The Wellington sign imitating the iconic one in Hollywood gleams in the sun as a plane comes in to land at the nearby airport. The last three letters are wavy, depicting the Wellington wind.
But the real marvel lies down the road, in suburban Miramar. It’s hardly a trip to the Disneyland; the size is very New Zealand, small and functional. The Weta Caves and workshop are the playing fields of the team that created the creatures and characters that roamed Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Hobbit series.
The hub of New Zealand’s film industry is hardly imposing. As you step into the museum, the larger than life images of the Trolls provide the introduction. Inside, Gollum, or Smeagol, with bulging eyes and fish in hand, glares than greets you.
As you move around, Lurtz the Uruk-Hai fighter towers over every visitor. Gandalf, the wizard of The Lord of the Rings with flowing beard and staff in hand strikes a pose.
Miramar may be small but has carved a niche for itself in the global film industry thanks to the cutting-edge works of Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, among other films.
New Zealand is happy to ride the wave of popularity generated by Jackson. And one soon realises why. Enter the Weta workshop on a guided tour and one realises why the conceptual design and manufacturing facility is such a big deal in Hollywood.
All characters designed by Weta find a place in the small studio, be it Neytiri of Avatar or Tintin with Snowy. There is a stunning array of equipment, from the assault rifle made for District 9 to grenades, all reproduced with great attention to detail.
Sam Neill, who plays the palaeontologist in Jurassic Park, is seated in his jeep. His life-like image and the vehicle appear real but a handshake, prompted by the guide, makes you realise it is all latex.
From receding hair to grey stubble and peering eyes, Neill is every bit real. The heavy costumes are all light-weight. Behind glass windows, men in respiratory masks are busy, polishing a sword or working on a robot for the next untitled film.
The chainmaille visitors are asked to hold is all heavy metal. And then the movie version, all plastic and lightweight, yet every bit authentic is handed. Gollum’s deformed feet are just cleverly designed latex socks. Small is really big when it comes to the conceptual design and creative work at Miramar.