickness of the Chronicles series, this format is well suited for similar spin-off works–perhaps a single book on each race in Middle-earth one day?  But like its counterparts, Smaug: Unleashing the Dragon is dense in both text and photos.  Every designer, art director, sculptor, modeller, texture artist, and animator that provided new ideas and elements to arrive at the final creature offer commentary about their thought process and their collaboration with others.

Smaug Unleashing the Dragon excerpt

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The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles Cloaks & Daggers

Review by C.J. Bunce

How often have you wished you had access to detailed photographs of the costumes and props of your favorite sci-fi or fantasy franchise?  Maybe for making your own costume, or maybe just to see up close what it might be like to be the actor wearing that cloak or holding that sword?  Covering both The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Weta Workshop has managed to top its previous accounts of the making of The Hobbit series with its fourth deluxe hardcover work, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers.

Daniel Falconer, Weta Workshop senior concept designer and creator of this latest behind the scenes account of Peter Jackson’s version of Middle-earth, first brought us The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Art & Design, then The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Creatures & Characters, and earlier this year, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design.  But this fourth book in the series is even better–packed full of photos and commentary by the art designers, costume designers, prop makers, costumers, actors and other crew members that created each new set, room,  world, civilian clothing, soldier armor, and each prop, be it elaborate or necessarily mundane.

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Costume designer Ann Maskrey recounts acquiring and modifying hundreds of fabrics for use when writer J.R.R. Tolkien may have given only little indication as to what an individual character or entire race of creatures should be wearing.

Bilbo and the Hobbits of the Shire, the Wizards Gandalf and Radagast, Thorin and his band of dwarves, Elves, Orcs and Humans, and key locations from the story–Mirkwood, Lake-Town and Dale–each gets several pages to highlight the detail required to visually build a world to make the fantastical believable.

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Hand-written letters, books, maps, and signage of various fonts, food, tables, rugs and chairs, purses, swords, hats, buttons and clasps, cloaks and boots, staves, belts and buckles, vambraces, lanterns, instruments of all kinds, knits and macramé, pipes and axes, armor and maille, helmets, wigs, and beards, metalwork, glassware, silks, and saddles, rings and The One Ring–every element is covered by subject, and yet even this exhaustive volume only scratches the surface of what was required for the films, according to the book’s contributors.  And endless close-ups of fabric swatches and the actual costumes, giving readers an almost hands-on experience with the design, construction, and fabric selection process.

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Because of the nature of The Hobbit tale and its many named Dwarves, the Dwarves get the most elaborate costumes of any race of the five Middle Earth movies created thus far.  The designs on each piece of armor, each metal fitting, scale maille, and leather work is simply stunning.  And if you’re a fan as much as we are of Sylvester McCoy’s wizard Radagast, you’ll be amazed to learn how his seemingly ripped, worn, and ratty apparel actually includes multiple layers of the finest fabrics, embroidery, and exquisite trim.

Originally released just weeks ago in a limited signed edition, the same exact edition minus the autographs can be purchase through Weta in New Zealand directly here and through Amazon.com here.  The last entry in the Peter Jackson six-film Middle-earth saga, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, will be released in theaters December 17, 2014.