Tom Herbert

Interview: Richard Taylor and Greg Broadmore

Tom Herbert speaks to Richard Taylor and Greg Broadmore, the two artists at the centre of the ‘Exceptional Exhibition’, about dinosaurs, Wellingtonians and little gold men…


You could forgive Richard Taylor and Greg Broadmore for letting success go to their heads – even just a little. After all, the former has won five academy awards and co-founded the company responsible for the special effects on The Lord of the Rings, arguably the biggest fantasy films of all time, and the latter has recently burst onto the scene as the visionary designer behind the technical special effects for District Nine, one of the biggest science-fiction films of this year.

However, the pair remain pleasantly down to earth and, whether by luck or a cunning charm offensive, Chengdu Grooves found the pair in a corner of Crowne Plaza’s restaurant flicking through a copy of last month’s magazine. Both were transfixed by a picture of the forty-foot dinosaur that inhabits the Zigong Natural History Museum.

“I’ve read about China’s massive dinosaurs”, Broadmore quipped, rasping his enormous beard with his thumb, “that must be a Seismosaurus I reckon”.

Taylor and Broadmore remained equally enthusiastic about a range of subjects during the interview, and it’s clear that the two are kindred creative spirits who, despite enjoying more success than most of their fellow peers could dream of, are still interested and inspired by the world around them.

The artists behind the exhibition

Taylor is best known as director of Weta Workshop, the special effects company who designed and produced all the weapons, armour, creatures, makeup, and miniature models for The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films. Taylor co-founded Weta in 1994 with his partner Tania Rodger and celebrated Kiwi director Peter Jackson, with the primary aim of supplying special effects to the burgeoning New Zealand film industry. Their first major jobs included producing the special effects for film and TV including Heavenly Creatures, Xena, and The Frighteners. This then led them to work alongside Jackson on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, for which they won four academy awards, later adding another for their work on Jackson’s adaptation of King Kong.


Greg Broadmore, Tania Rodger and Richard Taylor

Greg Broadmore joined after sending his portfolio into Taylor’s Weta studios in Wellington, where he was working as a comic artist. According to Taylor: “We review a phenomenal number of portfolios each week, we’ve got about 8,000 on file from people all over the world, but we’re specifically focused on trying to find New Zealanders, and then Wellingtonians, and here was this person exhibiting incredible talent that lived in Wellington, which was a wonderful set of circumstances. So we invited Greg in and the rest is history. He joined just before King Kong and went on to design the dinosaurs that feature in the film. He then worked on The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian and did all the tech-design for District Nine.”

“The designs for District Nine needed to come together really quickly”, added Broadmore, “and that was good in a way, to focus the mind a bit. I’m just delighted with how it’s been received”.

The exhibition itself

Around half the exhibition features Broadmore’s fictional universe of Dr Grordbort, which started as a collection of ray-guns (a passion of the sci-fi-obsessed artist since childhood), then coalesced, gained layers and came together into a more complete collection.

“The images are presented as if they are from the Dr Grordbort era, which is classic science fiction from the 20s and 30s”, Broadmore explained, “and the exhibition is supposed to feel like a series of works curated during that era. The images are not presented as if they’re modern digital images; they’re presented as if they’re from that universe, so you get to go into a slice of it and experience it. I think fans really dig that.”

Once the collection had taken shape just over a year ago, Taylor and Broadmore started to look into opportunities to take an exhibition of the artwork across the world. “We realised that there was an important and substantial enough collection that was worthy of shipping out to the world”, said Taylor, “but when I mentioned this to Gavin (Crombie, founder of IDF Global and Green Leaf Film Studios here in Chengdu and a native Wellingtonian), he said ‘why don’t we premier it in Chengdu – it’s exactly the type of thing that the Chengdu public and the students would probably appreciate.’ It’s a sophisticated corner of China, with emerging art schools and a lot of interest in science fiction.”

As the pair brought over the exhibits, they did so in the knowledge that the Chinese general public were not necessarily going to know about the world of Dr Grordbort, and so realised the exhibition needed something that would bear relation to their film-watching experiences. With this in mind, they brought along a collection of props from The Lord of the Rings, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, King Kong, and a selection of other bits and pieces and that make up half of the exhibition. The other half features paintings and sculptures, props, models and artwork from Broadmore’s body of work.

The exhibition also features five very special guests, whom Taylor introduces: “I’ve brought the Oscars, which is a very unusual thing to do because we never usually take them out of the workshop. However, Gavin (Crombie) was convinced that the Oscars would have some reference in people’s mind here to the film industry and to the international film-making community, so I figured if I’ve won them and I can raise money for the earthquake fund then I should bring them. I wrote to the academy, who are appropriately very strict on these things and they said of course, you should take them to try and raise awareness of the earthquake fund”. All proceeds from the exhibition will go towards helping the victims of last year’s earthquake here in Sichuan, which killed almost 70,000 people and left around five million more homeless.

Visiting and working with China

Although well-read on Chinese mythology and legends, for Broadmore this is a first visit to China. Taylor, however, has visited several times over the last nine years exploring film and television-making opportunities: “our greatest desire right now with China is to see if we can distribute our children’s television series Wotwots. We make pre-school television as another business that my wife and I run, and the contents of the Wotwots is, I believe, perfect for the Chinese pre-school market – we would love to figure out how we can ultimately achieve that goal.”

The future for the two artists

So what’s next on the horizon for the two artists who seemingly have the world at their feet? “Well, we have aspirations for things in our future but it’s an ever-changing and unique journey. No matter how well-planned you are, the vagaries of the world’s film and entertainment industry nudges you along a particular path, so we have to be accepting and intuitively understanding of that” said Taylor.

“In a perfect world we aspire to see our own intellectual property development grow – the world of Dr Grordbort is an exact example of that sort of thing. Should we be able to nurture it to the point of production, we’ll have New Zealanders working on New Zealand products that have auxiliary spin-off opportunities for other New Zealand companies bringing profit back into the New Zealand film industry, rather than the products that we’re working on being exploited offshore, and that’s our hope.”

Broadmore’s aspirations are understandably more in the here and now: “I just hope people enjoy the exhibition. It’s interesting; it’s kind of an experiment in a way to see if young Chinese people enjoy it. We’ve already done a few talks at universities and schools and there seems to me to be massive enthusiasm here in the younger generations for science fiction and fantasy – it’s really cool to see. Longer term I’d love for the exhibition to go the US and tour back in New Zealand. It’d be great to give something back to the fans who made Dr Grordbort such a success”

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