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Whale Rider Special Effects Team In US Primetime

Whale Rider Special Effects Team Now In US Primetime

NHNZ and Glasshammer, the team behind the animatronics in the acclaimed film Whale Rider, have joined forces to create Animal Face Off - a revolutionary wildlife series for the Discovery Channel.

Using a combination of animatronics, biomechanics and ground-breaking 3-D animation, Animal Face Off pits two iconic animals against each other in a bid to discover which has the speed, power, agility and weapons to defeat the other.

Animal Face Off features clashes between a range of protagonists, including: great white shark and saltwater crocodile; lion and tiger; rhino and elephant; polar bear and walrus. The series culminates with a two-hour special featuring a sperm whale and a colossal squid.

Each animal presented the animatronics specialists at Glasshammer with a unique set of challenges. These animals didn’t just have to look believable, they also had to be scientifically accurate.

Glasshammer’s task was to build model heads for all the featured animals. Modelled on real skulls, these were carved from polystyrene then cast in aluminium.

“The models are not just there for show,” says principal model maker and Glasshammer director Justin Buckingham. “We had to take the technology from Whale Rider that one step further. Each has to be a good replica of the animals, but also perform in an anatomically correct way when rigged with hydraulic rams. They had to withstand incredible punishment when the two creatures ‘faced off’ against each other.”

The vast differences in size and shape of each animal posed further hurdles for the Glasshammer team. From the sheer bulk of an African elephant’s head, to the intricate design of the head of the anaconda snake, and designing and building a full 13 metre life-size replica of a colossal squid. But for Justin the great white shark was the most challenging model, and the most impressive.

“The heads of all the other creatures were made from two pieces: the skull and the jaw. But the shark’s anatomy required us to make the head from three pieces, with each piece able to move independently. Making the three parts work together and look realistic was the biggest challenge we faced.

“The shark was also my favourite creature. To see them up close, to appreciate nature’s design, really quite awesome. They represent nature’s perfect machine.”

NHNZ executive producer for Animal Face Off, Andrew Waterworth says the show is about understanding and celebrating nature’s design. He describes the series as “representing a bold and exciting innovation for the natural history genre”.

“The audience for traditional, observational natural history documentaries has changed. Today they want to know more. They have seen how animals behave in their natural environment and now they want to understand how they function and interact from the inside out – and that’s what biomechanics and CGI can deliver.

“What our team has done in working with specialist companies like Glasshammer is bring the worlds of science and special effects together, marrying natural history and animatronics to create an entirely new genre of television – that’s Animal Face Off.”

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