Saturday, January 15, 2011

WETA Creatures

The digital artists at WETA Digital’s creature department have breathed life into Gollum, King Kong (video below), and the creatures of Avatar.

They are experts in anatomy. They build creatures from the inside out: skeleton, muscles, skin and hair. Then they apply their knowledge of physics and acting to make their creatures move.

Digital creatures must share the stage with live-action actors. They have to perform every kind of movement from a subtle eye twitch to a deadly body slam.

Simon Clutterbuck of WETA’s digital creature department, (click to enlarge/ Photo by Julian Butler planned a fun New Year’s gift for their team: a set of 47 signed copies of Color and Light. They went outdoors yesterday in that fine New Zealand summer weather to take this group photo. These artists been living for weeks in the caves with the dragon Smaug so a little sunlight won’t hurt them.

Since they ordered such a big batch of books, and since I’m such a huge fan of WETA, I wanted to make the gift extra special. So I carved a unique rubber stamp using craft foam glued to a wood block.

Each book got the custom stamp, as well as a one-of-a-kind creature sketch that I made with pens and colored pencils. I imagined them as the “47 Creatures of Whangakokototoi Island,” —a tiny island off the coast of New Zealand that no one has discovered yet.

Here’s a sampling of the sketches, about one third of the whole set. Of course I didn’t know what each of the artists looked like, or what sorts of animals they liked, so I just guessed and drew the whatever popped into my head.

Simon and Rachael, I thank you. And WETA Creatures, I salute you!

If YOU, dear blog reader, are part of a large game company, movie studio, or art school, maybe you can get your department head or club organizer to put together a group purchase of Color and Light or Imaginative Realism. If there are more than 30 books in a single order, I’ll do a some sort of special design for you. Also, with a big order, I can ship internationally.
Color and Light signed from the Dinotopia Store
Questions about group ordering: jgurneyart
Color and Light on Amazon internationally: USA | CA | UK | FR | DE | JP
WETA Digital 
Weta Creature show reel on YouTube (Caution: includes movie violence and disturbing images)
King Kong climbs the Empire State


Super Villain said...

wow, that is no small deal, weta in my opinon is by far the best special effects movie department on the planet, by far

your coolness is now boosted 20% in my eyes, now just work on the knee high grey socks and you will be futher boosted another 20%, HAHA!

i hope you are planning on posting all the creature sketches! they are so awsome!

David Glenn said...

I think WETA workshop is really good. I was surprised to learn that they helped with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and just now when I read that they also helped with the remake of King Kong. I liked how they brought the creatures in the Chronicles of Narnia series to life. Maybe they could do a movie of Dinotopia (they're very talented of making life-like creatures).

Tim said...

How thoughtful of you to make each book for the WETA team special! I really admire how you give back to the artist community and your fans. If you have time to post all the thumbnails of the creatures your readers and I would enjoy seeing the rest.

Ben Dale said...

That's great! I bought your book for a new years gift for myself. I am recommending it to everyone.

I am glad to see that I am not alone in that sentiment, and that such obviously bad ass artists are also reading it. You really went all out on the book and it shows.

Thanks for making it!

Joel Fletcher said...

James, I think this is fantastic how you go to such extra effort to create these inscriptions with custom drawings. They must be a real treasure for each recipient.

As an aside, I spent a year in New Zealand animating on Jackson's KONG movie and want clear up some misconceptions about Weta. There are two completely separate Weta divisions; WETA DIGITAL which creates and breathes life into the amazing CGI creatures, and WETA WORKSHOP, which makes real world practical props and miniature sets. Richard Taylor runs the workshop only. The two divisions have very minimal contact with each other, almost like they have a sibling rivalry. Also from what I have observed, the Workshop tends to use local artists, whereas Weta Digital relies heavily on imported talent from other countries. Both are exceptional in their respective fields and have my full admiration, but again they not the same.

James Gurney said...

Joel, thanks for explaining the difference between the two WETA divisions. I hope my post didn't confuse them. The copy signed to Richard Taylor of WETA Workshop was a gift of Simon Haupt, sent over from WETA Digital.

Anonymous said...

Yes --we planned a xmas present from Simon Clutterbuck for his Creatures dept at Weta Digital and James was extremely generous with his artwork for each book!

We also gave one copy to Richard and Workshop as we knew it would be of great interest - thats why you see that pic on the post.

It probably depends in what dept you work as to whether you have allot of contact with Workshop/Digi. I also worked on Kong - matte painting - so I had quite a bit of contact with the concept designers at Workshop/art dir etc even though I worked at Digi.

Julian Butler said...

It's a super awesome present thank you very much James. I'm really enjoying the sections on lighting types right now and it's relevance to my other passion: photograpy. I also shot the photo you have ;-) thanks again!


Andrés Carrandi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrés Carrandi said...

Hello Sir! I collaborate in The One Ring Dot Net, the most important Tolkien fan site, and as you know, I am a regular reader of your blog.

We report anything related with anyone who worked in the Lord of the Rings movies, so when I read this entry, I had to share it with community. I posted about it in the News at the site. I posted links to here, the Dinotopia site and the store for the art books, so hopefully, there will be some new awareness for your work among a sector of avid fantasy fans. I wanted to let you know about the piece. Please, do let me know if you need any change in the body of the note. All the best!

Claire said...

Thankyou so much, James! It's an amazing book - I practically fell out of my chair when Simon came in with them!

Cavematty said...

James, I hope you are not disappointed that the concept art team over at workshop has not put in a similar order. Many of us individually had the book on pre-order from book depository or amazon long before the thought of doing a bulk order was suggested. We are all big fans, and appreciate the great drawing in the book that made it to us.

Thanks also for the plug for White Cloud Worlds :)

Super Villain said...

hmmm....didnt know WETA and james gurney were so close....i'm hoping somthing is taking place behind the scenes!

a WETA produced Dinotopia film would be AMAZING!

and i've been thinking of all the books being converted into big time movies, dinotopia is well well well over due, for gosh sakes they made two Jumanji films, haha

especially since the technology boom in terms of what is possible now with creatures.

WETA and Dinotopia are a match made in heaven.

WETA + Peter Jackson + James Gurney + Dinotopia= my head exploding sideways!!!!

Max West said...

There's kind of a prejudice against computer generated creatures nowadays. Some argue that CGI looks incredibly fake compared to the old stop-motion and blue screen matting techniques.

I don't understand - how can a fictitious creation made of computer commands be any more "fake" than a creation made of plastic, rubber, etc?

- Paul Hastings said...

+1 for a Dinotopia film in conjunction with Weta Digital (or Workshop).