Unable to render element

Matt was a boat builder in a previous life. His career highlight was building SL33’s multihull catamarans for the America’s Cup from his Wellington base. Now working as production manager and prop maker at Wellington creative firm Human Dynamo, Matt put his boat-building skills to work for ‘Avatar: The Way of the Water’.

Building for ‘Avatar’

He and a team of 15 built ‘science fiction-type’ consoles for the human base on Pandora that features in the James Cameron-directed film.

“We worked to specs under very tight timeframes, we did 12 different consoles, one or more a month, and the detail was quite extreme. Everything had to look perfect,” says Matt.

“We were making things out of MDF, then painting them up so they looked like a car-quality paint job. Colours had to be very exact and the finishes high quality.”

“I wasn’t really looking for a movie job, I kind of fell into it, but the movie industry seems to like boat builders because they’re good at making weird stuff and odd-shaped things.”

Matt Houghton

Attention to detail

Matt’s team was among more than 300 people contracted in art and construction departments behind the scenes.

“There was a real high attention to detail on things you wouldn’t even imagine would be a detail,” says Matt.

“Things like switches on consoles, little lights with little labels that light up behind them, electronics and lights in behind panels so that they glow, little pipes that come out of one place and go into somewhere else…

“On the actual set, you might not even see that kind of detail, because the shot might be of someone walking past and it’ll just be a blur.”

“But these things had to be perfectly painted and perfectly appointed because of the quality of camera work.”

Then there was the MDF-constructed and painted console featuring large screens that sat inside a bulldozer cab driven like a drone.

“There were lots of consoles, lots of wild, weird stuff which was super fun to work on,” says Matt.

Matt Houghton of Human Dynamo standing in the workshop where he built props for the film ‘Avatar: The Way of the Water’.

From workshop to the big screen

Now the work is done, Matt has enjoyed sitting back and seeing his work on the big screen alongside audiences worldwide.

“After all the hours you pour into something, it’s really cool seeing the end result and getting some recognition for it.”

Human Dynamo, which has three decades of fabrication and model-making experience from museum installation to film work, prides itself on making unusual things.

Unusual is a word Matt thrives on. As a prop maker and former boat builder, he’s used to making odd-shaped things.

“It’s a good fit, the industries cross over nicely, and they both involve working with weird angles.”

Other projects

‘Avatar’ aside, Matt’s other projects have included a time machine for a Whittaker’s Chocolate campaign and a stalagmite display for a national park in Perth. He has also built props for Taika Waititi’s ‘Time Bandits’.

Initially, Matt was a contractor at Human Dynamo making composite panels for sci-fi vehicles featured in the film ‘Ghost in the Shell’.

At that stage, he’d moved on from boat building, a career that began after he followed a mate working on a vintage boat on Wellington’s waterfront. At the time he was a barista at a local café.

From classic boats, he relocated to Auckland to focus on big timber and fibreglass launches before eventually working on the SL33 catamarans and Open 60s, single-handed ocean racing boats made of carbon fibre.

That morphed into making multirotor drones out of carbon fibre composites before his interaction with Human Dynamo.

For Matt, it’s like being a big kid.

“Growing up on a dairy farm in Dannevirke I loved to make things, and now I get to play at work. If you see what we make there are a lot of fantastic and imaginative things, just look at the chocolate time machine!”