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Tag Archive: Weta


Review by C.J. Bunce

It is a study in East meets West, or at least it tries really hard to be.  Visually The Great Wall will likely be the most beautiful film you see this year.  The worldbuilding is on a grand scale, epic, and worthy of the historic monumental icon of China.  The intelligently thought out military structure and interplay of weapons, color, purpose, props, and costumes is second perhaps only to Peter Jackson’s Tolkien world fantasy films.  The costumes are exquisite–detailed, rich, stylized, ornate, and simply phenomenal.  But like many big movies this year, it is a weak story that keeps The Great Wall from its potential.

If you’re a fan of classic action films from China, you will have no problem jumping right into the action of The Great Wall.  But if you’re easily distracted by new things, you probably should skip this one.  Its style of storytelling and dialogue are unique for a mainstream Western release so it is understandable why the film had problems attracting audiences here, even beyond all of the politics that accompanied its release (the objection of some in Matt Damon’s lead role, a Caucasian lead in a medieval, epic story about China–whitewashing as discussed with respect to Doctor Strange–similar to criticisms when Tom Cruise was the lead in a Japanese-focused story in The Last Samurai).  And if you don’t like subtitles, you probably won’t be drawn to The Great Wall.  But you’d be missing something spectacular.  So many features make the biggest budget film in China’s history worthy of at least one viewing.

You’ll find much telling instead of showing, something better films of the Western tradition endeavor to avoid.  You’ll witness soldiers marveling at what by all counts is an epic military battle, but then they actually state as much.  It’s a quirky thing that will probably make the average Western moviegoer shudder a bit.  Yet if you look beyond the almost characteristically Eastern movie abrupt dialogue shifts, interspersed tangent story elements and nonlinear style, you’ll find some great takeaways.  Like one of the year’s best, badass heroines in Tian Jing’s swashbuckling Commander-turned-General Lin Mae–a powerful dragon killer in command of the entire Chinese army whose cliff-diving daredevilry and death-defying air balloon war machines evoke the best World War II movie action sequences.  The martial arts stuntwork is like that of no other movie this year.  The special effects are impressive, especially the interplay of set construction and battle scenes and heretofore unseen methods of combat and destruction used to defend the wall.  The purely CGI creations–WETA and Industrial Light & Magic’s mythic Tao Tei dragons–look real, and they even have their own layered culture with the ability to plan an intelligent battle strategy.

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The granddaddy of American genre franchises offers up its next entry next week.  Billed as the final chapter, War for the Planet for the Apes at a minimum will bring the reboot universe into a complete trilogy story, focused on star Andy Serkis as Caesar.  The story continues two years after the events in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (directed by Reeves), the sequel to the first of the reboot series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (co-produced by Clark).  So unlike many franchises these days, the same people are creating the beginning, the middle, and the end.  Thanks to director Matt Reeves and producer Dylan Clark, we should have some continuity among the films.

War for the Planet for the Apes introduces to the films Woody Harrelson as a military leader bringing mankind’s last stand to the apes.  War for the Planet of the Apes co-stars Karin Konoval (The X-Files, Tru Calling, Fringe, Supernatural, Psych, Arrow), Judy Greer (Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Jurassic World), Chad Rook (Timeless, Supernatural), Ty Olsson (Continuum, Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica) and Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do!, Sahara).  

The final poster is out (above, top) and a few more trailers revealed.  We have a full scene below featuring the introduction of Zahn, known for his comedic performances, revealed as a new ape referred to as “Bad Ape,” a reference given by humans while he was kept at a zoo.  Quickly we see what all the buzz is about with respect to the show’s special effects and Andy Serkis’s unique acting talent.  Will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award Serkis with a full acting Oscar, breaking the barrier for motion capture performances?  Also, make sure you watch below the very sly teaser of sorts incorporating what looks at first blush to be someone’s YouTube upload from a visit to a zoo.  First up, here is a great look behind the scenes at the motion capture technology and Andy Serkis’s role:

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WETA’s perfected motion capture technology is sure to drive fans of one of science fiction’s most enduring franchises to the theaters this summer when War for the Planet of the Apes takes the planet by storm.  The third installment of the reboot Planet of the Apes movie series now has a second trailer.  The granddaddy of American genre franchises offers up its next entry with star Andy Serkis reprising his role as Caesar, with director Matt Reeves and producer Dylan Clark.

The story continues two years after the events in 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, also directed by Reeves, the sequel to the first of the reboot series, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Dylan Clark was a producer on that film, too).  The film introduces Woody Harrelson as an arrogant, General Custer-esque military leader bringing mankind’s last stand to the apes.  He doesn’t look all that sympathetic, and we’re sure we will be cheering for the apes in this picture.  Caesar and orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) lead a raid on a village of humans and it looks like certain doom for the humans.  As fans of the series know, when an outcome is inevitable, it’s quality story telling and effects that will be key to making this a great film.

War for the Planet of the Apes also stars Judy Greer (Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Jurassic World), Chad Rook (Timeless, Supernatural), Ty Olsson (Continuum, Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica) and Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do!, Sahara).

