Building a Book: David Tremont Creates Guide to Model Making

The words “David Tremont” and “model maker” go together a bit like robots and ray guns. So it should be no surprise, then, that the long-time Weta Workshop stalwart is the creator of a brand new book all about the terrific art of model making. A how-to guide of epically entertaining proportions, Build Stuff & Let Slip the Androids of War is an ode to making stuff with your hands, designed to inform, inspire, and hopefully provoke a giggle or two in the process.

I pop downstairs to chat with Mr Tremont on an overcast Wellington afternoon. The section of the Workshop he inhabits with fellow artist Leonard Ellis is right in the middle of the action, sandwiched between stacks of weapons and an orc helmet or three. If you time it right, you’ll find an animatronic goblin standing watch or perhaps a giant alien sculpture of some kind across the hallway. Behind an inconspicuous blue door are cluttered shelves full of yet-to-be-released collectibles, brightly coloured robot limbs, half-finished Hobbit holes, and personal projects in various stages of completion. When I poke my head in, the model maker is deep in concentration, hunched over his workbench. Says Dave: “This is what I wanted to do ever since I saw Thunderbirds and Dr Who, that was it. That was all I was ever going to do.”

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Of course, when Dave was growing up, there wasn’t a clear path to a career as a model maker. There still isn’t, really. “There was no internet, you see. It was BC – Before Computers – so anything like that you had to figure it out for yourself.” Growing up in Australia, Dave worked as a television technician before landing a gig making the “Movie of the Week”: incredibly low budget films made on incredibly tight schedules for American telly. Times were interesting, to say the least. “We were building all sorts of stuff: spaceships and power cells, weird vehicles and mermaids, suits of armour, space suits and costumes, helmets and weapons and buildings.”

Sound familiar? Yep, those brilliantly bizarre little films were the perfect training ground for what was to come. By the time Dave received the fateful call to join the Weta Workshop crew on The Lord of the Rings in 2001, he had built an arsenal of skills with a reputation to boot. His talents would soon be used for all manner of film and television projects at the Workshop. With budgets a little bigger than the Movie of the Week, but the props no less strange.

So that’s Dave’s model making pedigree, which could fill a whole separate article. But what of his writing pedigree?

Well, our keenest collectors will know that Androids isn’t Dave’s first rodeo. In 2008, Dave authored Barad-dûr: The Making of a Collectible, a mammoth 142-page opus detailing the making of one of our most coveted pieces, a behemoth environment that epitomised the skill and artistry of the Weta Workshop collectibles team. So writing a book of his own wasn’t a completely alien concept. Encouraged by the positive reception Barad-dûr received, and bitten by the writing bug, Dave set about finding a cure.

“For quite some time people have been saying to me I should write a book about what I do. With the Barad-dûr book, I found out I could actually do it – and what’s more, enjoy the process of doing it. So I thought ok, I’ll give this one a try. Several years later, you’re holding it in your hands.”

Having creative control over your own book has got to feel nice? “Oh yeah. Writing Barad-dûr was a fantastic experience, but of course, doing my own thing means I get to do my dumb jokes and pretend that people are going to think they’re funny…”

Ah yes. No Dave Tremont publication would be complete without his signature self-deprecating humour. Happily, it’s here in spades, scattered all throughout the book’s 130-odd pages alongside crazy characters, tall tales, full-colour photographs, and musings on the magic of model making. It’s a treasure trove of wisdom from someone whose knowledge of his craft is, at this point, bordering on encyclopaedic.

Which is not to say there isn’t plenty more to learn, as Dave quite rightly points out. Being entirely self-published, the process of getting Androids onto the shelves was not an easy one. Case in point: Dave didn’t even know what he was creating at first.

“I had no idea what these characters were, they didn’t even exist at that point. Like this little guy here.” He points to a blue android on page 7. “I literally just started playing with shapes which ended up being that pilot guy. From there, the project started to evolve into a more expanded ‘how to’ guide with detailed explanations of how I made the models.”

Pilot Officer page

Facing such a steep learning curve, Dave was grateful to be able to call on the expertise of his friends and Weta Workshop colleagues. The basement of Graham, Dave’s neighbour, proved to be “the perfect little film studio,” with the pair spending their Sundays designing, lighting and photographing the many characters and scenes that populate the book against a makeshift green screen. Friends with “extra pairs of eyes” were called on for proofreading. And as Dave took on the daunting task of learning InDesign and Photoshop, Workshop graphic designer Monique Hamon and concept designer Adam Anderson shared their wisdom.

“I just slowly plodded away it, just starting with the basics – how do you change the size of an image or a piece of text, how do you change its position…how do you stop screaming at the screen because it’s not doing the right thing…”

Ultimately Androids is not so much a how-to guide – although it most definitely is that, and more – as a tour de force inside the brain of one of Weta Workshop’s longest-serving crew members; a talented and dedicated artist who is passionate about encouraging the next generation of creators to make stuff with their hands, and their parents and siblings as well.

So, as someone who has managed to keep himself gainfully employed in the creative industries for many decades, and who now has a bona fide hardcover book to his name, what, I ask, is his advice for budding makers of models and movie magic alike? The ingredients, according to Dave, are very simple. “Other than give up and go home?” he says.

“You’ve got to have an absolute passion, an absolute belief, an absolute desire to do it above anything else. The whole creative industry is based on very, very skilled people of all levels and you have to throw yourself in completely. That’s what I did.

Oh, and don’t listen to anyone that tells you that you can’t do it. Just ignore them. Just keep making stuff.”

With a career spanning nearly 40 years, Dave is well and truly versed in the art of model making – an art that has such an important place in a creative practical effects facility like Weta Workshop. So can we expect to see more Tremont tomes in the near future? You bet. Volume Two is in the works as we speak. “A lot of the little characters you’re introduced to in the book could really have their own series of books. It’s the sort of thing that as you make something, you start telling stories, and those stories just keep evolving.”

It would be a shame to stop at one, I say.

“Oh definitely,”Dave replies. “I think there’s an unlimited supply of stupid jokes. The jokes don’t have to be good so I’ve got an advantage there. Why spoil a bad joke with a good story?” □

 

Indeed! If you’ve caught Dave’s model-making bug or just want an insight into how a creative mind works, grab yourself a copy of Build Stuff & Let Slip the Androids of War. It’s available at the Weta Cave and online at wetaworkshop.com/shop.

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