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Richard Taylor from Weta Workshop in Wellington has been involved in producing special effects, animations and props for many films, including The Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and The Hobbit. More recently he has been recognised as New Zealander of the Year and Sir Richard Taylor.
How long does it take and how many staff members helped to produce the costumes for Lord of the Rings?
Although we didn’t produce the costumes we did make over 100 suits of armour. They were the first designed utilising pencil sketches and then small sculptures until we realised Peter’s vision. We then prototyped all of the suits by hammering them out of plate steel in a hot and smokey foundry with a roaring furness. From this we silicon molded and replicated the suits of armour in urethane plastic (similar to the material that a car steering wheel is made out of). All of this took a team of 35 people three and a half years to make. A lot of fun, but a lot of hard work!
How many pairs of ears did you make?
We made a variety of different ears for different cultures, specifically for the hobbits and the elves, but we also made ears for the dwarves, urak-hai, orcs, and goblins. In total we made over 2000 pairs of ears for the hobbits alone, with many more being made for the elves and others. They were primarily made of gelatin (the stuff that you make jelly out of in the kitchen at home). A young woman called Megumi Ogo from Japan, made the ears for us because she had immense patience.
How did you make the ears all the same size?
We took a life cast (using alginate that the dentist uses to mold your mouth with), to mold to the actors ears. From this we sculpted in plasticine, the shape of the ear. From this we took a silicon mold and then re-inserted the original actor ear cast back into the silicon mold and injected liquid gelatin into the cavity. In the process we make very small ear tips that perfectly fit the actors ears. It ‘s the same way that all your ice cubes from your freezer come out looking identical ot each one (only a lot colder).
What was your favourite costume to make for The Lord of the Rings?
The one that gave us the most problems to make, but is by far my favourite costume is the Galadrihm Elven soldiers costume that we see on the parparets of Helms Deep. We wanted them to emulate a fallen autumn leaf as the Elves are passing from Middle-Earth and have reached the autumn of their years.
Do you think you can make a lot of money doing your job?
Not yet! The thing to realise about our work is that it is extremely labour intensive. There is a large amount of monotony and repetitiveness in our work that both eats up time and possible profits. But the richness and the rewards come from the fact that as a group we have celebrated delivering beautiful images to the world’s movie goers.
What interests you in your job?
Good question! The greatest thing about my job that interests me the most is that due to the unusual nature of our work I get to work in an incredible number of disciplines and jobs in any one day period. Therefore I get to work alongside an amazing collection of individuals with very specific talents and skills. Within the workshop we have designers, sculptors, wood workers, engineers, electronics and electrical engineers, mold makers, seamstresses and tailors, leatherworkers, chemists, accountants, company managers, writers, foam latex technicians, painters, hair technicians, makeup artists, on-set crews, armour makers, wordsmiths, miniature builders, digital effects technicians etc, etc. But the coolest thing is that I get to work with my partner, Tania.
How did you feel when you found out about your job working for Lord of the Rings?
I just about fell over when I found out that we were making The Lord of the Rings. I was so happy that I would have the opportunity to take this wonderful group of young New Zealanders on a journey that would last 6 years and create something that would be celebrated technically and artistically by the fans of Tolkiens Middle-Earth.
What sort of things did you dream of doing as a kid?
I dreamed of making cool things with my hands. I used to love making models and enjoyed sculpting and creating imaginary things. I still have a hobby doing model making in the evenings.
What’s it like to win an Oscar?
The coolest thing about winning the Oscars that we did, was that I could return home with them and acknowledge the amazing amount of effort and artistry that our young crew of New Zealanders had put into making this film. The fact that we had been recognised at the hightest level on the worlds stage is a wonderful thing that all of Weta could celebrate in.