The New Zealand Chronicles:Part 2 – Bank Accounts, Taxes, Housing and other Mundane Essentials.

*** First written June 13, 2002***

Up at 8am to work on the box cover for Midnight Club 2 — an upcoming game from Rock Star.  Unfortunately, they are in New York, so by the time 8am rolls around, its already 4pm over there.  So to get feedback, we need to start rather early.

Wellington is windy.  Watching the thick clouds looks like the scene is shot in time lapse  The clouds race across the sky like rapids on a river.

Jacqui rings us at 10 to inform us that we have an appointment at the bank at 11.  Not much time to get showered, shampooed, and shined.  But we make it.

Jacqui stands about 5’4″ with a short crop of brown hair.  She’s well travelled and has even been to Eugene, OR.  She hosts Sea Kayaking trips in the summer, but spends her time finding housing for the huge influx of immigrants coming to work for WETA during the winter months..  She’s fun, funny, and on top of things.  Jackie’s job is to get us a place to live.

First stop.  The bank.  Dreadful.  I hate money issues.  Taxes, banking fees, paperwork.

New Zealand doesn’t have a debit card that looks like a VISA or Mastercard.  They have EFTPOS, which is like your ATM card, but everywhere in New Zealand accepts it.  UNfortunately, if you order stuff online — well — you’re just shit outta luck.  They do have credit cards however — and this is odd — if you have an outstanding balance of $0-1000, then the percentage rate on the card is 19.6%…..19.6!!!!!!  In the U.S., those kinds of cards are for the guys who can’t get credit!!  But, if you have an outstanding balance of $4000-$5000 (These numbers are in Kiwi dollars, BTW.  Which exchanges at a rate of around .50 to the US Dollar. So, $1.00 US = approx $2.00 NZ) — OK back to the weirdness.  If you have a balance of $4000-5000, then the APR is 12.5%.  So, the higher debt you have, the less you are paying in interest.

I’m not sure if you guys find this odd, but to me it comes off as some kind of Jedi mind trick. It lulls you into a false sense that you are saving money by retaining more debt.  Hey!  Who cares that I owe $5000 — I’m getting a GREAT APR!!!  This is a dangerous game they are playing.

After an hour at the bank (while Jacqui patiently waited in the car finding more places to rent), we go driving off to look at places to live.  I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with the state of nearly every single place we looked at.  There was nothing that stood out as “we could never live here — this is awful”.  In contrast, this is USUALLY the reaction you have to rentals in Los Angeles, although in LA, you also add the more viseral reaction of nausea when you see the price.  We saw some furnished, some unfurnished.  Some homes, some apartments.  Some in the burbs of Seatoun, some right Downtown.  None of them ever more than a 10 minute drive to WETA.

One house was located on a stretch of road called Breaker Bay, an area with occasional “Penguin Crossing” signs.  The house sat across the road from the water (which today was mildly choppy despite the insane winds).  Jacqui told us that when the weather gets really bad that the waves crest over the banks and into the road, and sometimes the waves are so huge that they look like they are going to smash into the house.  I don’t think that Jacqui should go into Real Estate Sales.

Then it was off to WETA.  But now I’m driving.  Jacqui wants to make sure that we are comfortable driving on the right side of the car and the left side of the road.  When we were riding, it all feels a little odd.  Every time we stopped it was an habitual urge to reach down and pull the emergency brake — even though I had no steering wheel in front of me.  Driving, however, is a little odd — but not daunting.   This is the car that WETA has provided for the next 2 weeks.  I have no idea what it is — it has a little lion on the steering wheel — but its not a Peugot.  All I know is that its white and it drives.

Arrival at WETA.  I get the feeling that the building is an old elementary school or something.  Its not.  People bustle about from here and there.  Some don’t where shoes.  Our buddy Mike is there — he still doesn’t have shoes on.  Jennifer is planning on getting him a toe ring.  I really don’t think this is a hobbit thing.  I think its a Kiwi thing — primarily a South Island Kiwi thing from the looks of things.  But perhaps this is why they made Lord of the Rings.  Only they have that no-shoes connection to get into the mind of a Frodo and Sam.

Suzanne LaBrie runs us through all the paperwork and applying for taxIDs. Oh joy.  She dedicates at least an hour and a half of her time to answer all of our questions and then provides an informal tour.

Jacqui has waited for us the entire time.  She wanted to escort us back to the hotel to make sure that our driving abilities are in order and we are comfortable. Pfft!  I’ve been driving for 17 years, even if it has been on the other side of the road.  Both Jennifer and I encourage Jacqui that all will be well and that she can head home without worry.  All in the room are shocked and impressed that we are so confident.  This makes me a little worried about the other WETA immigrants who have come through and had to get their Jacqui driving seal of approval.

