Hello everyone, on April 27, the RPF had the opportunity to sit down with Kim Graham and Tim Launder from the Weta Workshop for an interview regarding the Weta Legs Weta has recently released to the market! We hope this to be the first of many interviews with those who are involved with the entertainment industry and all of its facets!
IMPORTANT: JUST PRIOR TO POSTING THIS INTERVIEW, TIM INFORMED US THAT WETA IS OFFERING $150 (US) OFF THE ORIGINAL PRICE OF THE WETA LEGS FOR ORDERS MADE ON WETA'S WEBSITE BY MAY 25! ADDITIONALLY, WETA HAS OFFERED THE RPF AN AFFILIATE MEMBERSHIP SO ANY ITEM YOU PURCHASE THROUGH WETA BY CLICKING ONE OF OUR LINKS ALSO HELPS SUPPORT THE RPF!
TO ORDER YOUR OWN SET OF WETA LEGS, CLICK HERE!
Kim, please give us just a little background about yourself and what brought you to Weta.
[Kim] Originally, I am originally from Montana. I lived there for about 20 years and I lived in Seattle for about 30 years. I have been a sculptor for about 20 years. I like doing all sorts of materials; props, special effects, fine art, sculpture… really large sculptures are my passion. I like to be able to build anything, and I am a fairly good welder too!
I came to Weta because I did not want to work in LA. LA is a very aggressive, cut-throat environment and that is just not the person that I am, which is why I spent so much time in Seattle. I heard Weta was smaller, more rural, and easier to get along with. They are “roll up your sleeves” and “can fix anything” and that is who I wanted to work for. I sent them my portfolio three years ago and they said, “Wow, this is the best portfolio we have ever seen, but we don’t have any work for you, so thank you and we will give you a call when we can.” Two years later, they made good on their promise, gave me a call and asked me to come to New Zealand to sculpt for the Hobbit.
What is your role at Weta?
[Kim] I am actually working WITH Weta as a co-partner to produce the Weta Legs. I have been working on the legs, with Weta’s help for 6 months and we are just putting them on the market this past week.
You had actually begun development of the Weta Legs, prior to joining Weta, correct?
[Kim] Oh yes! We had three years in them; me and my group of inventors/costumers back in Seattle. But, it was fun. We really wanted to figure out how to do this, so our evenings, weekends and any spare time was spent developing them, perfecting them, and making them work with a variety of costumes. When the economy took a bad turn I said, “Let’s do this for real, clean this design up, and if we can sell a couple or pairs and get through a bad financial time.”
I didn’t expect when I put the YouTube video up to get so many hits so quickly! Within three days I had 500,000 hits on the YouTube video. And then, Weta called me out of the blue, unassociated with this event and said “Hey, We’re hoping to do the Hobbit! You should come down to New Zealand.”
Wow. That is quite a coincidence!
[Kim] Yes, it coincided really well, so I put the leg extensions on hold and it took 2 months to do all the paperwork and necessary stuff to apply for work permits to come to Weta. But when I spoke with Richard Taylor originally, he said “Yes, we are interested in helping you make the legs.” So, when I came, I came with the intention of doing two things; 1) working on the Hobbit and 2) bringing the leg extensions to market.
What prompted you to build the legs initially?
[Kim] My friend had seen the movie, Underworld, and on the special edition DVD they show what the mechanism they used looked like. Since I am the welder of the costume group, my friend Brandy Canon came to me and said “You could build one of these!” The mechanism that was built for Underworld is not built so that anyone can wear them. They are very specialized and built for the individual stunt person. We used that as a start point and then radically changed the design for us, because we were determined if one of us wanted to wear the leg extensions for a convention we could hand them over and they could wear it. We didn’t want them specialized and made the promise to ourselves that we would build them to be universal so the design would fit anyone who wanted to wear them.
Speaking of universal design, I see that Weta is selling a large and small set of legs. What is the maximum and minimum size a person can be and fit the legs?
