Magnus: "You're not a creature or a prop designer like other artists we've spoken to previously. How would you describe what you do?"
Gus: "No, I'm more of a scenery and environment illustrator. If there's a big battle scene or a city or an overall view of a place. Or an action scene."
Magnus: "So would you base that on location shots?"
Gus: "Yes if the location has already been chosen, I sometimes do that. If it's early on in a project I'll just do it out of my head and it'll be adapted to a location. It's more about setting a mood or a feel to a scene with things like colours and light.
Magnus: "Is there anything you've done that you can just point at and say ‘I did that'? Apart from the Kong Print that Weta produced, which of course is one of your paintings."
Gus: "Yes, I guess Jeremy and I designed most if not all of Skull Island in Kong between us. All the ancient architecture, the native village and the scenery in the jungle, the battles, etc. And the Kong Print is a good example of the kind of work I do, I guess."
"I've also done some stuff from The Lord of the Rings - if you've seen the "Art-of" books, there's a lot of stuff in there. It was great working with Alan Lee and John Howe."
Magnus: "When you're not at your computer in the design room, what would we find you doing?"
"Hehe - doing as little as possible if I can help it. If I really want to unwind, I'll pick up my guitar and have a good jam. Music and art go hand in hand for me - both really creative and you can lose yourself in them totally."
"What I often do is have an electric guitar and hook it up to the computer and lay a rhythm track and then play that back and jam over the top."
Magnus: "Who needs a band when you have a computer, eh?"
Gus: "Hehe - yeah, I don't need anyone else to jam - I can just jam by myself."
Magnus: "So Gus, did you bring a toy?"
Gus: "I thought about that. Growing up with my five older brothers, we hardly ever had any toys. Back in those days our parents couldn't really afford them. We made our own fun when we were kids - going exploring in the bush, building go-karts from pram wheels and a plank of wood. So we had fun without toys."
"And we did a lot of drawing, which made us pass the time away."
Magnus: "Are your brothers artistic as well?"
Gus: "Yeah, a few of them drew when they were young and they were quite good at it as well. When they grew up, they did their own thing but I've always had that love for art so I stuck with it."
"I tried a public service job once, straight out of college, but after a while I realize I really hated working in an office, so that spurred me on to follow my passion."
Magnus: "What's your favourite movie"
Gus: "I don't have a specific favourite. I like a lot of movies, but no one sticks out. If I go way back in time, something that really stirred me and inspired me as a young kid was the animated Animal Farm. When I first saw that the creativity in it really blew me away and inspired me as a young boy. If there was an influence early on in my life, that was it."
"And King Kong - when I first saw that as a kid it was scary - I can see how that's been a big influence for Peter Jackson as well."
"I love horrors, action movies and thrillers. I can't pinpoint any recent favourites, but there are a lot of movies I like. And of course the movies I have worked on, like The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, The Narnia movies - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, Lovely Bones and others.
"I have also done a little work with Weta Digital on a few movies that Weta Workshop otherwise haven't been involved with, like X-Men: The Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Bridge to Terabithia and a few others. It's great to work with a wide range of very talented and creative people."
Magnus: "Thanks for joining us Gus - I know your talent is in high demand at the moment and we'll let you get back to your art."
Gus has been working on a new art print for us:
This time we're talking to Gus Hunter, who has been with Weta over the last decade and been instrumental in creating many of your favourite movies, like The Lord of the Rings, King Kong and the Narnia movies. But also a few that perhaps you didn't know so much about.
Gus's talent is in high demand at the moment and we're very happy that he's been able to take some time out for a chat.
Magnus Hjert (Interviewer): "Hey Gus - welcome to Meet the Crew. Did you always know you wanted to work in the movies?"
Gus Hunter: "I knew from a young age that I wanted to do art but I didn't plan to work in the movies. I went through Polytech and did communications design for about three years. I then worked as a freelance illustrator for nine years. I worked for graphic design companies and did some story-boarding for advertising agencies. This was all through-out the 90's."
Magnus: "How did you come to work at Weta?"