WETA is a labyrinth of corridors and hallways.  This stems from the fact that WETA was never supposed to be this large.  Peter Jackson have planned for WETA to be no more than 60 people, and the interior architecture was designed accordingly.  This obviously isn’t the case.  So they had to keep buying the buildings around them — a car mechanic shop, a cosmetic factory, and so on.  Each building had construction done to connect the new addition.  The elevator in one area is actually the lift in the lube pit of the car shop.  They open up new areas, run a Cat-5 cable, put a computer in, and then place an artist there.  Closet, corner, cubicle — wherever the artist might fit.  They are concerned with your comfort however, so they provide any kind of ergonomic apparatus that you request.  I’m thinking about requesting a personal massuese as my ergonomic apparatus.

The walls are adorned with props, armor, weapons, etc from the film. Each chosen by physical effect supervisor Richard Taylor.  Every piece is an emaculate piece of artwork.  Walking into the programmer and texture artist area, we are greeted by a life-size maquette of Gollum, used for texture and modeling reference.  On to the compositing room, which is a rather large room with Japanese paper walls as dividers between artists.  All the artists seem quite involved with the shots at hand. One artist, a woman named Gigi, coming from New Jersey and an ex-Kleiser-Walzack employee, is working on a Gollum scene.  Its a scene where Gollum has snared a rabbit for Sam and Frodo and is completely miffed that Sam has decided to cook it rather than eating it raw.  The scene is in broad daylight (albeit on the edge of a forest) and Gollum looks great.  He’s quite a bit more fleshy-colored then I had envisioned.  I’m used to the Rankin-Bass design from The Hobbit and the Bakshi design from Lord of the Rings from the late 70s.  The Jackson Gollum is much closer to a natural physiological change happened from the influence of the Ring on used-to-be hobbit, Smeagol.  So, his features remain a distorted reflection of the hobbits he is accompanying.

Gigi feels sincerly that Sam has wronged Gollum by cooking the rabbit, and that he could have at least given Gollum SOME of the rabbit.  After all, Gollum was the one who caught it.  I thought that Gigi might be having too many feelings for the synthetic character.  And I told her so. (however, this is a fine compliment to the animators).

I finally talk to the coordinator, Susie Klies — who ironically was the first HR person that I had spoken with upon applying to WETA.  I have found out my duties.  I’m going to be a lighting Technical Director on the Gollum team.  This essentially means (for those of you not in the industry) that I’ll be taking the 3D files from the animator, the lighting schemes from the team that has been writing scripts and so forth for Gollum, and the textures — and lighting Gollum so that it looks like he is in the scene. I render out Gollum and pass the elements to the compositors. I’ll be working on an SGI, in a UNIX environment, using Maya and Renderman, and a proprietary tool called Liquid.  So, basically, I’m using tools that aren’t the most used tools in my toolchest.  But I have confidence that I’ll acclimate quickly.  I’ll be finding out more next week when I begin attending the Gollum dailies in the morning and finding out whats going on.

Tomorrow is a formal tour of both WETA Digital and WETA Workshop (the model and prop team).  Perhaps we’ll see them shooting the pickups that I mentioned Brad Dourif was here for.  What we’ve found out is that they actually have a ton of the actors here for pick ups.  So Elijah and Sean are here — not sure about Sir Ian.  Also, Franke Pontente is here (she’s from Run Lola Run) — evidently she and Elijah have a little thing going on (no “little” Hobbit jokes please).

On the Choose Life front (which as most of you know, Jennifer may be producing), the negotiations are continuing.  Until next Jennifer is taking things day by day, with no plans to return to the states until the green light is given.

We’ll keep you informed.

Oh — we met up with Stacy (the airport girl) at an antipasta bar called Imbibe, and met a number of her friends.  John is a hairdresser (so now we can get our haircut) who is also a tri-athelete (This is his connection with Stacy — she’s going for her PhD in sports medicine).  He informed us of a 3 bedroom – 3 story house that looks out over the bay.  We have already made our housing choice, but Jennifer is planning on passing the infor to Jacqui — who will be ecstatic.  We’ll probably use it as bribing material for some favor in the future, of which we do not know of yet.  But, one day, she will get a call — probably from a guy named Luca or Vinnie — to inform her of her debt to be paid.

Today, I realized that not everyone is the same, but they should all be treated as equal.  Everyone has there own problems and they should be free to handle them in the way they see fit….

Actually, I didn’t come to this conclusion at all.  I’m just a digital artist.  I’m not a 17-year old doctor prodigy on TV.  So my life isn’t really filled with life-altering drama.  If we took the house on the beach where we are in danger of being washed out to sea — THEN maybe I would have something to write about.

Til then, you’ll have to deal with the mundane facts of working on the FX of a feature film.

Cheers,  <— starting to pickup the very difficult “New Zealand” language.

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