[Kim] The large size caps off at 112 kilos [246 lbs.] and someone about 6’ 2”. The small is for someone about 70 kilos [154 lbs] and 5’9”.
Shane Rangi is one of our leading costume actors. He has been in The Lord of the Rings, the Narnia movies and is a very good friend of Weta. In fact we designed the extensions with Shane’s suggestions.
He had a custom made set because he is so tall. He is 6’5” which puts him several inches outside of our specs and because of that the leg extensions got heavy.
Is Weta using the legs for their own projects or strictly for commercial sales?
[Tim] We certainly expect to but unfortunately, we can’t tell you which projects we will and which projects we won’t. Sorry.
It is fascinating to see Weta bringing functional products from the film industry to the consumer. Are there plans to offer additional items like the Weta Legs in the future?
[Tim] We would love to! We will see how this first project goes and if people like it, of course, we will do more.
One of the customer groups we hope will benefit from this will be small budget movies where people don’t have a lot of money to go and pay visual effects companies, but this is the sort of thing small budget movies can afford to create their own creatures.
We are already receiving calls from those type of projects where they need 2,3, 4, or even 5 pairs. Any time we can help other people in the industry with similar interests, we think that is terrific!
What sets the Weta legs apart from the typical stilts or leg extensions?
[Kim] Primarily, and this will certainly be called bragging, it is REALLY hard to fall down in them! If you are standing on your own two feet, you don’t expect to fall over and the great thing about the leg extensions is that is provides the same thing. Because of the configuration, you can catch yourself. If you begin to topple you just step into the correct alignment. Other leg extension and stilts do not let you do that, especially wall-board [painter’s] stilts. Once you begin to topple with wall-board stilts you are just going to get hurt. The Weta legs are shockingly easy to use and that is what a lot of our development went into; we assumed we wouldn’t be working with athletes and professionals. We wanted to make them for us and for anyone who wanted to could pick them up very easily. When you watch the instructional video, the gal who is in that video is Phoebe, a gal who works for Weta Digital and she had never been on stilts in her life! I wanted to show someone for the first time that had no expectations or experience. And, of course, she walked in about 4 minutes, and ran in 15. That is our objective. They are really easy to use and incredibly safe!
One of the things you can do in my leg extensions that you have not been able to do before is stand still in them, take a step, and then come to another full stand. In most extensions you have to walk and walk and keep moving all the time, which does not help performers. Mine were built specifically so you could come to a stop, do a performance, step back to your mark and repeat the performance without tottering.
Also you can run obliquely up a hill which seems like a weird thing to say but most leg extensions will allow you to run directly up or down a hill but you can’t run obliquely because you don’t have the tread that can do it. The Weta Legs do.
[Tim] There are a couple of points that came from Shane Rangi. You can see Shane on the video and he has emphasized just how comfortable the legs are and that you can even wear them without shoes. If you talk to him, he can tell you about the torture he has endured on-set wearing custom built legs because they dig into your legs. Most props that are made for movies are made just to survive the shoot and to look good on film but are not made to be comfortable or easily used. They are made for a short term purpose rather than for sustained comfort.
The other really important point for costumers is the Weta Legs are very low profile, which means they fit tightly around your legs. This is important as it allows you to wear a costume over the top of them, and they still look like authentic legs. Plus if you have a costume which is top heavy (most costumes are !) and the weight leans to the front or the back, then you can adjust the cable on the back of the Weta Legs to compensate and give you balance.
[Kim] Shane was incredibly instrumental in a lot of the design process once I arrived at Weta. When he was in for the first fitting of the first set, he said they were simply the most comfortable set of leg extensions he has worn up until then. It was at that point where we began to improve them! I had him run a series of tests; one of them is jumping up and down and pounding on them as hard as he could to try to break them, which he couldn’t do. That was really important because these costume actors put their costumes through the paces. Their leg extensions have got to be able to handle all sorts of abuse. I said “ok, abuse these” and Shane did so for months! He ran a test even I never imagined running which was to do everything with your eyes closed; walk backwards, stand, and move around, because a lot of the costumes you are in on set, you can’t see anything. So he literally began walking and doing things blindfolded, which of course is what he has to do on set when he is wearing a costume which blocks out his sight. He said this was the only set of reverse-leg stilts he could do that with and that made me feel really good.
