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Ghost in the Shell: Design & manufacture

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The cybernetic future of Ghost in the Shell is about to take shape at the movies. Working closely with director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman), New Zealand’s Wētā Workshop produced an extensive body of work for the Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Reliance Entertainment production, spanning conceptual design, prosthetics, animatronics, specialty costumes, props, on-set assistance and behind-the-scenes content.

To conceptualise such a world, Wētā Workshop’s Design Studio – led by senior concept designer Leri Greer and art director Ben Hawker – generated over 2000 designs, working in tandem with Sanders’ team: production designer Jan Roelfs, visual effects supervisor Guillaume Rocheron, Los Angeles visual effects house The Mill, and concept designers Maciej Kuciara, Vitaly Bulgarov, and Ash Thorp.

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From the outset, our goal was to tackle this project with a ‘sky’s the limit’ philosophy. As a result, the Workshop has undertaken some of the most challenging and complex work we’ve ever faced. Seeing Rupert and his team bring it all to life – a mere five minutes’ drive away, no less – has been incredible.

Ben Hawker Art Director, Wētā Workshop.
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For the Workshop, the translation of 2D designs into 3D reality involved an extraordinary level of technical skill. Under the supervision of Production Manager Danielle Prestidge, the artists and technicians of Wētā Workshop relished the challenge to fill Sanders’ film with beautiful and intricate physical effects.

Major’s thermoptic suit was one such effect, representing a creative benchmark for Wētā Workshop. Led by Jason and Kim Docherty and Flo Foxworthy, the crew devised an innovative way of using silicone – a notoriously difficult material to work with in costume – to achieve the final look. Completely smooth, the suit adheres to Major like a second skin, iconic panel lines imprinted into its surface. The final result is a perfect example of the seamless hybrid between practical effects and design with visual effects enhancement.

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At Wētā Workshop, we’ve been fortunate to have honed our skills and techniques on incredible projects which explore ‘future tech’ concepts. Films like, District 9, Avatar, Elysium, Chappie and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Now, Ghost in the Shell provides us with our biggest challenge to date. Rupert Sanders has elected to use prosthetic makeup effects, animatronic puppetry and good old fashioned models and miniatures. The work has been complex and fantastically enjoyable. The results promise to be a very special episode in our company’s history.

Sir Richard Taylor CEO and Co-founder, Wētā Workshop.
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As principal photography ramped up at Wellington’s Stone Street Studios, Wētā Workshop On-Set Supervisor Joe Dunckley oversaw a contingent of Workshop crew members as they assisted the film’s production team on costume, makeup, and practical effects. Rob Gillies, the Wētā Workshop Supervisor responsible for masterminding the manufacturing on the floor, was brought on board to manage several sequences using the elaborate animatronic robot rigs built by the Workshop for the film.

Not long after production wrapped in mid-2016, the Wētā Workshop crew were thrilled to greet former Mythbusters host Adam Savage and his colleagues from popular American tech website, Tested. Savage and his team filmed several videos documenting Wētā Workshop’s practical geisha animatronics, endoskeleton, and thermoptic suit. Released in late February 2017, the clips have garnered more than 1.2 million views. Soon, that work will come to life on screen for all to see.

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