Here is the second trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes:

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Motion capture fans take note: WETA looks like it has perfected the technology and we have plenty of great special effects to look forward to in War for the Planet of the Apes. The third installment of the reboot Planet of the Apes movie series now has a full trailer. The granddaddy of American genre franchises offers up its next entry with star Andy Serkis, director Matt Reeves, and producer Dylan Clark.  Serkis is again Caesar, the star character of the original movie series.

The story continues two years after the events in 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, also directed by Reeves, the sequel to the first of the reboot series, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Dylan Clark was a producer on that film, too).  The film introduces Woody Harrelson as what appears to be an arrogant, General Custer-esque military leader bringing mankind’s last stand to the apes.  He doesn’t look all that sympathetic, and we’re sure we will be cheering for the apes in this picture.  Caesar and orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) appear to lead a group of armed apes to raid a village of humans, or it the other way around?

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War for the Planet of the Apes also stars Judy Greer (Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Jurassic World), Chad Rook (Timeless, Supernatural), Ty Olsson (Continuum, Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica) and Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do!, Sahara).

Here is the first full-length trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes:

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The third installment of the reboot Planet of the Apes movie series now has a teaser to go with its name.  The wordy-but-consistent with the franchise title War for the Planet of the Apes was featured at New York Comic Con today, with star Andy Serkis, director Matt Reeves, and producer Dylan Clark revealing the teaser plus a scene showcasing Serkis’s lead character Caesar taking on a new nemesis.

Woody Harrelson plays an aggressive ape leader referred to as Colonel.  The film pits the Colonel against lead protagonist ape Caesar, with plenty of sparring over the course of the film.  In the brief clip shown to Con attendees, Caesar and orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) lead a group of armed apes to raid a village of humans.  The story continues two years after the events in 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, also directed by Reeves, the sequel to the first of the reboot series, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Dylan Clark was a producer on that film, too).

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Matt Reeves, Andy Serkis, and Dylan Clark before the release of the teaser in Times Square Thursday. (Andy Serkis, Twitter)

War for the Planet of the Apes also stars Judy Greer (Ant-Man, Tomorrowland, Jurassic World), Chad Rook (Timeless, Supernatural), Ty Olsson (Continuum, Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica) and Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do!, Sahara).

Here is the teaser for War for the Planet of the Apes:

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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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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.

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The latest installment in Weta Workshop’s hardcover series focusing on the art and design of The Hobbit movies provides the most-in-depth look yet at the developmental stages of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastical world to the big screen.  Through hundreds of pencil sketches, detailed accounts of the thoughts behind decisions, painted concept art and costume development, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles–Art & Design provides a comprehensive account of the mastery in bringing ideas to life.

The structure of the book follows our heroes’ journey through the film, in chapters like “Queer Lodgings” (Beorn the Skin-Changer’s house), “Flies & Spiders,” “The Woodland Realm” (the elves), “A Ruined form of Life” (the Orcs), and “Inside Information” (all about Smaug).  Each chapter provides a focused look at the unique worldbuilding for each disparate part of the film, from set design to backstory to costumes.  Many chapters offer better looks at details that were only glimpsed briefly in the film, like the city of Dale in its heyday, seen onscreen only in flashback.  It’s an opportunity for those parts of the filmmaking–given just as much thought and work as anything in the movie–to be seen and admired in their full glory.

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A chapter on the Elves of Mirkwood showcases the costumes for King Thranduil, Legolas, and Tauriel, as well as the woodland realm where the dwarves are imprisoned during the film.  There’s a special focus on the wine cellars where the dwarves make their dramatic barrel escape.  Much time is given to the development of Tauriel, a new character created for the movie. Comments from Evangeline Lily (Tauriel) provide insight into her character: “Tauriel had to embody the grace of Galadriel and Arwen, while representing the fighting stealth and power of Legolas and Elrond.”

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Hobbit book Chronicles from Weta

We have reviewed many incredible books about movies here at borg.com.  Beginning with Special Effects: The History and Technique and its master class in film study to the book on movie posters The Art of Drew Struzan, to the recent Syfy Channel Book of Sci-fi, we have discussed a variety of the very best books on films and filmmaking, but also the best books on specific productions that the market has to offer.  If you missed them, here are links to some of the best books out there:

Each of these books had great content and a great way of sharing it with the reader, making for an immersive experience for the true fan.  And there are even more great books in our review pile, from Raiders of the Lost Ark and even more from Star Wars.  Then we laid our hands on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design, thanks to the folks at Weta.  In my view Weta is the best magic and fantasy shop in the world.  Where we once were dazzled by the spectacles created by Industrial Light and Magic as the coolest, newest cutting edge movie factory, since The Lord of the Rings trilogy ILM has been replaced by the artists, the painters, designers, sculptors, modelers, costumers and builders at Weta studios in New Zealand.  Their elaborate sets, props, costumes, make-up–you name it–in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey made for the most incredible fantasy world put on film.  Ever.  So it’s awesome that Weta put together a book that not only highlights The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s wondrous creations, but the actual artists that made it all happen.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design was compiled by Weta Workshop senior concept designer Daniel Falconer.  In itself it has the look and feel of a prop from the film, from its finely tooled cover to its pull-out, glow in the dark Thorin’s map inside the front cover to the three page fold-out of Bilbo’s contract.  It’s the first book in a series to cover different artistic aspects of The Hobbit movies.  Containing 1,000 images of concept art, sketches, a cross-section of the 9,000 paintings created for The Hobbit, props, costumes, hair designs, and sets, it reveals the vision behind the Weta departments that created them.  Unlike any book I have seen before, it has a key code that credits each department, designer, or artist that developed what you see in the photos.  Some of these are tried and discarded face applications and wigs, like this one for the dwarf Oin:

