Shane Rangi, who are you?
The man who stabbed Frodo in Lord of the Rings is alive and well in Wellington, not that anyone would look Shane Rangi in the eye and run for cover. With his friendly face hidden beneath makeup and eerie, computer-generated images, Rangi dealt Frodo a near fatal blow when he played the sinister Witch-king of Angmar in Fellowship of the Ring.
"I thought I'd make a T-shirt with, 'I stabbed Frodo'," Rangi laughs, beaming good humour. "I go to conventions and talk to people who know who I am, and because they're right into it they come up and go, 'You killed Frodo.' I say, 'Look, don't get upset with me, he survived'."
Rangi, 40, Ngati Porou, is a creature actor, stuntman and arguably New Zealand's most experienced motion-capture performer. He has brought a scary range of aliens and mythological beasts to life since he graduated from Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School in 1990. The line-up includes Uruk-hai orc; Ringwraith, Easterling NCO, Minotaurs General Otmin and Asterius, a werewolf, robot, alien from Skyrunners and Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still to name a few.
He appears in all three Narnia movies as an actor and a motion-capture performer, playing seven different creatures in Prince Caspian, including the physical Aslan. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, appearing in cinemas in December this year, he plays a Minotaur, the muscle of the ship's crew, and "one of the boys" rather than an evil monster.
Whether he plays an alien, a robot or a creature, Rangi is anonymous, disguised beneath layers of make-up, prosthetics, and visual effects. But anonymity also brings more work.
"The beauty of doing creature performance as opposed to straight acting is that because people don't see my face I can play lots of different characters," he says.
Rangi trained at Toi Whakaari, New Zealand Drama School where he learned to analyse and build character, skills he draws upon for every creature he plays.
"That's why for Prince Caspian I could play seven different creatures. I was able to hop into suits and give a different performance for each one."
An East Coast lad from Hawkes Bay, Rangi has spent a lot of time around large farm animals. He says he draws on that experience as well as his extensive sporting background to get into role. But it is the costumes that really inspire him.
"From an acting point of view there's nothing better than to actually climb into the suit. The suit gives the character presence, then I make it move and it comes alive."
Motion capture and digital replacement performance pose different challenges. It is a complex technical process. The actor wears a body suit with sensor markers. Cameras track and record his movement pattern, which is entered into a computer.
"The hardest thing about motion capture is that you're working in a void, in empty space, so you have to have a really good imagination. Motion capture captures everything - breathing, muscle movement, facial expressions, everything - so you have to believe as an actor that you are in that environment. If you don't it's not believable. It's like having a presence inside the creature suit, bringing the creature alive. If your body actions aren't real it's not convincing. But it is pretty weird wandering around in a black Lycra suit covered with reflective dots [tracking sensors]."
When a slavering bear chased Lucy Pevensie in the Narnia film, Prince Caspian, that was Rangi, dressed in a blue suit, doing digital replacement. A computer-generated bear was superimposed over his galloping body during post-production.
"The biggest buzz I've had from doing motion capture was for the opening and the closing of the Doha Games where I played a 100-foot sea god and a 100-foot genie. Millions of people watched and no one knew it was me."
For an actor who loves action, being able to do your own stunts and those of other actors is a plus. King Kong threw him another kind of challenge where he was stunt double for Hayes on Skull Island.
"He's in front of the cave and gets picked up by Kong. Then he's thrown across the chasm into the wall and falls to his death."
Because Rangi is a lofty 6ft 4in (193cm), falling from height can look pretty daunting and is something big stuntmen may think twice about.
"The bigger you are, the quicker and harder you hit the ground. If you're 12 feet up and over 6 feet, your eyes are saying 18 feet, so you think you're higher than you really are. Usually I land flat on my face."
But he was into this one before you could say Kong.
"I was excited about doubling the shot. So I get there in the morning and they say, 'You have to stunt double this.' They had done a pre-visualisation and Peter [Jackson] had liked it, but when I saw how Hayes lands against the wall, falls and does these flips I said, 'I don't have to do it like that, do I?' They go, 'Yep'. It's amazing what you can do when you hear, 'Three, Two, One - Action!"'
There is huge variety in the work he gets. For box-office record buster Avatar, Rangi dived 10 metres into a pool to create human bubbles that visual effects whizzes could use for the scene where Jake Sully hurls himself down a waterfall. Filming was done underwater and parts of the footage were used as a base for the digital visual effects. He also animated a motion capture AMP suit replicating the movement of the actor driving the big robotic machines.
In fact playing robots [Rangi did facial motion capture for I-Robot] comes quite naturally, he laughs.
"People say I'm quite robotic when I walk. I'm sort of like a natural terminator."
Shane Rangi, who are you?