Gus: "I got a phonecall from a good old friend of mine, Jeremy Bennett, who had just started working on The Lord of the Rings as a traditional artist. They were just starting up the visual effects art department under the art director Paul Lasaine."
"Paul was looking to build a team consisting of one traditional artist and one digital artist. So out of the blue one day, Jeremy called me up. At that time I had learnt how to use the computer and create art digitally - it wasn't as common as it is now. And he asked me if I wanted to come and work on The Lord of the Rings and I just went ‘wow, oh OK then'."
"He gave me an opportunity to meet Paul Lasaine and to bring along my portfolio. So I did in April 2000. I had an interview and he offered me the job."
"So there was no real plan. I was interested, but I never thought I could work in the movies. The art was the important thing to me."
Magnus: "What's the best thing about working at Weta?"
Gus: "It's the creativity of everyone here and to be working with all these cool people, each with their own unique talents. The challenges of every project that comes along and of being creative for the client also inspire me."
"The buzz after a movie is finished and seeing your work on the big screen, knowing that you played a part in creating it. That's a real buzz. And having a big portfolio of artwork."
Magnus: "What's your top tip for someone who wants a job like yours?"
Gus: "Be passionate about what you do. It's one thing to be a good illustrator, but you need to have a bigger sense of design and understand what's required for each project."
Magnus: "Do you have to be interested in movies or be a film buff?"
Gus: "I wasn't really a film buff when I started. The passion is more important. I don't think there are any particular courses or schools you need to go to. In the long run, it's your passion that's going to drive you in the right direction."
"It's also important to have the skills, especially in the digital field. The way the industry works now is that pretty much all design is done digitally. You can pump out a lot of changes and different versions and variations in a short period of time as compared to working them up traditionally. We have a lot of tight deadlines and you need to meet them.
"When I first started, most of the design was done using markers and pencils, but now everyone works on a computer with a Wacom-tablet. So you need to know the technology as well as having a sense of design. Think of the computer as a tool like a paintbrush but a more sophisticated tool, it is only as good as the person behind it so if know how to use it properly you can do some amazing stuff on it"
Magnus: "The first time I followed Richard Taylor around Weta Workshop just after I started, he told me about the staggering number of paintings you and Jeremy Bennett had produced for King Kong."
Gus: "Yeah, it was over a long time. I had been working on it for three years and then Jeremy Bennett came along when he'd finished on Return of the King."
"Both Jeremy and I have about six really thick binders each of double-page illustrations for Kong [Gus indicates about 20 inches thick]."
Magnus: "So we're talking thousands upon thousands of illustrations?"
Gus: "Yeah, I'd say so. I haven't counted them all but I'd say it would be up there"
Magnus: "Is it the creative process that creates so much work? I guess you make a drawing, the director gives you feedback, you change... it's an iterative process?"
Gus: "Yes, I worked on Kong for about a year while Peter Jackson was still working on Return of the King. So while he was busy with that, he told me to go off on a tangent and just explore dinosaur battles and the scenery of Skull Island. So I did that in the background and every week or so a pack of illustrations would be sent to him to look over when he wasn't too busy filming. Apparently he was liking what I was doing, so he got me to do more and more which was very cool. He let me go on my tangents, which was really nice."
"And then when Peter finished on Return of the King and could focus all his energy on Kong, that's when it snowballed. We had 3-4 meetings with Peter every week and Jeremy and I produced about 8-12 paintings each for every meeting. So sometimes up to 80 paintings per week were produced between the two of us."
"Jeremy and I were sitting close together separated by a door and a wall, but we decided between us that we didn't want to look at the other's work between the meetings so that we wouldn't influence each other."
"So when we pinned our paintings up on the wall for Peter, we'd look at each other's stuff and think "Ah, I wish I'd thought of that". There were two different styles and ultimately meant Peter Jackson had a much wider range of art to choose from. And he picked bits of stuff he liked on my pieces and other bits from Jeremy's and combined them. It worked really well - it was hard work, but working digitally meant that it was so much easier to quickly change something."