Wētā Workshop is traditionally called upon to imagine fantastical beings from imaginative worlds – but Te Papa’s Bug Lab gave us the chance to channel our creativity into the creatures of science fiction that exist right here in our own backyards! The artists and technicians of Wētā Workshop had a fantastic time collaborating with Te Papa to tell the incredible stories of the bugs that are living all around us.
Barnum would have these incredible characters on show, but he would tease his audience, hiding them away in tents. You’d step inside and this character would be revealed, and you’d discover their amazing ability which you wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else. It was all about the anticipation and the build-up
It had a dual purpose, too, this idea of tents, because it created an atmosphere. We used examples from things like the World Fair where scientists were exhibitors. We thought, well, maybe that’s the angle. So we tried to make a distinction to say perhaps bugs are the scientists and they’re showing us humans their wares.
That’s what ended up being the grounding point, the real ‘click’ moment. Instead of straight, man-made lines, we needed to make it look as though the bugs created this exhibition themselves.
As the exhibition began to evolve, Wētā Workshop did, too. The Design Studio became something of a think tank, where ideas were generated in an intensive back-and-forth process with Te Papa. Meanwhile, the Workshop floor found themselves stepping into a design role. Part engineers, part designers, part sculptors and part problem solvers, the 3D team, led by Project Supervisor Mona Peters, contributed their own ideas and played a vital role in the exhibition’s final form. While Te Papa developed the central lab space, Wētā Workshop brought the bugs and their homes to life, creating four immersive chambers that show a single moment of the bugs’ genius.
Over a period of six months, more than 200 Wētā Workshop crew built these mini worlds from the ground up. More than 2000 individual pieces were created: hundreds of reeds and lily pads, massive 3D printed elements (some of the largest 3D prints the Workshop has ever worked with), giant fabric petals draped over steel armatures. There’s a 3D printed dragonfly wing nearly half a metre long; a hulking katipo spider lying in wait; even a giant bombardier beetle slide complete with explosive sound effects. It’s a bug world ‘best of’.
The dragonfly was one of the last ones to put our finger on. We knew we had to do something with movement, because the genius of that bug is how fast it moves and observes the world. Doing any sort of static sculpture, no matter how amazing it looks, was never going to capture that message.
We have that cinematic background, but we’re learning more and more about ways to create tactile objects that really help people engage. For an exhibition about bugs, that was especially important.
To that end, Wētā Workshop provided a number of interactive elements which complemented those created by Te Papa. Guests can perform surgery on a cockroach; mimic the deadly spray of a bombardier beetle; and save a bee hive from a terrible fate by utilizing the wonders of friction.
I like to think of it as if the bugs were observing everything that the humans were doing and went, ‘listen, these guys need to learn a lesson from us’…It’s a nice idea that they’d go, ‘who would be the best people to work with?’ Of course Wētā Workshop, being a wētā bug, would be the ones to collaborate with Te Papa and the bugs to make this exhibition.
Hopefully Bug Lab will make us stop and think twice about the little engines of science, creativity and innovation that we share our planet with. That’s a win for them, and us.