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Diversification Helps Keep Weta Workshop on Top of Its Game

With more than two dozen films under his belt and three dozen awards, Richard Taylor, the founder and creative director of New Zealand film-props and effects powerhouse Weta Workshop, has managed to keep his company relevant in a world where CGI-heavy post-production has become the norm. Despite upheavals in the business, he and his workshop elves (half of whom are women) are busier than ever.

“Diversification has been the critical to us staying in business this long,” says Taylor, a self-taught special-effects sculptor who began his workshop in a small rented room with his life partner, Tania, nearly 30 years ago. “It’s very hard to stay in [business] with only one discipline. If we’d just been a film-effects company, that would have been very challenging.”

Taylor explains how one of his latest projects — “Ghost in the Shell,” a sci-fi thriller starring Scarlett Johansson and set for release in March — enabled Weta to show off its prop-building skills.

Director Rupert Sanders “could have easily made the call for everything to be done in post, but he turned to the physical — animatronic puppetry and prosthetics materials,” Taylor says. “We were able to offer a phenomenal amount of creative, visual solutions built physically.”

But Taylor is at work on other horizons as well. His next big project is being developed in conjunction with Florida-based Magic Leap, a company run by inventor Rony Abovitz. The collaboration represents Weta’s first foray into AR (augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) — technologies that combine virtual reality and the real world.

The relationship between Weta and Abovitz dates back several years. “Before there was Magic Leap, we were developing a project with Rony called Hour Blue, a film concept he had that we were designing for him,” says Taylor. It was in trying to create that unique story that Abovitz realized he needed new technology to make it happen.

“That’s what Magic Leap is,” Taylor says.

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