The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Friday, November 02, 2012


Michael Reynold Tagore


Imagine the scene.  Which is appropriate, because this story is a lot about fantasy.

It’s late December 2001.  The place is a cinema in the Pluit Mega Mall, North Jakarta.  In the dark sits Michael Reynold Tagore, a young man feeling, almost knowing, that in the next three hours he’s about to experience something special in his life.

He’s right.  The curtains open on another world, Middle Earth.  It’s The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the recounting of Professor J R R Tolkien’s classic British novel written 70 years earlier.

The US $93 million epic, which won four Academy Awards, had been made by New Zealand director Sir Peter Jackson in his homeland.  It grossed more than nine times its budget. The following two films were also major hits.

Reynold wasn’t aware of the book – it hadn’t been published in Indonesia.  He only knew about the film from a poster.  Lacking suburban ghosts, teen tearies and car chases it was never going to be a ripper success in Indonesia. But the watcher in the stalls was entranced and imagined his name on the big screen.

“This was my world,” he recalled. “It was the film I’d be waiting for with dragons and wizards.  Most normal people weren’t interested in this geeky movie, but I wanted to be involved. I watched the DVD again and again till I knew every scene.”

Apart from getting to understand animation techniques he also built his language skills listening to Shakespearean actor Sir Ian McKellen who plays the wizard Gandalf.

On 19 December 2011, exactly ten years after the opening of LOTR, as fans know it, Reynold signed on as a texture artist to work on the sequels.  He moved to Wellington, the centre of NZ filmmaking, and met his language coach. 

He’s employed by the visual effects company Weta.  (Weta is a Maori term for a grasshopper-like insect.) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will have its world premiere in Wellington on 28 November, prior to international release on 14 December.

One year later The Desolation of Smaug will be in cinemas, and There and Back Again in June 2014.

For creative artists continuity of work is another dream come true.  The film industry is no place for those with a mortgage.  Jobs run for as long as it takes to make the movie.

“This doesn’t worry me,” said Reynold who is 33 and single. “Once you start to feel comfortable you take your foot off the gas.  I like to do new things.  I have to aim higher.

“I never wanted to wear a suit, to be a ‘real person’. My parents hoped I’d get into business or be a doctor, though I can’t even look at blood.

“I was a rebel, but I’m really a nice person.  Just a bit stubborn.  All I wanted to do was draw, but no one could see a career in art.

“I never wanted to end up in my friends’ jobs. They told me to grow up – but I didn’t.  I just knew I had to get away, go overseas, though I wasn’t sure how.”

As a child in East Java where his father had a paint factory, and later in Jakarta as a teen, young Reynold preferred to doodle rather than swot.  While his classmates were studying spiders, Reynold was sketching Spiderman.

Teachers must have despaired.  “I was getting punished a lot,” he said.

His mother had a talent for embroidery but her son wasn’t into bouquets and blooms.  “For me the more disgusting the idea the better, provided it wasn’t real,” he said.  You can see some of his creations at

At Tarumanagara University he still couldn’t settle, taking six years to finish a four-year degree in graphic design. It was a course he hated but the only one available close to his interests.

He got work as a commercial storyboard artist, drawing multiple illustrations of the scenes to be shot.  The job wasn’t well paid and there seemed to be no striving for excellence.

Time to jump a jet. He enrolled at Sydney University of Technology, got more certificates, then worked in Melbourne and Adelaide on films and computer games.

He also discovered directors rely heavily on applicants’ show reels and references, focusing on compatibility.

“Negativity can be contagious,” he said.  “That’s not good for morale or creativity. There are lots of different personalities involved.  You’re competing with people from all over the world.”

Like most digital imaginers Reynold is a contractor putting in 50 hours a week, more when deadlines loom.  He works with nine others, cans on ears, coffee in one hand, mouse the other, finessing 3D detail.  Mediocrity is not an option.

Each artist confronts large computer screens – on one side reality, the other virtual reality.

In the computer-animated Happy Feet 2, made in Australia, Reynold worked on landscapes and snow.  With the Hobbit films he’s been refining computer images so neither the audience, nor the creators, can tell whether the original was a man or a manipulation.

Reynold became an Australian.  He now has a passport that allows permanent residence in NZ and easier entry to the countries where his skills are in demand.  “I want my freedom,” he said. “I want to go everywhere.”

But not to work in Indonesia because dual citizenship isn’t allowed. “The industry still isn’t big enough or sufficiently professional,” he said “I visit my mother in Surabaya and enjoy Indonesian food, my great hobby, but I now have to buy a visitor’s visa.

“My tip on getting into film?  Practise like crazy; otherwise you’re just wasting your time.  Aim higher.

“I love going to work. It’s important to do what you want to do.  Give it one hundred per cent – you only live once.  

“This is the job I’ve been dreaming about for years. This is where I know I’m worth something.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post 1 November 2012)


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