Catherine Gaffaney is a general reporter based in Auckland.

Weta's hair-raising task

A scene from Cleverman shows the lengths Weta Workshops staff went to.
A scene from Cleverman shows the lengths Weta Workshops staff went to.

Knotting human and yak hair with a tiny crochet needle through holes almost invisible to the naked eye might sound like an odd job description.

But that's exactly what Weta Workshop staff did for six months for hit new TV series, Cleverman.

Set in the near future in Sydney, Cleverman's dystopian tale of humans living alongside subhuman "Hairypeople" is winning plaudits overseas.

Based on Aboriginal stories of hairymen, the Hairies are stronger than humans with tough, sharp fingernails and thick facial and body hair - which is where Weta Workshop came in.

Co-founder Sir Richard Taylor told the Herald on Sunday he was intrigued by the project brief and the show's "frank and contemporary perspectives".

"Huge hair jobs don't come around that often.

"Making a hairpiece as small as a moustache is hard enough," he said.

"Our technicians glued prosthetics to the actors' faces and bodies and then utilised significant hair to alter their appearance.

"One hair at a time is knotted in whichever direction it needs to go," he said.

Not only is the hair creation process lengthy, sourcing the hair is a tricky endeavour.

"We primarily use human hair which is a very expensive commodity," Taylor said.

"It's bought from all over the world; Russia, China, Europe, Australia, South America.

"We also use yak hair from an American company that commercially grows yak and cultivates the hair on the belly of the yak."

Cleverman stars Australian actor Frances O'Connor and Brit Iain Glen from Game of Thrones.

It has screened overseas to acclaim and starts in New Zealand this month.

"The show challenges the colonial nature of Australia and the way certain attitudes are held towards indigenous people," said Taylor.

Meanwhile, Weta Workshop's 250 staff are working on two feature films for the US market and a museum exhibition.

• Cleverman is available on TVNZ OnDemand, and will be screened on Duke from August 31.

- Herald on Sunday

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