Did the digitigrade-leg design of the aliens in District 9 have any influence on this collaboration?
[Kim] One of the comments I got when my legs were brought down to Weta’s motion capture studio was “Oh my God! We so needed these for District 9!” I started these years earlier and it was only after I arrived that I even knew the movie was being made. It was completely unassociated.
[Tim] It is funny now because if you talk to people in the workshop, even in the last week, I have heard 3 or 4 people say “Gee, if we’d had the Weta Legs we could have done this project or that project.” They will be a help to us, as a company, for our own movie projects as well.
In one of your videos, you have hooves on the bottom of the Weta legs. Can you adapt virtually any type of foot to work with them?
[Kim] Yes. At the time of that video I was trying to hide the overall mechanism because I was told not to show everything on YouTube. I put the hooves on to disguise the base of the foot. I have since realized that was not necessary but the hope is that people can put any costume over the top of it. We have kept it as close fitting to the leg as you can get so it doesn’t encumber the costumer’s ability to embellish the leg.
When do you expect the first legs to ship?
[Tim] We have our first production run here in New Zealand so that we can ship within 60 days.
Prior to the introduction to Weta Legs, if I were in the film industry and needed to have a custom set of digitigrade legs developed, what might I expect to pay?
[Kim] The Underworld sets cost just over $10,000 a set to make because they were one-offs to fit one particular stunt person and they truly only fit that one person. Doing the R&D for that kind of product is stratospherically expensive.
[Tim] There are three and a half years worth of research and trial and error in the legs we are offering. If someone were to start from scratch and you valued your time at an hourly rate, just calculate what that time would cost.
Now that we have the knowledge that Kim has brought to us and some of the knowledge that we have helped provide her, we are able to produce them at a reasonable level but remember this is not a mass produced item. It is a niche product. It is not a “made in China” item which we will be selling tens of thousands of items.
For movie projects, customers will want custom made fits and sizes to suit their particular requirement, so if we are doing custom made legs the cost would be at least 3 to 4 times the price we are offering on the website.
You mentioned that the Weta legs are not mass produced. Are they being produced in New Zealand?
[Tim] Yes, they are!
With some of your previous products, you have done a run of a certain number. Will the Weta legs be an “open run” and be made available for an indefinite amount of time?
[Tim] Yes, we hope so. If sales go well and the demand is there, we would love to make lots of them. It always depends on what customers and fans think. If they like it, we’ll do more.
We are also interested, in the future in providing accessories like hooves or costumes around the legs. We would love to get into that, but we are starting with the legs. As always, it depends on customer demand.
Would Weta produce the accessories in-house?
[Tim] Most probably yes. Again, this is not a mass produced in China type of product. If we produce accessories, it is going to be small volume so you need those specialized skills. You can’t just go to a mass producer and order 1,000 items.
Is Weta going to be at San Diego Comic Con this year?
[Tim] Yes, we will have a booth at Comic Con. Come and say Hello!
Kim, will you be there?
[Kim] I hope to but haven’t confirmed that yet. I’m getting married right about that time of the year, so I’ll have to get back to you on that! I met someone here at Weta, a local, in-house genius. He is a marvelous man named Warren Beaton. And he is just absolutely handsome. We have been together since I arrived 9 months ago.
Will you be demoing the legs at Comic Con?
[Tim] Hmmmm ……. Come and find out!
Big thanks to Kim, Tim, and Weta for taking the time to talk to us! We are looking forward to Weta's Weta Legs and their future offerings!
We already have a thread about the Weta Legs here but feel free to comment here as well!