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Other pages focus on characters’ props, including pencil designs, paintings, and detail that any cosplayer would love to delve into for his or her favorite character, like these hand props for the dwarf Ori:

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Other pages show the elaborate costume designs.  And all include commentary by the artists who came up with concepts and designs.  Production designer and Academy Award winner Dan Hennah sums up why this focus on the artists make so much sense: “Film is a collaborative medium and requires the complete attention of every person involved to find the images that will make the final cut.  Each artist is encouraged to bring their individual vision to the project and work it in with others to make a cohesive part of the big picture…. For a fantasy movie to succeed, it must transport the viewer into a totally believable world where Dwarves, Dragons, Wizards, Elves, Goblins, Orcs, Trolls and hobbits all exist in a seamless mix of complimentary environments.”

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The book begins with views of Hobbiton, which had to be re-created from The Lord of the Rings in exacting detail and fleshed out for expanded use in The Hobbit.  We find Bilbo and his costume designs and concept art for Bag End.  It moves on to Thorin and his band of dwarves in comparison art showing final designs down to each dwarf’s boots.  Dwarf by dwarf we’re given access to trial shots of each dwarf, all used to develop the final look for the film.  Each belt, purse, sword and shield is shown for each character, again, with explanations why one design was chosen over others from Dan Hennah, “3 foot 7” Costume Designer Ann Maskrey, Academy Award Winners Peter King, and “3 foot 7” Make-up and Hair Designer and Weta Workshop’s Design and Special Effects Supervisor Richard Taylor.

Hobbit contract in Weta Chronicles

The book then turns to the flashback scenes of historic dwarves, of ancient battles and armor designs.  We get an introduction to Radagast the Brown, the new wizard we meet in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Two chapters turn to environments chosen, from real life cliffs modified digitally for scene use to a revisit to the elf town of Rivendell.  And we get to see up close trolls, stone giants, and goblins, including the thoughts behind the development of the hideous Great Goblin, and a look at the familiar Gollum.

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The book showcases the art of concept art directors Alan Lee and John Howe, and work from the several artists of the film’s “3 foot 7” Art Department, Costume Department and Weta Workshop–dozens of creative filmmakers who live and work in Wellington, New Zealand.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Art and Design  can be purchased from Weta at their website here.  Their second volume, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Chronicles: Creatures and Characters will be published in April 2013 and we will preview it here at borg.com.  It can be pre-ordered now here.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Yesterday, July 7, 2012, Peter Jackson at last wrapped principal photography for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  And the 158 day clock to the film’s premiere continues.

The New Zealand workshop Weta will be returning to Comic-Con this week and announced today it is previewing the initial collectibles and prop replicas their artists have created based on the New Line Cinema/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (December 2012) and The Hobbit: There and Back Again (December 2013).  Weta will be set up at Booth #3513B at San Diego Comic-Con from July 11-15, 2012.   The full line of products from The Hobbit will be available for sale later in 2012.

However, Weta is offering two exclusive items for sale at Comic-Con:

Thorin Oakenshield – with shield.   The first in a series of 1:6 scale polystone statues.   The statue will be sold  for $249 each – limited to 2 per person.  This limited edition collection will have a run of 700 pieces, 500 of which will be available for purchase at San Diego Comic-Con only. (The remaining 200 statues will be reserved for sale in October at the Weta Cave in New Zealand and at Ring*Con in Germany.)   There will be a separate version of this statue, without shield, available at www.wetaNZ.com in October 2012.

The second limited release at Comic-Con will be this great print, An Unexpected Journey, by Weta Workshop Conceptual Designer Gus Hunter.  100 signed copies will be available at the show for $60 each and 400 unsigned copies will be available for $50 each–limit 2 per person.   If you miss out on these in San Diego, Weta says that there will be additional copies available at www.wetaNZ.com in October 2012.

Weta will release a limited number of these items each day (Wednesday through Saturday) to ensure distribution over the entire show.  Weta also announced that it will be revealing its most complex collectible created, Barad-dûr – Fortress of Sauron, the newest piece in Weta’s The Lord of the Rings collection, which debuted back in 2001:

You might also check out this book available at Weta’s website www.wetaNZ.com for $25, chronicling 10 years of Weta Workshop art:

Since little to no screenused pieces from The Lord of the Rings are on the market, Weta’s replicas are the closest you can get to the real thing today.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

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