Effects studio reveals the secrets of its success

Weta Workshop and Weta Digital, the effects wizards behind The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, combine in this lavish boxset.

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Weta reveal secrets to 20 years of success

Weta pioneered the 3D technique of subsurface scattering, which sold the look of Gollum’s wet skin.

Weta Workshop: Celebrating 20 Years of Creativity makes up half of this lovingly produced – albeit expensive at £60 – boxset, along with Weta Digital: 20 Years of Imagination on Screen.

The former looks at Weta Workshop, responsible for practical effects, costumes, sets and make-up, while the latter covers the visual effects wing of Weta, which brought Gollum to life and delivered the five armies for the final Hobbit movie.

About halfway through the Weta Workshop book there's a photograph of a silicone duplicate of a character's head from Elysium, with most of their face missing, replaced by a gore-filled hole. Flick the page and the tone changes to Jane and the Dragon, a cute New Zealand children's TV series for which Weta provided concept art and motion capture facilities.

Weta reveal secrets to 20 years of success

So much is covered in these, including the making of prop guns for the film District 9.

Somewhere in the juxtaposition between extreme violence and family-friendly fantasy sits Weta. This is the studio that switched from the bloody Braindead and Bad Taste to epic blockbusters The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit without losing too much sleep in the process.

Both tomes do a grand job of telling Weta's story. In the late 1980s young director Peter Jackson joined forces with partners Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger to create the special effects for his film Meet The Feebles. Working out of a tiny Wellington flat, they created some convincing splatter effects and formed a formidable filmic threesome.

Weta reveal secrets to 20 years of success

Peter Jackson wanted the dinosaurs of Skull Island to look more evolved than those from history.

While Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners gave Peter et al the opportunity to hone their skills, it was The Lord of the Rings trilogy that provided Weta with its best show reel yet.

Both studios were at the top of their game: the visual effects department pushed things forwards with Massive (software for generating large crowd scenes) and the photorealistic rendering of Gollum, while the special effects team created 'bigatures' (large-scale miniature models of key locations), and costumes and prosthetics for the hordes of extras playing humans and orcs.

Together, these two volumes provide details of every nook and cranny at the effects house. If you're willing to stump up the cash, they're pretty much the only behind-the-scenes or making-of books you'll ever need.

This article appears in the brand new issue of ImagineFX magazine, on sale now!

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Beren Neale
Ecom Editor

Beren has worked on creative titles at Future Publishing for over 13 years. Cutting his teeth as Staff Writer on the digital art magazine ImagineFX, he moved on to edit several creative titles, and is currently the Ecommerce Editor on the most effective creative website in the world. When he's not testing and reviewing the best ergonomic office chairs, phones, laptops, TVs, monitors and various types of storage, he can be found finding and comparing the best deals on the tech that creatives value the most.