Mapua's Ra up for an Oscar

ACADEMY NOMINEE: Ra Vincent's set decoration for the Hobbit trilogy haa been nominated for an Academy Award.
ACADEMY NOMINEE: Ra Vincent's set decoration for the Hobbit trilogy haa been nominated for an Academy Award.

Academy nominee: Ra Vincent's set decoration for the Hobbit Trilogy has been nominated for the Academy Awards.

Mapua sculptor Ra Vincent will swap jandals and shorts for a tuxedo when he heads off to the Academy Awards in Los Angeles on February 24.

Ra first came to Nelson in 1997 to study visual arts at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, but left early to pursue his career.

He and wife Nancy moved back to the area in 2003 to be closer to Nancy's family and raise their children in "the most beautiful place in the world."

Ra is one of three men from The Hobbit production design team who have been nominated for an award for their work on the set of the first Hobbit movie. He has worked on the Lord of the Rings trilogy since 1999, and is a set decorator on the Hobbit Trilogy.

The first Hobbit movie, An Unexpected Journey, premiered in Wellington on November 28.

Ra spoke with The Leader about fame, fortune and floor tiles.

Who are you sharing the Academy Award nomination with?

I'm sharing it with Simon Bright, who was supervising art director for The Hobbit. He's a Wellington artist. Also Dan Hennah, and he's from Orinoco.

Are you taking your family?

Yes, it's very exciting. I'll be taking my wife Nancy and kids along for the journey, which will be fun. I do have a short trip next week to go to the nominee's luncheon, which is just an informal social gathering of all the nominees from all the categories.

Is there anybody you're hoping to meet at that luncheon?

Ooh, I don't know. I'm quite excited about the Quentin Tarantinos and that, I have a few favourites which I'm keeping mum about because I don't want to disappoint myself.

Did you have a list of heroes that you were ticking off as you worked on The Hobbit?

I've always been quietly excited about the film industry, even though I'm right in the midst of it. I guess one of my most favourite people to work with was Peter Jackson, and I was fortunate enough to fulfil that. I've had really candid meetings with many of my other favourite directors, and I've just finished working with Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement.

Are they as much fun in person as they are on-screen?

They're fantastic. There's a real joy in the craft when you're working with those two, they're always in character.

Can you tell me about what you're doing with them?

I can't because the film's still in post-production. It's a comedy set in Wellington, it's a slightly contemporary piece with very hilarious subject matter and great actors. But I'll leave the surprise up to the release date, which hasn't been finalised yet. It's still maybe another six months away.

What exactly does a set decorator do?

A set decorator is responsible for filling the set's spaces. My job is to work with the designer on the colour scheme and work out what the final emotive suggestion is behind the character of the environment. I suppose what the set decorator does as well is establishes a feeling behind the environment. If it's a character's home, you can explore what the character does outside of what's been told in the story.

Do you build many items or do you source them from other places?

I work quite closely with the props master and we have a number of workshops in Wellington where we employ artists to work. They'll make all the glass and build the furniture, weave the fabrics in-house. Basically, we control every aspect of what ends up on the film, so they can design everything just right.

With a job like The Hobbit, the environment is so unique that there's not actually a purchasing role in the job. You can't go to the hardware store and buy the right handle for a door because that door is from Middle Earth. Every element goes through a design process and they're all hand crafted, which is heaps of fun.

How different was that to other jobs you've done?

My previous experience in the industry, apart from small art direction roles, has been as a sculptor and a set finisher. I was quite familiar with the construction process. It was kind of an easy transition because I've got a background in sculpture and I have a lot of contacts in the arts field. In The Hobbit, we used jewellers from Nelson, we used tiles from Gill Gane Ceramics at Bishopdale Potteries and we've got basket weavers from Otaki.

Did you ever do a stint overseas?

The Lord of the Rings promotions took me overseas for quite some time on a few occasions. We were fortunate enough to visit a lot of different cities over five years, both working on the film and doing promotional stuff for the releases. We have worked in Paris, Toronto and others.

What are some other movies you've worked on?

The Water Horse, King Kong and all three Hobbit films. I did a small stint on one of the Chronicles of Narnia films, a number of small Peter Jackson short films and this Taika Waititi project.

Are you missing the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings franchise now that they're over?

It's actually not over for me yet, fortunately. We wound up work on the first film in August last year, and I am still involved with the Hobbiton tourist park in Matamata in an advisory role. Also, I think we're going back for some pick-up work for film two very soon after my LA adventures.