Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to change the film and animation industry

A series of Happy Hīkoi short films about Tauranga Moana will be enhanced with AI technology.

Artificial intelligence and clever animation are part of a unique film project that uses influential 18th-century Māori chiefs, settlers and Pākehā colonists to tell the story of Tauranga Moana.

Hopes are high that futuristic technology could also transform traditional Māori storytelling forms, allowing tribes to bring to life their own journeys through their ancestors.

The Te Tuinga Support Services Trust is currently working on a ten-part mini-series, Happy Hikoi, which is expected to resonate with the younger generation and visitors to the region.

Executive Director Tommy Wilson said it was “exciting” to chronicle Tauranga’s beginnings in a modern format that has unlimited opportunities to tell indigenous stories from Aotearoa and around the world.

AdvertisingAdvertising using the NZME.AI technology used in the Happy Hikoi film series is expected to change the face of the film industry.

The ten two-minute film clips were in production but had the potential to be turned into half-hour spin-off segments that could delve deeper into the historical events and people behind them.

Wilson acknowledged that Tauranga’s history was one of tragedy and bitter bloodshed in the Māori land wars and the Battle of Gate Pā that must never be forgotten. While the film’s narratives were intended to be informative and factual, they would focus on the positive side to encourage people to engage with the Kaupapa.

“We want them to be engaging, not boring.”

Stories covered included Hēni Te Kiri Karamū, Taiaho Hōri Ngātai, Hēnare Wiremu Taratoa, the voyage of the canoes like Tākitimu, the importance of Matariki, the missionary Alfred Nesbit Brown and the naval commander Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton who commanded a colonial regiment and died in the Battle of Gate Pā.

AdvertisementAdvertise with Tommy Wilson, Managing Director of NZME.Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust. Photo / Alex Cairns

An accomplished author with 33 books under his belt, Wilson was excited about the films and future possibilities.

“I’ve been a storyteller for a long time. The format is pretty much still stuck in our heads and comes out like a balm. The more we massage it, the more right it comes out. The process is very organic.”

Working with local Māori historian Reon Tuanau from day one ensured “the voice of Tanga Te Whenua is captured in its true essence,” Wilson said.

Film director Robert Morgenstern is working on the Happy Hikoi film series. Photo / Alex Cairns

Tauranga-based German film director Robert Morgenstern, who previously worked for the BBC on various documentaries and has been in the industry for 20 years, said AI technology is changing the face of film at a “phenomenal pace”.

“It allows you to work fast and explore new creative angles that we haven’t seen before and create animations that you could only have done with big Hollywood budgets. Instead of spending billions and billions, you can work on a budget. It’s pretty overwhelming and scary at the same time as it’s killing a lot of jobs in the creative industries

“Every week there is a new development.”

He was intrigued by the Happy Hikoi stories and said it was a great project to work on and research.

“I think we can offer a surprisingly fresh look at local history. You don’t always have to tell a dark, blame-giving story. You can see who the strong characters were, how they looked to the future and what they were aiming for.”

Morgenstern said the production process was interesting, using grainy imagery as a reference, which was animated along with speeches and dialogue from the past.

“AI is a new brush… you can throw stories at the wall and even if they aren’t perfect down to the last detail, you can move on pretty quickly. It allows you to explore new creative angles that we haven’t seen before.

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“That’s why I’m totally addicted.”

Some of the characters’ descendants were involved in the dubbing, while New Zealand musicians had also lent their skills.

Funded so far by Te Tuinga, the project was unveiled at a teachers’ conference in Te Puke last week and at Tourism Bay of Plenty this week, and Wilson said the feedback has been positive.

Oscar Nathan, general manager of Tourism Bay of Plenty, said the shorts are an excellent way to bring the stories to life.

“They will allow people to understand the history of Tauranga Moana, the significant places right under our noses that everyone is constantly passing.”

Nathan said it’s also a way to future-proof the story through the use of technology, “so we’re really excited about what’s been shown to us.”

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Nathan said he’s sure it can find a way to incorporate the stories into some of its initiatives.

“It makes it really easy and connects really well if you have a vested interest in the community to proactively bring the stories to life.”

St. Mary’s Catholic School Assistant Principal Lisa Broadmore said the ability for schools to use AI to tell their local stories is related to the focus on local history in the school’s curriculum.

“It’s a way of bringing it to life for the students that’s really compelling,” she said. “It’s about telling our stories in an engaging, visual way that’s light, joyful and positive, using apps that are actually free.” This is important for schools because money is tight. “

She said it would be a tool to re-engage students from the breakup.

“Young people, for whatever reason, are often disconnected… and it’s about bringing them back through technology that students are familiar with.”

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The message from Wilson’s presentation aligned with the key messages of the day-long conference, which was being able to respond to the complex needs of young people, she said.

– Additional reporting Stuart Whitaker


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