This blog is part 7 of my journal about my unexpected journey to New Zealand, as winner of The Hobbit Fan Fellowship Contest!
Day 5: Wellington
With mixed feelings we left Queenstown this morning: it was already the last day of our adventure in New Zealand. I really didn’t want to leave the beautiful city of Queenstown, but today’s activities were the ones we have all been waiting for: visiting Weta Workshop and meeting Peter Jackson at the private screening of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies!
Unveiling Smaug at Wellington Airport
Air New Zealand flew us to the Middle of Middle-earth: Wellington. At the airport of Wellington I was so excited to see the larger than life installments made by Weta Workshop of the Eagles with Gandalf (a fun detail: on Gandalf’s hat there is a weta bug) and of Gollum cathing a fish. We were all surprised when Richard Taylor, the founder, creative director and head of Weta Workshop was there to welcome us in Wellington! (For the muggle readers: Weta Workshop is the company which created all the costumes, weapons, props and (digital) special effects on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and many other movies). For this special occasion, he unveiled a new installation on the airport together with us! Jake Hudson, the youngest Wizard of our group, had the privilege to unveil a huge head of Smaug, with moving eyes and smoke coming out of his nose! Even the local news was there (watch the report of New Zealand 3 News here). And we were featured on the Weta Facebook!
Our next stop was Roxy Theatre, where we were welcomed by Jamie Selkirk (editor and producer), Tania Rodger and Richard again. We we were treated with a presentation by Weta Digital on production design by Matt Aitken (Weta Digital effects supervisor) and Daniel Falconer (designer and concept artist). Matt showed us the process of creating and layering digital effects like in the scene of the eagles’ rescue (Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire) with all its different angles. Daniel Falconer designed the real cool stuff in the movies like Arwen’s sword. He showed us concepts and photos of the design process of armour, weapons, architecture and costumes, “and enjoyed having an audience he could ‘geek out’ to, diving into First Age Middle-earth history references”, like Amy beautifully wrote in her blog.
On the way out we got a gift from Tania: authentic 35 mm celluloid filmstrip from The Lord of the Rings. Arjen and I were given shots of Frodo and Sam walking in Rivendell and Aragorn leaning over the dying Boromir from The Fellowship of the Ring.
Next up was one of my favorite memories of the whole trip: actually visiting Weta Workshop! We did mini workshops of making chainmail, how to create fake blood, sword making by smith Peter Lyon and some lucky few of us got applied prosthetic hobbit ears by Gino Acevedo. I took a shot and went on a photo with Richard Taylor. I was wearing my own made chainmail necklace and he said he really liked it! ❤ I was in nerd-heaven. They also retrieved props and weapons from them movies that were stored for years, especially for us to see. In a little shop we bought a map of The Shire and a Weta Workshop t-shirt.
We also did a Weta Cave Workshop Tour where we got to see an awesome collection of costumes, weapons, sculptures and designs from all the movies Weta has worked on so far. At the end we received a gift from the Weta crew: a piece of chainmail which was actually used by the dwarves on set!
Meeting Sir Peter Jackson
At the end of the day we all put on our finest clothes for the epic final evening. Especially our fellow Wizards from Australia, Amy and Adam, in their own designed and made breathtaking Elven costumes.
I was actually nervous when we arrived at the Park Road Post Production facility, owned by WingNut Films, the production company of Peter Jackson. This facility is where sound for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) was mixed. This was the moment we all have been waiting for: the private screening of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies with the director himself! After a drink and security check, we all took a seat in the beautiful art-deco movie theater with a ceiling like a starry sky.
Here the masterminds behind the movies waiting for us: Joe Letteri, senior visual effects supervisor and has won five Oscars, Jed Brophy (Nori in The Hobbit) and Philippa Boyens, writer of the screenplay of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and who has won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Of course this panel wouldn’t be complete without the biggest fan of all: Sir Peter Jackson! It was an unbelievable moment when he came in, everybody cheered. We all got the chance to ask them questions before the screening. Among the fans there where a lot of aspiring filmmakers, including me as an aspiring screenwriter, and Peter Jackson said to us:
Don’t give up. When you don’t give up you distinguish yourself from those who do. And then you will get there. – Peter Jackson
We presented Peter a thank you card and a tea mug. Before the movie, he warned us: he only slept for 3 hours since he was in the middle of the post-production of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. So the ones who sat next to him had to keep him awake.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Since Ann from Belgium had found the Ring on day 3, she got to sit next to Peter! Now it was finally time to see the final movie of The Hobbit trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies as the first audience in the whole world! You all probably have seen the movie by now and it was epic right?
What I find really special about the screening was the fact that the movie wasn’t finished yet! There were shots with green screen on the background and certain digital effects weren’t finished yet. Remember when the were-worms come out of the ground followed by an Orc army? The whole army wasn’t there yet! On screen there was only a moving text with ‘Orc army’. Also in the gorgeous scene at Dol Guldur where Elrond, Saruman and Galadriel are fighting the Nine, the Nazgûls where only white, square models. I was blown away when I saw the finished movie later and how they created those spirit like Nazgûls! A funny one was the entrance of Beorn during the battle: he changes from a human into a *poof* (not animated) bear, instead of a beautiful morph like in the final movie. It was such an amazing experience to see the unfinished movie like this.
The movie ends with the heart breaking song ‘The Last Goodbye’ by Billy Boyd. I think nobody kept it dry. The song meant so much at this moment: the end of this epic adventure, to have to say goodbye to the friends we have made, to have to leave this beautiful country, but also the last movie about a little hobbit. No more movies about unexpected journeys in Middle-earth. After a year, I still cannot listen to this song without shedding some tears.*snob* So we created our own meme:
After the screening Peter Jackson signed something for everyone and had a little chat. I could see he was so tired, but he spoke to all of the 150 fans. We were on the last row and it took probably more than an hour before we got to him, but I managed to gave him some Dutch sirup waffles or ‘stroopwafels’. He also signed my copy of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey EE. Finally, we made a group photo with Peter. Then we were taken back to the hotel for our last night in New Zealand.
In my last and final blog about my unexpected adventure in New Zealand I want to thank everyone involved and share my most precious memories. For now, here is the final video diary by Tourism New Zealand: