Wētā Workshop’s team bring film skills, zany humour and a giant troll to New Zealand’s first ever 3D illusion billboards

2 Jun 2023

A giant troll is wrecking havoc at Wellington Airport, thanks to the creative work of the team at Wētā Workshop. Take a look behind the scenes at the creation of New Zealand’s first 3D illusion Out of Home (3DOOH) billboard.

Travellers at Wellington Airport will be the first to see this innovative new production work, which takes disruptive marketing to a whole new level inside New Zealand’s first ever 3D illusion billboard. Wellington Airport visitors can experience it from today and commuters at Newmarket Station in Auckland will get a taste of the action from early next week.

The animatronic troll, named Jeff, is a creation of the team at Wētā Workshop and is from Wētā Workshop Unleashed, a movie-making tour experience in Auckland’s Sky City precinct. When he’s not out disrupting travel signage, Jeff works as Unleashed’s head of security.

The digital billboards have been harnessed to create a 3D effect using the 3DOOH technology and will showcase Wētā Workshop Unleashed during June.

Wētā Workshop co-founder and creative director Richard Taylor says the 3DOOH billboard platform was a perfect place to showcase not only the Wētā Workshop Unleashed experience, but also the talent, creative problem solving and breadth of expertise across Wētā Workshop from design and manufacture to animatronics, prosthetics and media production.

“It involved nearly every part of our Workshop team to bring this together,” he says.

“It’s always fun when people across the various divisions of our company come together to collaborate on a project as exciting as this. Using the highest level of animatronic puppet control tech and the lowest of simple muppet hand techniques, the combination has produced a fun and engaging piece of media using a physical puppet performing in a model-made set. It was so much fun working on this!”

The set was designed and built at Wētā Workshop in Wellington and filmed there with Jeff as the star talent supported by a team of designers, artists, a media production team, puppeteers to operate his hands and technicians to control his facial and neck movements.

Jeff’s facial features are controlled using custom software developed by the crew at Wētā Workshop, incorporating cutting edge facial recognition technology.

“When we were offered this opportunity by MBM and MediaWorks to collaborate with them we jumped at it and began brainstorming how we could bring it to life.

“We’ve been looking at all these amazing 3D billboards on the internet which have used computer generated animations to create the creatures, characters and effects on these large screens. We wanted to do something different, that harnessed our love of physical creature effects, of puppet building and of shooting things that are real. The idea of using Jeff from Unleashed came quickly to mind. Imagine if he was moonlighting as a maintenance guy working for the airports and railways, changing over the travel information signs. Although, as Jeff is a troll, he can’t help but get up to mischief!”

Creating the 3D illusion required some ingenuity. An entire physical set was constructed around Jeff to alter the viewer’s perspective and create a 3D effect.

The set was built by the model-making team at the Workshop who typically collaborate on film, television and location-based experience projects. The high level of realism is all down to the carefully crafted model-making techniques.

MediaWorks Outdoor Director Brad Morgan says Wētā Workshop was a natural partner to showcase this new capability in New Zealand.

“Wētā Workshop has been at the forefront of the creative industries in Aotearoa for 30 years, so we knew they’d bring the wow factor.

Annabelle Wilkinson from MBM says 3DOOH offers an exciting opportunity for advertisers in New Zealand.

“Wētā Workshop has set the bar high with this incredible promotion. We think it’s going to spur some serious creativity from brands wanting to engage with their audiences in this new format.”