There & Back Again: The Weta Tour

SAM RECOUNTS HER TIME VISITING WETA STUDIOS IN NEW ZEALAND!

On December 26th, I got to visit Weta Studios on the Miramar Peninsula in Wellington, NZ, fulfilling an eighteen-year dream. Weta is four separate companies — Weta, Weta Digital, Pukeko Pictures, and Park Road Post. They also have physical studio space at Stone Street Studios. The front doors of the Weta Cave, the physical effects and prop house where Richard and Tania Taylor, along with Peter Jackson crafted the miniatures of Middle Earth, are guarded by Mr. Bilbo’s trolls. There’s a gift shop with a mini-museum, one of the only places where they have any major references to Peter Jackson’s early horror films. We got a snap of the Sumatran Rat Monkey.

Simian Raticus Rat Monkey Sumatra

The tour itself does not go through any workspaces, but it does include windows into their machine shop and armory. There are also artists working on their projects that take questions at the end. It’s far from the real experience of being in a studio space, but the tour guides and props they have on display are no less beautiful.

The second half of the tour found us at Pukeko Pictures, a production company responsible for the animated series Thunderbirds Are Go! Like the original Thunderbirds series from the 1960s, this family show used physical sets. However, instead of marionettes, the characters are all CGI animation. The sets themselves are more of what I had expected to see at the Weta cave — sets actually used for filming, and they were an absolute dream to view up close. Seeing the craftsmanship, ingenuity and creativity, not to mention the fascinating hybrid animation technique, really inspired me.

It has been eighteen years since I first watched Fellowship of the Ring — my first true movie obsession, the film that made me want to make films. In that time, I did go to film school, and I now work in animation, albeit in marketing, not production. It’s fascinating to take a step outside of that and see a movie studio through a fan lens. It made me realize what a big influence a movie can have on a person. As much as I wanted to see the nitty-gritty, the cubicles, the harried assistants and the ugly process of actually building a movie, it was refreshing to be reminded of the magic.

Thunderbirds set.

This week, back at my own desk, bogged down in the minutiae of one sheets and trailer release dates, I kept reminding myself to take a step back. While movies are my job and jobs feel tedious more often than not, what we do has the potential to connect with people. Whether it’s a favorite joke, a sweet character moment, or a movie like Fellowship that is such a big undertaking it inspires a person’s life choices, movies find their way into our hearts and minds. They connect us across oceans and continents, and we find ways to make sense of our own stories because a bunch of weirdos go to work every day to build something from nothing.

Weta was not necessarily the mind-blowing experience it would have been for me when I first watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but in some ways, it was more satisfying. It changed me yet again — from a jaded adult to one a little more inspired to take on her day.

Destination Star Trek 2018

Matt takes us on a journey through his first Star Trek convention.

 

I have been a fan of Star Trek for as long as I can remember — some of my earliest memories are of watching Star Trek at 6pm on BBC2. I had never been to a convention despite wanting to since I found out about them. So, when I saw the advert for the 2018 Destination Star Trek that mentioned a 25th Anniversary Deep Space Nine talk, I decided that it was time for my first Star Trek convention. Deep Space Nine is my favourite Star Trek, and the fact that it was the 25th Anniversary of its first airing seemed quite apt for me to attend my first Star Trek convention. After booking the hotel and initial entry ticket, each payday for the next several months I would purchase tickets for photos, talks and a documentary screening before the big day came.

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V: The Mini Series 35 Years Later

A series that stands the test of time!

 

Fifty alien spaceships descended over major cities all over the world and announced that they came in peace and needed humanity’s help. These friendly alien Visitors looked just like us and offered us the fruits of their knowledge in exchange for our assistance in fabricating various chemicals required to save their planet. Or so they said.

 

V, the mini series, turned 35 years old this year, and it seems like it is more relevant today than ever. People often mistake V as an alien invasion story; but the aliens didn’t invade — they occupied. Great science fiction is stories that allow us to look at ourselves and remind us of how we need to be better. V told us the dangers of fascism. An allegory for the Nazi uprising and their subsequent occupation of Europe, V was a story about everyday people rising up against tyranny.

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What We Left Behind

A look at the new Deep Space Nine documentary!

 

Before I jump into the review of the documentary let me preface this thing with a little note about my interest in the subject. I LOVE Star Trek, and Deep Space Nine is my favourite of the series. I even announced this before asking a question at the Deep Space Nine 25th Anniversary talk at Destination Star Trek in Birmingham. It had rich story arcs and character development that just doesn’t exist in any other iteration of the franchise. Recurring characters have way more character development than any of the series regulars from any of the other Star Trek series. But enough about that – let’s jump into the review. I’m going to try to keep this a spoiler-free review, because there are moments in the documentary that need to be seen for the first time spoiler-free.

 

I was lucky enough to attend the world premiere of What We Left Behind in Birmingham at the NEC on October 20th 2018. Seeing this documentary in a packed auditorium with an audience that included many of the participants of the documentary was truly an amazing experience. The first opening of the documentary really throws you into some of the amazing restorative work they did for the documentary. As awe inspiring as it was seeing a space battle sequence fully restored in glorious HD, it was also slightly bittersweet because I immediately started thinking about how all the HD footage in the documentary will probably end up being the only HD footage of Deep Space Nine that will be released. Anyway, I digress, that may happen a few times so I apologise in advance.

