It's a long way from Hollywood to Henderson, but the West Auckland suburb is about to get a taste of movie-making magic like nothing it - or the rest of New Zealand - has seen before.
Whoa! Studios, founded by technology entrepreneur David Sutherland, will open in December in Henderson Valley and houses a state-of-the-art movie set where live pantomime-style shows, based on a movie now in development, will be performed.
Using Kiwi designers, set builders, story writers and artists, Mr Sutherland has also tapped into international talent, including Wallace and Gromit screenwriter Bob Baker and Muppets and Sesame Street lead performer Peter Linz to create Custard's World.
Custard's World is a "high quality, rollicking adventure comedy that will capture the hearts and affections of children, aged 5-11, and their families" and uses puppets, digital effects, actors and elaborate props, sets and miniatures for live studio shows. Opportunities to see behind the scenes will also be available.
But there's more to the development than the studios themselves. Whoa! houses an urban park with an inflatable obstacle course, water slide and Australasia's first crochet play net crafted by Japanese artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam. It will also offer five-star family dining with a restaurant, The Grounds, headed by top chef Benjamin Bayly noted for his work as executive chef at The Grove, Baduzzi and the TV2 show My Kitchen Rules.
Up to 70 jobs are expected to be created and Mr Sutherland, the founder of Integral Technology Group and chairman of Cogent Limited, wants to keep prices accessible so as many people in the community as possible can experience Whoa! Studios.
"We're trying to create a family experience where you can come and see something that normally wouldn't be accessible," says the born and bred West Aucklander. "It's grounded in strong community and family values and the desire to give back to the community and bring New Zealand's movie-making talent and pedigree to the fore."
Mr Sutherland is known for his philanthropic work, supporting charities and social institutions with finance and advice, and he believes technology should deliver measurable benefits to business. He says Whoa! Studios has been about four years in the planning and the name was chosen because that's the reaction visitors to the complex
When it opens in early December, it will premiere the first
Custard's World - Live!
A Very Gloomy Christmas
in which 4.5 unlikely young heroes - four kids and a mischief-making kea - set out to stop wannabe super-villain Dr Gloom from ridding their town of smiles.
The characters and storylines are taken from
Custard's World - The Movie
, which is now in pre-production and uses a script by Bafta award-winning scriptwriter Baker. He describes
as the most fun he's had writing since
Wallace and Gromit
Mr Sutherland, the father of two adult children, says Whoa! Studios is the fulfilment of a life-long dream. What do his kids think?
"Well, they're a bit used to this sort of thing and simply think it's dad being a bit crazy for leaving the tech world and going to play with puppets, but I think even they will be impressed."
See http://whoastudios.co.nz/ for more