Richard Taylor - creative talent extraordinaire

An extraordinary creative talent has transported Richard Taylor from backroom to red carpet – and helped turn his hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, into an internationally recognised centre for film production.

Sir Richard Taylor is the creative force - co-founder and co-director - behind world renowned Weta Workshop which provided the special effects wizardry behind the blockbuster The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies, and a raft of successful movie and television productions seen in New Zealand and internationally.

His credits to date include five Oscars, four BAFTAs and a raft of other international entertainment awards - including numerous achievements for Weta’s success in the disciplines of make-up, costume and visual effects.

Taylor’s wide-ranging talent is about turning fantasy into reality, and his ever expanding portfolio of creations includes everything from larger-than-life monsters to amazing costume designs, high tech prosthetics, intricate models, sculpture and collector’s pieces.

In New Zealand, he’s also a local hero - honoured with a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2010, and named the 2012 New Zealander of the Year. He holds the ‘key to the city’ of hometown Wellington, and was named as Wellingtonian of the Year in 2001.

Weta Workshop is the flagship but Taylor’s business interests have also diversified into a series of affiliate businesses for which he shares responsibilities with his wife and business partner Tania Rodger.

Weta Workshop

Taylor, who grew up on a farm near Auckland, moved south after secondary school to study graphic design at Wellington Polytechnic.

Weta Workshop was started over 25 years ago in the back room of the Wellington flat that Taylor and Rodger shared.

"It was our dream to create a special effects facility to support the New Zealand film and television industry and we have since had the most incredible journey pursuing this goal," Taylor recalls.

The couple started off in a small way on a variety of projects including puppet caricatures for Gibson Group's Public Eye television satire that was based on British show Spitting Image. Over an 18-month period, they teamed up to create more than 70 puppets.

Film productions

As business and skills progressed, the pair developed a close working relationship with fellow Wellingtonian and model-making enthusiast, film-maker Peter Jackson. Together, they worked on a series of now classic Jackson productions including Meet the Feebles, Braindead, Forgotten Silver, Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners.

This relationship eventually saw the formation of the Weta company. Co-directed by Taylor, Jackson and producer Jamie Selkirk - and somewhat appropriately named after a rather curious cave and tree dwelling native New Zealand insect - it was a collaboration that heralded a new era in Kiwi film-making.

Weta Ltd eventually split into two companies. Weta Digital which specialises in CGI (computer generated imagery) effects, and Weta Workshop which has teams of designers creating and building special effects.

Special effects

Over the past 25 years, the Weta companies have provided physical and digital effects for many films, advertisements and television shows including the popular Hercules and Xena series, Master and Commander, I Robot, Van Helsing, The Last Samurai, The Lion, Witch and The Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Legend of Zorro, Avatar, District 9, The Adventures of Tintin, and Under the Mountain.

Taylor’s crowning achievement to date has been the globally acclaimed The Lord of the Rings trilogy for which Weta Workshop provided the design, fabrication and on-set operation of the creatures, special make-up effects and prosthetics, miniatures, armour and weaponry.

Weta Digital also provided the full range of digital services from simple compositing through to animation of fully computer generated creatures.

For Weta Workshop's role on these films Taylor received five nominations, and won four Academy Awards and three BAFTAs for costume, makeup and visual effects. His work on visual effects for King Kong earned the fifth Academy Award and a BAFTA.

Creative ventures

Weta Workshop’s film work has also spawned other creative ventures including a licensing company producing limited edition high end art pieces for collectors, a chainmaille manufacturing company, a publishing arm, and a mini museum and retail outlet called The Weta Cave.

The Weta Cave, on the perimeter of the Miramar film hub that includes Weta Workshop, Stone Street Studios and Park Road Post, is a place where Weta fans and enthusiasts can enjoy a behind-the-scenes experience and buy Weta memorabilia.

Taylor and Rodger have also set up a children's television production company with colleague and partner Martin Baynton. Pukeko Pictures produces pre-school show The WotWots while an earlier series, Jane and The Dragon, continues to enjoy an international following.

Richard Taylor’s awards:

  • 2012 - King Vidor Award, San Luis Obispo International Film Festival
  • 2012 - New Zealander of the Year
  • 2010 - Queen's Honours, Knight Companion of The New Zealand Order of Merit
  • 2010 - Honorary Bachelor of Creative Technologies, Wellington Institute of Technology
  • 2009 - Supreme Winner World Class NZ Awards
  • 2007 - Massey University College of Creative Arts Hall of Fame
  • 2007 - Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year Nomination
  • 2007 - NZ Export Awards Honorary Award
  • 2006 - Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year: Services
  • 2006 - Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
  • 2005 - Nati Awards Best Supporting Workshop Weta Workshop & Richard Taylor
  • 2005 - Paul Harris Fellows Rotary Award
  • 2004 - Doctor of Literature, Victoria University of Wellington
  • 2004 - John Britten Award, Designers Institute of NZ
  • 2003 - Officer of the NZ Order of Merit
  • 2002 - Proclamation (Key to the City) Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, City of Wellington
  • 2002 - Sir Julius Vogel Award Services to Science Fiction and Fantasy (Weta Workshop & Weta Digital)
  • 2001 - The Evening Post Wellingtonian of the Year
  • 2001 - Absolutely Positively Wellingtonian, Wellington City Council