Exclusive Interview with Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor; Talks LORD OF THE RINGS Blu-ray, THE HOBBIT, Neill Blomkamp, More

     April 15, 2010

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To help promote the recent release of Lord of the Rings on Blu-ray, I got to speak with Richard Taylor.  If you’re a fan of the LOTR trilogy, you already know who Richard Taylor is and his amazing work.  But for the newbie’s, Taylor is the co-founder and co-director of the Weta companies in Wellington, New Zealand, and he’s the Creative Director of Weta Workshop.  He’s also won four BAFTAs, five Oscars, and numerous other awards for Weta’s success in makeup, costume and visual effects.

As a huge fan of Taylor’s work and the LOTR trilogy, I could have spoken to him for hours.  But due to only having 15 minutes on the phone (he was in New Zealand), I asked his thoughts on LOTR on Blu-ray, we talked about how The Hobbit would look different than LOTR as Middle Earth was more peaceful back then, what did he do on Avatar, and is he working with Neill Blomkamp on his new sci-fi film as he worked on District 9.

If you’re a fan of Taylor’s work, you’ll love the interview.  Hit the jump to check it out:

As always, I’ve provided a transcript and here’s the audio.  Just know the reception was not perfect on the call.

Finally, during the interview we talked about my recent interview with Hugo Weaving and how he said The Hobbit would look different from Lord of the Rings as it’s a different time in Middle Earth.  Here’s that interview.

And for fans of Neill Blomkamp and District 9, while Taylor doesn’t confirm he’s working on Blomkamp’s next sci-fi film…it’s pretty obvious he is.

Richard Taylor WETA image (9).jpgCollider: How are you doing today, sir?

Richard Taylor:  Hey, good day Steve. I’m good thank you and appreciate the interest.

Yeah, just to be honest, I’m a huge fan of your work and I absolutely adore the “Lord of the Rings” movies.

Taylor:  Oh thank you. I enjoyed working on them. And it’s 1/3 of my total working career, so it’s lovely to know it was a pleasurable experience at every level.

Actually, what must it be like for you? Because I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there who when you say who you are and what you did on those movies, they must want to talk to you everywhere.

Taylor:  There is an amazing community of enthusiasts for the film. You imagine going into the movies knowing that already a huge part of the population of the world respect and hold the books with such a level of respect. And so you do carry a certain anxiety that you’re going to ultimately be able to fulfill that expectation, so we you get people coming up and saying how pleased that they were with the imagery and what you did with the world. That means a huge amount because in some way it endorses and suppresses some of your anxiety around that.

What aspect of the production like the visual design really leaps out at you when you’re watching the film on Blu-ray?

Taylor:  Well, unfortunately I can’t comment on that because we haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it yet. It hasn’t gotten here yet, but we are incredibly keen to see what it looks like. Obviously the anticipation in the workshop is huge and we’re actually going to screen it in our cinema for the team when it actually arrives. But what causes me some thought is now that the technology, you know your home viewing experiences now at a greater fidelity and clarity than even at the cinema in some cases and it changes the way you’ve got to think about making your part of the craft. Because if you could once hide behind film technique, today the camera sees everything and therefore the audience through the clarity of things like Blu-ray, can also see everything. That makes for a huge challenge at an artistic level. A wonderful wonder, you know, it’s one that you want to rise to.

Richard Taylor WETA image (13).jpgLooking back on the movies, is there anything in the design that you wish you could have done differently but you couldn’t at the time because of the technology or time?

Taylor:  I do reflect on that and ultimately at some level it would be disingenuous to the team to think “oh God if only we had…” because you work with the skills and the knowledge and the capabilities you have at that moment in time. You try and work with them to the limit of your capabilities. But it doesn’t stop. Occasionally reflecting, “gosh if we’d had the effects,” but I think rather than reflecting on a single thing, I think it’s interesting to note what the…what we’ve seen today is a more and more immersive experience. And there’s no doubt that James Cameron has taken the world audience to a level of cinema going that has not really been seen before. And what that suggests in the future is that these epic movies, rather than being partially immersive, will be fully and completely emotionally absorbing and you’ll feel like you’re rather a spectator sitting outside of the cinema experience, you’re actually part of the experience and just sitting within the world. And you know for a movie like “Lord of the Rings” of the future, that is extremely exciting.

