Winiata carves career in films

21:17, Nov 06 2012
Winiata Tapsell carves a surround featuring oak leaves and acorns for the Gatehouse door.
Winiata Tapsell carves a surround featuring oak leaves and acorns for the Gatehouse door.

When Winiata Tapsell began learning his traditional carving skills within his Maketu whanau as a 15 year old, he never for a moment dreamt that these would take him into the film industry.

"It became a whole new world for me," he said.

"It certainly changed my life and it's a privilege being part of it and working with so many talented people." His new career was definitely a far cry from carving meeting houses around the country but one he embraced with the same passion he had for Maori carving.

Now based in Wellington, Winiata has worked as a set carver/sculptor for the past decade, his career beginning with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

These days, he is drawing plenty of interest from Matamata passersby and overseas visitors alike as he sits by the footpath, in the shadow of the Matamata i-Site, carving pieces for the Gatehouse.

Busy as he is, Winiata relishes each opportunity of sharing his passion both for carving and the Gatehouse project with all who stop to watch the craftsman at work - one moment a young mum and her pre-schoolers, the next an international traveller waiting for his bus to Hobbiton.


While he began carving solely in wood, Winiata now works with materials including polystyrene, rock and concrete to achieve the necessary effect.

"I spent five years working at [director] Peter Jackson's mansion at Masterton," he said.

"The biggest piece I carved was from 22 tonnes of concrete."

A film set foreman, Winiata's skills have helped create sets such as jungles and canyons that transport movie goers to times and places beyond their ken.

"A set can take two to four months to complete, then two to four minutes filming," he said.

Whether traditional carving or film set work, Winiata said his carving always had a purpose but it took him a while to work out just what that was.

"While I was working on River Queen I realised what it was," he said. "I'm telling stories."

Matamata Chronicle