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By India• 11 Dec 2018 • 1 Comments
Matt Hopkins has a big-break story that would turn any aspiring filmmaker Hulk-green with envy.
Originally from South Africa, he moved to New Zealand to pursue a career in film, without much of a specific plan. Good old-fashioned fandom took him along to Miramar’s Roxy Cinema one evening for a dinner event hosted by Weta Workshop. He didn’t expect to see any familiar faces there, so he was gobsmacked when Weta founder Sir Richard Taylor appeared beside him. They started chatting; Sir Richard invited Matt to come by the Workshop the following day and, when he did, offered him a job on the spot.
“I went, ‘Oh, I guess so,’” Matt jokes, feigning reluctance. He’s not sure how he managed to impress Sir Richard so. “Maybe it was just the enthusiasm I had.”
Although he had no formal film education, Matt had always dreamed of writing and directing movies. His childhood in Johannesburg was spent making stop-motion videos starring his toy army men, devouring issues of horror-movie magazine Fangoria and experimenting with homemade fake blood and wounds.
That last part – the fake gore – has come in particularly handy over the seven years Matt has now spent at Weta. He started out as a painter, working on armour and weapons for the Hobbit films, and has refined his wound-sculpting technique on the job. His work appears in Weta’s most high-profile projects: Ghost in the Shell, Chappie, Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok and more. (He got to paint Thor’s helmet, which was “quite exciting”.)
Although he’s usually behind the scenes, Matt does get the odd A-list encounter. During Ghost in the Shell, he was sitting in the Workshop, painting the prosthetics for Scarlett Johansson’s neck, when who should walk past, on the other side of the glass door, but Scarlett Johansson.
“She stopped, and we looked at each other. I swear it was, like, four seconds our eyes were locked,” he says. “And then she walked off.” He’d barely had time to recover from that when Sir Richard came into the room with Scarlett in tow and showed her what Matt was doing. “She walked up right next to me. I was like, ‘Be cool, dude, be cool,’” he says, miming holding a paintbrush with a very shaky hand.
Matt has now switched his focus to the tourism side of the business, because he genuinely values being able to educate and inspire people through tours and workshops.
For the past few months, he’s been running two workshops, Sculpting Scars & Scrapes and Movie Blood & Chainmaille, for the public. The wounds he helps people create are not for the faint of heart – it’s a miracle no one has passed out yet. “We do some pretty gruesome things here,” Matt acknowledges, “but … it’s cool.”
People are always surprised, he says, by how accessible the techniques are. Even on big-budget Hollywood movies, the Weta team makes fake blood using things like food colouring, apple pulp and coffee grounds (“They make it nice and chunky”).
And that’s really the message Matt hopes to get across to people, especially the kids who come through his workshops and tours.
“It’s so easy to start doing it yourself. Try new things, and be creative. When I was growing up, people would say to me, ‘It’s a waste of time doing artwork. Don’t bother with that. Become a doctor, become a lawyer.’ They would say there was no future in art. But every single thing any one of us owns, everything we will ever want to buy, is designed by someone. It’s an artist that brought that to life.”
Of course, plenty of young people dream of working for Weta, but Matt always warns them against having too narrow a vision of the future. “Just focus on making things, in general. Make your own company one day. If you have that as a driving force, you’ll go far further.”