Grant Major

Grant Major

AS: Speaking of working with different directors, how was working with Niki Caro different from working with Peter Jackson?
GM: Niki’s not such a visual director, she’s more of an actor’s director. So I was given pretty much a free hand with all the art directing and the production design. At the same time it’s a different flavor of film. It’s a lot more to do with love and more of a gentle style of filmmaking. She’s really family-friendly as well. Doing Whale Rider my boy was very young and he was able to hang around on set. She had her kiddie back then and they both liked hanging around. So it’s a different way to go about making films and I really appreciated it.

AS: I interviewed Kim Sinclair a while back and he mentioned Whale Rider as one of his favorite New Zealand films.
GM: Kim’s good, oddly enough I’ve never worked with him. I’ve known him as part of the film business here. I was pleased to see he’s on your site.

AS: On Whale Rider you had to build several whales?
GM: Yes, we made all the beached whales for that. We also made a part of a whale which Paikea rode when she went into the sea. Quite tricky actually. All the smaller ones were made of silicon and had aqualung divers that could animate them from inside. They worked the blow-holes with compressed air. The big one was really difficult, it was right on the tideline where all the waves come crashing in. Of course it was a very tidal beach so the tideline would shift all the time. We had ballast tanks in the big whale that we had to fill up to keep it stable. We had to continually empty the ballast tanks to move it. We had to winch the thing up and down the beach in between shots to keep the thing in the right place. We had a sea anchor and a land anchor. It was a hell of a piece of maritime engineering to make that work. Of course it was a huge sculpting and casting job as well.

AS: Weren’t there some creatures in The Lord of the Rings that you had to move around with cranes as well?
GM: The Oliphants. Likewise they were huge, huge sculpts and they had these sort of backpacks which had all the soldiers on top. They were huge and we also needed cranes to move them around.

AS: In King Kong was that whole ship a set?
GM: The ship itself was built several times. We had an actual ship which was hugely modified. We rebuilt the bough of the ship. We changed the whole superstructure on top of it. That was the Venture that you saw when it was at sea. And then we built the ship again on the backlot on a big sort of tilting mechanism to tip the thing up for when it hit the rocks. And then we built the interior pretty much all in one piece except the bridge was built in a separate set. And that was a whole interior build at a stage.

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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: