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Air New Zealand Weaves in Māori Magic to Address Sustainable Tourism

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Flying Fish takes LBB’s Esther Faith Lew behind the scenes to its surreal backdrops and production highlights

Air New Zealand Weaves in Māori Magic to Address Sustainable Tourism


Air New Zealand invites visitors back to the country with a strong Māori push for sustainable tourism. Led by the concept of ‘Tiaki’, which means ‘to care for people and place’, the airline’s new safety video places importance on New Zealanders’ special connection to their land. Created by Flying Fish, Air New Zealand’s narrative takes passengers to the magical Māori proverb of the country’s landscape with its inspiring production.

To lend traction to its shift in positioning and to bring in a strong Māori culture theme, Air New Zealand partnered with the Tiaki organisation responsible for the education and preservation of environment and culture in New Zealand. Together, they worked with Flying Fish to weave in a narrative on environmental sustainability. 

Says Flying Fish director Jason Bock, “I loved the script when I first saw it; it reminded me of when I was a little kid hearing about Māori myths. It had a strong visual and poetic vibe to it. I envisaged it as bringing a kid’s storybook to life. The premise of Tiaki is to preserve, foster, protect and shelter. So, we thought of creating a character to embody these ideas, which made it easier for kids to comprehend the ideology behind it.”

Jason adds that Air New Zealand wanted to address the global issue of overtourism, where environments are being destroyed by tourists with no knowledge or respect for those areas. This led to the idea of teaching visitors a way of travelling that imparts cultural understanding - enriching their experience, as well as that of the locals. 

LBB> Talk us through your idea for developing the narrative. How does personifying Tiaki bring out the essence of this value?

Jason> Turning the concept of Tiaki into a character makes it a powerful tool to share with children and adults alike. It gives them something tangible to comprehend the themes and core values whilst taking them on a mythical journey through New Zealand. We weaved these values throughout this journey so the viewer takes in cultural cues and environmental themes. 

LBB> The cultural aspect of this video is a dominant theme. How did you work with the relevant experts in ensuring its representation is brought out effectively?

Jason> The story is Māori-focused and it originates from traditional Māori myths and legends. Joe Harawira is a legendary storyteller who is at the forefront of this narrative and he also features in the film. He drives the story. Every cultural element in this film was a combined effort of cultural experts - from the carvings of the waka (traditional canoe) to the design of the korowai (cloak) to the music throughout the film. They all involved artists who are masters of their craft.

LBB> How did you choose your shoot locations and what was significant about them? 

Jason> The idea behind this journey was that the waka would start at the bottom of the South Island and make its way to the top of New Zealand. Throughout the journey, I wanted to represent a range of locations that encapsulate the whole country, and magically cross over multiple seasons. I was specific in selecting locations that felt special and had something magical about them. 


LBB> How challenging was it to get around to the various remote locations with the equipment and shooting requirements? And how did you navigate this process?

Jason> When you drive a 150-tonne crane around New Zealand, your locations quickly dissipate. It was a mission to say the least! It involved months of work between our multiple HODs to figure out how to fly a one-tonne waka over lakes, rivers, forests, beaches, waterfalls and clouds. Each and every location opened up new problems that we needed to solve. The forest location was especially hard, and we ended up building a network of complex cables and weighting systems to fly the waka. 

LBB> There is a magical, ethereal feel about the whole video. Not to mention the haunting score which added to the mood. How did you achieve that? 

Jason> Right from the beginning, I wanted this to feel magical and ethereal. I hadn’t seen many Māori films that delve into the magical style, so it was really interesting to create an aesthetic that was grounded in traditional art forms, and to reinterpret them to create the mood for this film. For example, we shortened the proportions of the waka so it was scaled for four people, and then we figured out how that would affect the carvings and shapes. The carvings on the waka reveal deeper layers of our story. This design was driven by the legendary Oscar-winning production designer and art director Grant Major of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Guy Moana of Whale Rider and James Rickard.

I also chose locations that felt magical and filmed them in lighting conditions that made them look even more magical; composing the shots to make them feel almost unreal. The music combined elements of traditional Māori instruments and blended them with a large-scale orchestra led by composer Mahuia. We also had Māori vocalists sing chords that were layered over the tracks to give it that organic, textured feel. 

Even the korowai, which is traditionally made entirely from feathers, was specially created by laser-cutting leather and wood to construct the cloak. Each component of the film was grounded in traditional culture and techniques, then refined in a new way to fit the heightened reality of our film. 

LBB> You took a traditional Māori canoe and had it fly in the video. How did you make it look realistic flying over the cliff in one of the scenes? Talk us through your idea, its execution and the challenges you encountered in the filming. 

Jason> We used every trick and technique possible to fly our waka around New Zealand. Some scenarios were filmed by using cranes on locations, and other scenes were filmed in a studio, whilst others were comped together in post. Each and every shot required a bespoke technique or combination of techniques to get the best result possible. We built the waka in whole with added exterior hand-carved segments that pieced together when we were filming, and we deconstructed them when we needed to change location. It was a hugely delicate piece of art that we needed to protect the whole shoot process.

We had to test our rigs over and over again to get the right speed, movement and manoeuvrability. The waka was very complex in its design. It had a rated steel safety cage built into the structure to carry the weight of the people on board. It also had an internal ballast to keep it safe and stable on the water as it cruised through our stunning lakes and waters in the different shoot locations. 


LBB> What special effects and technology were used in the production process? What was special about this technology?

Jason> Rather than one idea that fits all, we approached each scene in a unique way. The idea for me was to do as much for real as possible, and combine that with artificial components. I would go and film backgrounds so that we could comp the real waka in and get it to mesh with real elements. The amazing team at Blockhead and Mandy VFX were great at figuring out these scenes. 

LBB> What are the significant highlights for you in producing this video? And your takeaways from it?

Jason> Seeing the waka fly over the lake in the South Island for the first time was a beautiful experience. After months of work, it was truly satisfying to see it actually float from the surface of the water and move exactly how I envisaged it. It was a very memorable and special experience to have worked with such incredibly talented artists. With this film having such importance and a strong emphasis on Māori culture, it needed to be treated with such care and respect. 

We incorporated those pillars alongside the sensibilities and sensitivities required with the many layers and traditions of this project into our shoot. We started and ended the filming with a karakia (prayer) and blessed important key pieces created for the film. A cultural advisor relayed traditional stories and proverbs from the land we were filming at and brought people together. There was a real sense of unity with everyone on set.


LBB> Sustainable tourism is an important agenda for Air New Zealand. How is that reflected in the video? And in the production process itself while filming the video?

Sustainability was a huge factor in every aspect of this film. From the beginning, it was made clear to us that Air New Zealand was moving towards being net-zero in carbon emissions by 2050, so the theme in this film is a natural reflection of their values. Conceptually, all the elements in the film needed to incorporate sustainability; from the animals in the forest being native and non-damaging to the environment to Tiaki’s korowai being made from organic materials. 

Our production team was very aware of filming with the smallest environmental impact as much as possible, right down to using sustainable materials on set, and in day-to-day activities such as eating and drinking from reusable cutlery and cups, and limiting the amount of printing we do. 


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Flying Fish, Tue, 09 Aug 2022 22:17:36 GMT