Weta Workshop Experience in New Zealand brings ‘Lord of the Rings’ to life
Now that New Zealand has eased its pandemic travel restrictions to admit tourists from certain countries again, a visit to the workshops that brought Middle-earth to life is no longer a distant fantasy.
The armour, weapons and costumes from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films were made at facilities just outside New Zealand’s capital and make a great day trip for those visiting the country.
The trilogy adapted from JRR Tolkien’s fantasy novels was filmed in New Zealand from 1999 to 2000.
The films are among the most popular of all time and have won 17 Oscars. The latest installment in the series – ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ – won Best Picture while filmmaker Peter Jackson won Best Director at the 2004 Oscars.
Visitors to New Zealand are surrounded by the dramatic landscapes that replaced Middle-earth in the movies, but if they want an in-depth look at the physical effects that transformed the actors and landscapes into a fantasy world, the Weta workshop is the place.
The facility occupies several warehouses a stone’s throw from the capital’s airport in the suburb of Miramar.
The first clues that you’re somewhere special are a pair of armored dwarf statues guarding the entrance to a parking lot. A giant ogre-like creature stands above a model of a Hobbit house near the entrance door to the workshop. This is the perfect place to take pictures before entering.
If you want a souvenir, there’s a Weta Cave gift shop with hundreds of “Lord of the Rings”, sci-fi and fantasy figurines, T-shirts, hats, books and jewelry, including rings, on sale. There are even replicas of weapons used in the movies. A large broadsword can be purchased for just over $600.
A guide will accompany your group to the back rooms where screens will show special effects scenes from the movies.
One wall features posters for dozens of movies and TV shows Weta has worked on. The first are Peter Jackson films such as “Meet the Feebles” (1989) and “Brain Dead” (1992). The workshop contributed to television shows such as “Xena: Warrior Princess” and big budget films such as “Blade Runner 2049”, “Dune” and “Thor: Ragnarok” as well as the prequels “The Hobbit from “Lord of the Rings.”
Props such as rubber masks, fake guns, bows and arrows, helmets, spacesuits and robots that featured in some of the films are on display.
The largest item is a dune buggy built for a live-action version of the Halo video game that never screened. A model resembling ‘Jurassic Park’ star Sam Neill sits in the driver’s seat.
The tour guide shows you how artists fashion plastic armor from foam molds before applying several coats of paint and scuffing it to give it a worn look. Visitors are allowed to hold and even wear plastic helmets – human-sized versions of those worn by dwarf warriors in Middle-earth.
A hands-on section lets visitors touch everything from mechanical heads and arms to fake eyeballs and random parts used to make movie props.
You can look through the windows into the working areas where a blacksmith makes weapons and a machine cuts molds to make plastic accessories.
Visitors can wield the fake weapons. Some swords are made of rubber or aluminum to make them safer for mock combat, according to the tour guide.
A demonstration by a craftsman shows visitors how to make all sorts of realistic props, from seashells to skulls, using cardboard and foil.
Part of the tour takes place in a separate warehouse filled with sets used in a 2015-2020 reboot of the 1966 “Thunderbirds Are Go” TV puppet series.
The sets include the Thunderbirds Island base and various buildings and spaceship launch facilities made from household items such as lemon squeezers and computer circuit boards.
ON THE QT
Directions: Camperdown Road and Weka Street, Miramar, Wellington, New Zealand 6022
Time: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Tuesday
Costs: The Weta Workshop Experience is $31. For an additional $25, ride to and from central Wellington, a shuttle bus stop in front of the Amora Hotel, 145 Wakefield St. The Full Experience ($92) gets you a studio tour and lunch at Karaka cafe on Wellington’s waterfront.