Kim Sinclair

Kim Sinclair

AS: From when you first started would you say the film industry in New Zealand has transformed radically?
KS: Yeah. We had almost nine hundred people working for Weta digital on Avatar, just the month before it was turned over. That’s all human resources, that’s all brainpower. The largest percentage of people on the crew were New Zealanders. The second biggest group were Americans but there were a lot of Germans, Italians, French. They had people from forty-four different countries working at Weta while they were finishing off Avatar.

AS: Do you work on a lot of New Zealand productions as well?
KS: There’s a reasonable feature industry here. They tend to be small scale. The average budget for a New Zealand film is between three to ten million dollars. A big one will be ten million. A lot of them are at the three million dollar mark. We’re pretty lean and mean. A lot of the time you’re challenging the art department. They don’t really have enough money for what we want to do, so what do you reckon we can do? We’re very used to coming from that end on New Zealand productions. There’s a viable film industry here. Whale Rider was a good film that springs to mind.

AS: How did you first get connected to the Avatar team?
KS: I’d worked with Rick Carter on the Lost World which was the sequel to Jurassic Park. It was shot in Hawaii but the original plan had been to shoot it in New Zealand. We had started six weeks preproduction. We actually found all the locations, did a lot of work and quite late in the game plan they decided not to come to New Zealand. Steven decided to go to Hawaii for reasons that weren’t totally clear. But I met Rick and got on with him really well.

When he was shooting Cast Away for Bob Zemeckis we eventually found this island in Fiji called Monuriki, about thirty miles off the shore of the main island of Fiji. And they needed somebody to explore the island and map it and work out where they could shoot on the island. Through a complete random set of circumstances I got the job. And once I got the job I said, Well, who is the designer? And they said, Rick Carter. I thought, God, I know Rick. I kind of went from map guy to art director overnight. And so that was my original tie-in to Avatar. As soon as I heard Rick was designing it I rang him up and I went up to meet with them. They hadn’t yet made the decision to shoot in New Zealand but then all the wheels clicked into place. And I came back and started crewing.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: