High flying, high tech and highly important to the New Zealand economy, film-making has not only turned the capital city into the Hollywood of the south but has also had some unexpected spin-offs for the nation’s business community.
Over the past decade Wellington - or ‘Wellywood’ - has risen to become an international film production and technology hot spot, prompting the city to add ‘film’ into the Lonely Planet’s rating as "coolest little capital in the world".
Director Sir Peter Jackson, special-effects guru Sir Richard Taylor and film editor Jamie Selkirk have created a highly successful film empire, with Stone Street Studios, Weta Digital, Weta Workshop, Park Road Post and Portsmouth Hire tucked away in the unassuming, residential suburb of Miramar.
It’s from these multi-million dollar studios, sound stages, and pre- and post-production facilities that the trio created The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies.
But beyond the Miramar Peninsula and behind each successful movie made in New Zealand, there’s a story that shows how local talent and the Kiwi 'can do' attitude has been stretched and tested - leading to fresh innovations that have applications outside the film industry.
These innovations include some fascinating stories … like how the art director for creatures, armour and weapons on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy has built a thriving business based on a modern version of chain mail … or how the 3D object scanner that helped create digital models for creatures like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy has since been developed for use in hospitals and wound care clinics around the world.
ARANZ Medical - science benefits
When Christchurch company ARANZ Medical made an ingenious handheld digital scanning device more than a decade ago, Weta Digital was the first customer to see its potential - leaping at the chance to use the 3D object scanner in the creation of digital models for creatures in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
Two of ARANZ Medical’s founders were electrical engineers who came up with the idea of a digital scanning device for medical applications over a conversation in London. Back in New Zealand, they made a prototype and looked around for prospective customers.
Today, ARANZ Medical’s state-of-the-art technology is assisting with one of the world’s most common but challenging medical problems. The ARANZ Silhouette system is a world-first in its ability to more accurately and effectively track and document wound healing, an area of medicine that costs US$50 billion annually in the United States alone.
Kaynemaile - a chain of circumstance
The flimsy costume chainmail (like armour) used extensively in the epic battle scenes of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - on both lead actors and hundreds of extras - became a source of frustration for Weta Workshop art director Kayne Horsham who often had to make hand repairs on the set.
Seeking a solution that was lightweight and would cope with rigorous use, Kayne developed a seamless polycarbonate mesh that was without links or joins. Then, as the market for chainmail in its traditional sense is limited to hobbyists and movie sets, he set about developing and marketing his signature product (KML22) to a wider array of customers.
Kaynemaile’s clients include the architecture, interior design, filtration, aquaculture and earth-slip containment industries, including the Hard Rock Café in Nashville. Perhaps the most interesting use of KML22 is for its use in fish farming, as a low maintenance environmentally-friendly predator barrier protecting fish from seals and sharks.
GreenButton - up in the cloud
A technology problem faced during final production of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King gave rise to a cloud computing business that is now working with some of the world’s biggest technology companies.
Founded by Scott Houston, a former Weta Digital chief technology office, GreenButton is a computer program - and company name - that software developers can embed in their applications to give users access to super-computing power at the click of a button. It is ideal for data intensive processes such as film rendering and animation, or complex analysis of financial and scientific data.
GreenButton has headquarters in New Zealand and two offices in the United States - in Seattle and San Francisco.
77 Pieces - online quick change
Film industry veteran Sebastian Marino has produced a solution for all those potential customers who shy away from buying clothing online because they don’t how it will look when they actually wear it.
The Academy Award winning New Yorker, together with Joseph Teran, Presidential Award winning professor of mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has set up Wellington-based company 77 Pieces to solve one of the greatest problems in e-commerce today - the ability to try on clothing on sale on the internet.
The innovation transfers technology from the feature film industry to the fast-growing e-commerce space.
Photo Higher - High flying
A Wellington company has developed clever technology that makes it easy to include aerial photography in films, on television and at spectator events.
Photo Higher designs and manufactures unmanned aircraft systems that carry precision camera gimbals for capturing high definition aerial imagery and geospatial data. The gimbal is a supporting platform that can tilt and rotate maintaining a steady camera to produce smooth film or video footage.
The technology was used in coverage of the London Olympics 2012 and the 2011 Rugby World Cup opening ceremony.
Hil Cook - keeping up appearances
Hil Cook was grappling with the complexities of continuity documentation during the making of a trailer for the video game Cardinal when she had a light-bulb moment about how to make the job faster, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.
The result is an iPhone continuity application that saves time, money and waste and which is being used on film sets around the world.
Hil and her business partner Ange Duncan have worked on numerous films as makeup artists, prosthetics specialists and hair artists. Kylie Minogue and Evangeline Lilly are among the many international stars Hil has done makeup for, and she was part of the makeup team that helped Weta Workshop win both an Oscar and a BAFTA Award for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Stansborough - grey wool to silver screen
When Cheryl and Barry Eldridge looked to diversify the farming on their New Zealand sheep station, they had no idea the results would star in some of the largest movie projects being undertaken in the world today. Their plan to keep a rare breed of sheep from extinction and a farm operating profitably took them on an unexpected journey.
Wellington-based textiles company Stansborough were first contracted to produce the Fellowship Cloaks and other fabric for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in the 1990s.
The company has now released two sizes of the Gandalf the Grey’s Mystical Silver Scarf from The Hobbit Trilogy. Sir Ian McKellen hinted in a blog post at the beginning of the filming that the scarf may play a starring role in the films, writing: "I now have a substantial, magic-looking silvery scarf to wear and act with and perhaps find some part of its own to play."