is my third time interviewing Richard Taylor, the capo of WETA. The guy
doesn’t talk, he declaims. It’s always fun listening to him, not just
because of his unique take on the monotone but because he still manages
to get such passion across.

King Kong,
on DVD today, is certainly Taylor and WETA’s greatest moment. Say what
you will about the film, the digital character of Kong is so far beyond
anything that we’ve seen before as to be completely mindblowing. Back
in the 1920s Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took Willis O’Brien’s early test
footage for The Lost World
to a gathering of magicians and illusionists. They were blown away, and
convinced that real dinosaurs had been filmed. Even Houdini was fooled.
Imagine if they could see this film…

Click here to buy the King Kong 2-disc Special Edition from CHUD!

Q: So how many Oscars is it now?

Taylor: I’ve been fortunate enough to bring home five for the team at WETA.

Q: That’s pretty impressive.

Taylor: That’s good, isn’t it? I think WETA has now won 6 as a total.

Q: Was that something that, when you began, you envisioned – being the cutting edge of effects houses?

No. We never set out intentionally to win awards or be recognized at
this level. The intention of all filmmakers is to ultimately make the
best possible product you can. The greatest reward, of course, is if
the critics and the general public enjoy the work. In the case of
Kong, this film was exponentially more difficult than Lord of the Rings, and it’s actually a blessing that we had Lord of the Rings preceding Kong
to get our facilities, mindset and our creativity to a level to tackle
an American iconic piece of cinema. In turn you all get together and
set off to just try to make the best possible movie you can. The fact
that it gets recognized in the end at an awards ceremony is just an
amazing thing that puts an exclamation mark at the end of the effort.
Do you think that the way that Oscars are handed out is going to have
to change now? This is the second time Andy Serkis has been discussed
as an acting nominee for a role that was done in conjunction with FX
people. Do you think this needs its own category?

I’m obviously extremely biased, but I honestly think there does. There
have been many changes in the industry over the past hundred years and
over the 78 years of the Oscars, which has meant that the Academy has
shifted their thoughts. The make-up Oscars, when Rick Baker won for
American Werewolf in London, shifted from pancake make-up and lipstick and hair to full animatronic puppetry associated with human actor.

we’re in a new renaissance of filmmaking, and the realities of serious
characters that can induce an audience to cry being played by motion
capture performers such as Andy, is going to become a consistent
reality of the industry. Bob Zemeckis is making
right now with a totally digital cast. Should that mean those
performers are excluded from recognition as great performers? No, of
course not. In turn I think there will be an appreciation that the
industry once again is shifting to incorporate the magical world of

Q: The world
of technology itself has changed a lot. Once the big hurdle for CGI was
water, then it was hair. What are the big challenges now?

Taylor: I
think the greatest challenge that we’ve successfully overcome with Kong
is the fact that for the first time in cinema a totally digital
character raised the audience’s emotional levels to such a point that
they cried. They cried at the loss, at the death of that creature. That
has opened up so many opportunities going forward with cinema, because
that means digital technologies and cinema – once again, it’s about
heartware, not hardware. It’s about the ability for those technicians
to invest that incredible empathy and love and human
emotion into a creature such as Kong and transcend the issues that have
effected digital creations that we’ve all worked on in the past.
Digital effect characters can now hold a relationship with the audience
that’s the equivalent of a great actor.

Q: Richard, do you ever take a vacation?

Taylor: We took a proper vacation about fifteen years ago, when we went to the UK for holiday.

Q: It’s been incredibly busy for you lately.

We’ve been on a roll for about five or ten years. I never regret being
busy because we ride the rollercoaster of the ups and downs of the film
industry, so we’re just incredibly thankful that we’re busy. We’ve got
a wonderful and dedicated group of people around us, and that makes you
want to keep working. At the moment we’re working on a very small New
Zealand horror movie called
Black Sheep, and it’s equally as exciting and challenging
as Kong or Lord of the Rings or Narnia, but in a very, very small-scale New Zealand way. It’s great fun.

Q: Do you guys make a point of working with local filmmakers as much as possible?

We work with local filmmakers as frequently as they will have us work
with them. Last year we did a local children’s television series called
The Killian Curse,
that had a variety of monsters in it. The total budget of the total
series was probably less than a quarter of a million dollars, but try
to look for opportunities. In fact we just started our own children’s
television production company and they’re in production on our first TV
show, called
Jane and the Dragon, which is very exciting.

Q: So King Kong was Peter’s dream project since he was a child. Is there a dream project you have?

There are many ideas that I would love to one day bring to fruition,
but I respectfully put them on the back burner while we develop other
people’s ideas. But right now probably my greatest desire is to see
Neon Genesis Evangelion
come to life. I’ve been working on that nearly four years with ADV, the
people who own the rights to the live action film. We’ve traveled to
Japan, we’ve met the original creators, we have done development work
on it. I believe
Evangelion, to the Asian market, could be up there with the Lord of the Rings. Of the Western market has grown and is ready for this amazing film genre.

Q: What is the current status of that film?

I don’t honestly know, but that’s not to say that it won’t happen.
Everyone’s intentions is to see it happen. It’s a very, very complex
property to bring to the world cinema because of its incredible
following. It has to be done, hopefully, with great sensitivity and
aesthetically with utter perfection. That requires time and thought.

Q: When you were in New York for the King Kong press day, you mentioned that you guys were trying to produce some statues for Shaun of the Dead. Is there any update on that?

Taylor: Our line of collectibles continues to grow. We have Superman coming up, and Hellboy. We pursued Shaun of the Dead
and Edgar [Wright] was very keen, we were very keen, but the rights are
so complex – you have to buy territory by territory. It became
unfeasible. Just the legal cost alone to pursue each territory became
unfeasible. It’s a shame, because it could have been a great piece. But
we’re certainly intent on doing several things with Edgar. We look
forward to that day.