Project: "Stories from Ruapekapeka"

A documentary made by Great Southern Television for RNZ and Maori TV with funding from NZ on Air. This documentary describes the most infamous and first major armed conflict between Maori warriors of the Ngāpuhi tribe and the British colonial forces in the far north of the country in 1845. BurningFish Productions modeled and animated soldiers and Maori people and populated the scenes. I was also in charge of the visual effects, like explosions, smoke, fire and battle debris.

Character Designs

Here are some of the design sketches for the character models that I created and used for the final animations. Below you’ll see some clips of the characters in action that I then created as low poly models, based on theses  sketches.

British Soldier

I used a couple of standardised animations to evaluate the quality of our models.

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Maori Warrior

This warrior is animated with the same movement as the British soldier on the same HDR lighting stage. This made it easier to compare the quality of the models.

Maori Woman

For the Maori woman a different test animation was used because she was wearing a long frock and I needed to check if the mesh was cleanly deforming. Women and children were living with the warriors at the Pa site and were also actively involved in the fighting. So the “martial” pose is quite adequate here in this context.

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The Opening

The opening is based on a drone shot of the Pa (Maori for “fort”) site in its current state with the presenter in frame. As the drone pulls out, the landscape changes back into the historical Pa with its huts and palisades and the inhabitants living their daily life. To make this transition seamless, the drone shot had to be tracked and used to the recreate the Pa in virtual form on the computer.

Setting the Scene

The British army set up a main camp and a forward position armed with cannons and rockets to bombard  Ruapekapeka, the “bat’s nest” into submission. This shot is a fly over, that puts all three positions in context.

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The Trenches

Some historians claim that the Ngāpuhi warriors invented trench warfare in this conflict. Fact is that the elaborately constructed earthworks stopped the superpower of the day in its tracks.

The Bunkers

Part of the earthworks were also dug out bunkers that protected the inhabitants of the Pa from the incessant bombardment by the British forces.

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The Bombardment

Hero shot of the story is the big flyover shot that shows the bombardment of the Pa by the British forward position. It also shows how Maori children were running to the sites of not exploded shells to harvest the gun powder for the warriors’ muskets.

The full documentary can be found and viewed online at the RNZ website .

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