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Wasteland Weekend

“Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves…”

 

Wasteland Weekend is a 5-day fully immersive post-apocalyptic festival in the middle of the Mojave Desert. For about $200 a ticket, it’s like a mix of a Renfaire and Burning Man but completely themed for Mad Max, Fallout, and other post-apocalyptic fandoms. There are no spectators. Everyone is required to be fully costumed to be in theme for the entire event. Wasteland offers attendees a little bit of everything: live concerts, burlesque and drag shows, fire spinning, a free bar run on donations, a rugby-like game called Jugger, the Thunderdome, Mad Max-style cars, a casino, bounty hunting, a Bartertown of vendors, a post office, a swimsuit contest on the deck of the Waterworld Exxon Valdez, and too much more to keep listing! There are many official events, but there are so many more events run by tribes in the community. While Wasteland is essentially a party, for many it is a place where we can truly be ourselves or be our better self.

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Strange Bedfellows: Esther Perel and Nicole Byer

A tremendously honest and valuable lesson from two great podcasts.

 

In the last month, I have binge-listened to two fascinating relationship podcasts: “Where Should We Begin?” hosted by psychologist Esther Perel, and “Why Won’t You Date Me?” hosted by Nicole Byer.

 

The first plays edited versions of real-life couples counseling sessions with Perel and her actual patients. She occasionally breaks through the dialogue to explain her methods, and it is a raw and beautiful look at people trying to better understand themselves and one-another. Episodes would often bring me to tears on my morning commute.

 

The latter is a comedian the host of Netflix’s Nailed It bringing her comedian friends, former flames, and other entertainers on to discuss her dating life, review her Tinder profile, and share their own relationship struggles. I have never laughed so hard.

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The Complex History of the Chosen One

Emily Blake explains why being picked by destiny is an inferior story choice.

 

I don’t believe in destiny or soul mates or any kind of predetermined fate of any kind. I’m willing to accept that maybe the force is real. Maybe karma. But free will is my jam, so movies about “The Chosen One” are always a bit problematic in my mind. Here’s a person who never earned anything being protected by all the people who are doing the real labor, on the promise that this person will live up to some vague premonition they’ve all decided to risk their lives for. It’s not a great lesson about life, even if it is a nice fantasy to imagine that the Powers That Be have given us someone to save us all with their magical gifts.

 

I love when being The Chosen One is earned. I hate when it’s a birthright. And now, some examples:

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True Crime: Where’s The Line?

Wrestling with the balance of entertainment value of True Crime vs its insight.

 

The true part of true crime always gives me pause. It’s not that I am distrustful of documentarians, reporters, or even murder enthusiasts on podcasts. But engaging with true crime content makes me uneasy in the same way I felt nervous as a child when I did something I knew was wrong. For all the commentary these pieces offer, for all the new perspectives they provide or questions they raise about the quality of our justice system, these programs are first and foremost always about engaging an audience. To call them entertainment might seem crass, but therein lies the rub. True crime series and documentaries are inherently voyeuristic and thrilling. There is entertainment to be gained from real human suffering, and while we might learn something, it becomes a hard balance to reconcile.

 

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The Racism We Don’t Notice

How BlackkKlansmen Made Me Rethink My Own Racial Bias.

 

White people in America have a weird binary view of racism. If you say the N-word, you’re racist. If you don’t, you’re in the clear. But racism doesn’t begin and end with that word. There are a thousand ways white people contribute to a racially charged atmosphere that we may not even realize, even if we have the best of intentions.

 

Since watching BlackkKlansman, I’ve been thinking about some of my own ingrained prejudices. I’ve always had this sort of “Ugh” attitude toward Spike Lee. Didn’t know why, just never really liked him. And when I went to see BlackkKlansman, I started to wonder what the source of my dislike was. That’s when I realized that my parents constantly bashed him when I was a kid. That’s it. That’s the only reason. He is a black man who tells stories about the black experience and racism and it made my parents uncomfortable, so they talked about how much they disliked him. So I disliked him too, even if I didn’t understand why.

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San Diego Comic Con 2018: A Tale of Many Steps

Emily recaps her favorite week of the year!

 

I’m a little late on this post. I had the bright idea to move three days after Con ended, so after 10 days straight of walking a billion steps and being socially active and then packing and picking up heavy things and then cleaning, I passed out in my new bathtub and soaked there until I woke up and realized I’d put off my recap for way too long.

 

So here it is, my rundown of San Diego Comic Con 2018, a distant memory now, of the time before the great migration to New Apartment. But I like to share my five-day journey for all the people who couldn’t be there, or for anyone who wants to relive the greatest week of the year.

 

Before you read this, know that I had plantar fasciitis the entire time. I walked like, 20,000 steps a day while sort of pretending everything was totally fine. It was not fine, and eventually my foot just fell off, but I kept walking. Heroic? Maybe. Painful? Definitely. Worth it? Present Me will say yes and let Future Me deal with the long-term consequences.

 

If you learn nothing else from this article, you should take my advice on two points: 1) Do not move the week after Comic Con and 2) Don’t have plantar fasciitis the week of con.

 

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