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Wellington’s Ghost in the Shell Transformation

Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures Ghost in the Shell has premiered in New York, showcasing another side of New Zealand’s world renowned screen industry: urban Wellington. Wellington doubles for a futuristic version of Hong Kong in the film, the first time urban New Zealand has been showcased as a sci-fi setting on the silver screen.

Ghost in the Shell was filmed in Wellington at Stone Street Studios, Avalon Studios and on location at Victoria Street in the central city. The concept design and visual effects were also carried out locally by Oscar winning Weta Workshop.

Choosing Wellington was a natural choice according to Producer Ari Arad. “We needed an urban environment.  We needed a futuristic setting.  And we were able to get that here. I’ve worked in a lot of cities. I don’t know if I’ve actually been able to pull off this much of a lock down in any other city before, and it’s allowed us to be really flexible and really ambitious.”

Ghost in the Shell received provisional approval of the New Zealand Screen Production Grant’s 5% Uplift.  The partnership set out in the MoU will further promote New Zealand’s growing screen industry, develop local talent and ultimately lead to a more sustainable domestic screen sector.

New Zealand Film Commission CEO Dave Gibson says the collaboration with Ghost in the Shell showcases another side of New Zealand’s screen production industry while also providing major economic benefits.  

“New Zealand’s role on Ghost in the Shell has illustrated how skilled our screen industry is at transforming an urban location into another environment. The partnership also has strong economic benefits and has created employment, export income and spill-over to the domestic creative industry.”

Wellington Regional Development Agency (WREDA) Business Growth and Innovation General Manager David Jones says the economic benefit for Wellington was far reaching, showing how important the screen sector is to the local economy.

“Wellingtonians might often hear a movie is being made in town, but probably don’t realise it means so much more than which cafe a famous actor has been spotted in. It means jobs, spending in local businesses and crucially, a chance to build Wellington’s reputation further as a hub for world-class screen production.

Ghost in the Shell is no exception; it was a great production for our screen industry and our screen industry was a great fit for the production.”

René de Monchy, Tourism New Zealand’s Director of PR, Trade and Major Events says Ghost in the Shell is just the latest in a series of big productions being filmed in New Zealand. “It gives us another chance to promote New Zealand and everything we have to offer. It reinforces the fact that we can provide a warm and welcoming place to visit, and highlights our message that everything is easily accessible.”

Based on the internationally acclaimed Japanese Manga, Ghost in the Shell stars Scarlett Johansson as Major:  a human, saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to become a perfect soldier, devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it.   As she prepares to face a new enemy, Major discovers that she has been lied to: her life was not saved, it was stolen. She will stop at nothing to recover her past, find out who did this to her, and stop them before they do it to others.  

Ghost in the Shell opens in New Zealand March 30th 2017.

You can view Wellington’s Ghost in the Shell transformation with Ari Arad here.

Background information on filming in Wellington
Filming Stats

Ghost in the Shell has provided a significant boost for New Zealand’s thriving screen industry. 

  • 90% filmed in New Zealand
  • 75 days principal filming in New Zealand
  • 777 crew in total, 718 New Zealand Crew
  • 48 cast in total (30 New Zealanders)
  • 315 local extras

Ghost in the Shell was filmed in Wellington, New Zealand including a pivotal scene shot on location in urban Wellington.

  • Estimated population of 398,000
  • Five days filming over two weekends.
  • 800 Individual New Zealand vendors used (non-payroll)
  • 720 domestic flights booked
  • $440k spent on second hand vehicle purchases
  • $750k spent on vehicle modifications
  • $340k spent on motor bike modifications
  • $7.1m spent on accommodation
  • $9.51m spent on art & costume materials
  • $2.3m spent on vehicle hire

Weta Workshop

  • Weta Workshop, situated in Miramar Peninsula in Wellington is the visual effects company founded by Richard Taylor. The workshop was an integral part of the concept design and practical effects of Ghost in the Shell.  
  • Weta Workshop’s design studio generated over 2000 designs for the film including those for Section 9, make-up, costumes and tactical garments.
  • Weta Workshop spent approximately 71,000 hours on the manufacture of this project.
  • Over 2,700 prosthetic sets and glue on prop elements were made for the cyberization of the characters.
  • Weta Workshop looked after the physical effects for the Shelling sequence including four large specialty builds; a 1.5 scale head w/ animatronic controls, 1:1 skeleton w/ animatronics, 1:1scale including ballistic gel layering, 1:1 white dummy for liquid submersion.
  • Eight thermoptic suits were made for the Major. The Workshop’s Design Studio Adapted Major’s silicone suit design (such as adding line-work). “We didn’t want to make a (standard) superhero suit…we wanted to make something practical and iconic in its own right. We wanted it to be a piece of technology.” – Ben Hawker
  • 13 character Geisha were created including 25 full Geisha masks & wigs (static hacking & non-hacking + animatronic) and six wax ‘exploding’ heads (cast by Steve Ingram SFX)
  • Weta Workshop’s Media & Communications Department was the official behind-the-scenes team of Ghost in the Shell.

New Zealand fashion designers
Ghost in the Shell costume designers Kurt and Bart (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2, Dallas Buyer’s Club), were influenced by several well-known New Zealand designers.

  • The majority of the suits in Ghost in the Shell including Daisuke Aramaki’s and Togusa’s were created by Rembrandt who are the oldest suit maker in New Zealand. Yakuza’s suit is made by New Zealand designer Strangely Normal.
  • Dr Ouelet’s assistant is wearing a complete Zambesi outfit in the limo scene which was shot in Victoria Street in Wellington. Zambesi is a New Zealand designer founded by Elisabeth and Neville Findlay in 1979, which is available at outlets across New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
  • Major wears custom hexagon hoop earrings by New Zealand jewellery designer Steph Lusted. Lusted specialises normally in engagement and wedding rings!
  • Batou wears a custom signet ring, pendant and Section 9 dog tags by New Zealand jewellery designer Jasmine Watson.
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