Many users claim to be able to produce anything that their customers' need. However, very few face customers with projects as imaginative, or as demanding, as design and effects company, Weta Workshop.
Weta Workshop is a five times Oscar-winning company that operates out of Wellington, New Zealand. Best known for its work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, The Chronicles of Narnia, District 9 and Avatar, Weta Workshop also encompasses a diverse array of other commercial enterprises, including publishing, merchandising, high-end collectibles and fine-art bronzes.
To stay ahead of the commercial challenges of the world's creative industries, Weta Workshop has found necessity and desire to shift from a purely handcraft company to one that utilises all available digital technology – primarily laser cutting, plasma cutting, 3D modelling and printing, and CNC milling.
Jordan Thomson has pioneered this division at Weta Workshop and his unique take on the technical design and engineering of the equipment that the team uses has offered the technicians at Weta an extensive suite of tools available for production output.
The 3D Department, lead by Mary Pike, includes thirteen digital artists all working with software, including the artistic CADCAM software, ArtCAM, and the PowerMill CAM system for high-speed and five-axis machining, to service an extensive number of varying jobs per week. Ms. Pike notes, "Deadlines are our primary challenge. The technical know-how and capability of the team is never in question but of course the wild card is always time. This demands a fluid and unfaltering interplay between the digital artist at the computer, the capability of the toolpathing software to realise these complex models, and then the complete reliability of the machines that we have purchased and built here under Jordan's guidance."
Richard Taylor, co-owner and founder of Weta Workshop, comments "initially we went down the track of purchasing commercially available equipment to complement the reliability of the software that the local reseller, Camplex, had provided for us. It became quickly evident that Jordan had the ability to engineer pragmatic solutions for our every need. He has significantly adapted, and in a number of cases 'built from scratch', the equipment we need to do our jobs."
Mr. Thomson acknowledges that "irrelevant of the hardware solutions, it is the fantastic reliability and ease with which the software interfaces with our machinery that makes this such a seamless process. I get asked daily to facilitate some wonderful and whacky jobs on one of the six machines that we run. It can be like an acrobat juggling plates while balancing on a ball, as you have so many tasks bouncing between all the different machines utilising the appropriate software to output what is required. From a 1mm button to a sculpture as large as a house, it is utter adaptability of equipment and flexibility of software which means I can guarantee delivery for Richard and our clients."
Weta Workshop is focussed on building its CNC department further as the company appreciates fully that this is one of the solutions in staying competitive and dynamic in a commercial environment. Mr. Thomson says "I have recently acquired a seven-axis car-assembly robot to offer further flexibility for large-scale sculpture pieces. This allows us to mill down into an ear or up a nostril at exacting detail and fineness. It takes a mighty piece of software to implement this level of command but the technology should be invisible to the artists".