Something I wanted to ask you about is I recently interviewed Hugo Weaving, and he made a very astute observation that I think that you’re probably in the position to answer. He said to me that while on “Lord of the Rings” the film, you know was a different time in Middle Earth.  When you talk about The Hobbit, that’s a completely different time zone where things were a lot different. The energy in the land, there wasn’t the evil. I’m definitely curious, how is that affecting perhaps a design or an artist like yourself when you’re thinking about future things?

fellowship_of_the_ring_movie_image_elijah_wood_frodo_01.jpgTaylor:  Yeah, that’s actually extremely astute as you say because we are definitely reflecting on it. The plausibility of the landscape on middle earth is the chess board on which the characters play out this role and therefore the landscape, the backdrop if you like, has to communicate the intent of Tolkin’s writing as much as the performers would communicate it. And it’s therefore critical that that is acknowledged through the design process. And it’s something that Guillermo (del Toro) is hyper aware of when he is working with us and with the production designer and so on, because the audience that come from the love of the books and will be coming from the love of the Hobbit story see the Hobbit as sitting in a completely different time, a completely different historical moment.  Almost like literally if we were sitting in the 16th century compared to the 18th century. You’d communicate the world in a very different way in our own time. So that is very prevalent in our collective thinking.

Well, I’m definitely curious, I’ve been on a lot of film shoots and for example on “Clash of the Titans”, they reused a lot of stuff from “Troy,” and on many movies they reuse things from other films, but talking as we were just talking about, the fact that it’s a completely different time in Middle Earth does that mean that it’s harder to reuse things from the original trilogy and you’ll have to create everything from scratch or can you reuse?

Taylor:  Well, that’s a tricky question to answer of course, but I think simply it would be inappropriate to just reuse things because the world, as you say, it would be…the audience would see through that. They would know that we’ve tried to make efficiencies. I think it’s so appropriate that we try and focus on making something fresh and yeah, so it’s a dicey one to answer of course under the confidentialities I’m under, so I have to be a bit illusive on that one.

Richard Taylor WETA image (5).jpgAs a huge fan of yours and of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, what was it like for you when you first found out that you know you’re most likely going to be making “The Hobbit”? I mean obviously it’s not official yet, but assuming it all comes through, which I’m sure it will, what was it like for you when you first found out that you were going back into that world?

Taylor:  Oh well, euphoria, of course. We could never have imagined that, you know to even think that we were offered the original chance to work on “Lord of the Rings” as precious as those books are to so many of us was beyond your wildest imagining. And then knowing the complexities of the rights over the last 10 years, we had resigned to the fact that it was probably unlikely we could be involved on “The Hobbit”, and then, suddenly, it’s unfolding and it’s a tribute to Peter’s just dogged determination and Ken Kamins, Peter’s manager, that works with Peter to see this opportunity realized so that we as an audience around the world get to see this incredible prequel and you know we feel incredibly fortunate. There’s no describing actually how fortunate you feel when something like this happens in your life. So yeah, yeah.  Good question. Thank you.

You were very involved in “Avatar” as well. You were right?

Taylor:  Yes. Yeah, we were on it for a long time. We looked after…we did complimentary designs what the American design department…the main military hardware. We did all the Na’vi culture costumes. Some of the vehicle work and guns and so on and so on.

You had me nervous there for a second when I started saying that. I’m like oh my God did I just screw up?

Richard Taylor WETA image (6).jpgTaylor:  No, thank you. It was an incredible journey working alongside, we were doing “District 9” at the same time, so you’ve got two science fiction movies of such different vision of the future. And getting ultimately to work with James Cameron, who we obviously respected our whole professional lives as a filmmaker, to be offered that opportunity was just phenomenal.

I consider Guillermo, Peter and James Cameron to be visionaries and just amazing artists. What do you find, since you’ve worked with all three, the common denominator or the common theme in all three of them that makes them such amazing artists?

Taylor:  Yes, that’s a very good question. Well, my simple answer to it is, what I see as the link between all visionary directors and filmmakers is this unique driving passion to tell unique stories. And I see in James Cameron this visionary director that has this burning, completely unfaltering, desire to show unique and incredible worlds and stories and you think about his previous films how original and unique his work has been. And I see exactly the same in both Peter and Guillermo. They want to take an audience and surprise them and give them an experience that they otherwise would never witness if they weren’t fortunate enough to go see one of their films.  I love being an audience member viewing their work, but I of course also have had a great fortune of working with them and that’s something I hold dear of course.

You worked with Neill Blomkamp on “District 9” and I’m curious are you going to work with him on his next sci-fi movie?

Taylor:  (laughter) I’m not sure I can say that yet, but by being elusive… Neill is truly one of the most unique and talented filmmakers we’ve had the pleasure of working with and we certainly are enjoying an ongoing relationship with him at the creative level. How’s that for diplomatic?  We’re just thrilled by the possibility of  making films with him in the future.

My last thing, are you coming to Comic-Con this summer?

Taylor:  Yes, most definitely. It’ll be my 9th year, so I definitely will be there.

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