Earth Guardians
Character Design Competition winners

From over 300 spectacular entries, these Earth Guardians stood out. Congratulations to all our winners!


Prizes include a tour of Weta Workshop to see concept design in action

Awards and prizes

Industry Selected Ultimate Concept Artist Award
Wacom 16" Cintiq Pen Display to take your design career to the next level

Wellington School of Design Create With Us Award
$1000 towards studying the Bachelor of Design at Massey University. 

Weta Workshop and Wellington School of Design | Top School Award
A visit to your school by designers from Weta Workshop

Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Awards x10
$150 towards travel to Wellington for a Concept Design experience and a tour of Weta Workshop

Massey University and PikPok Best Game Concept
$150 towards travel and a one day experience at PikPok in Wellington

International Student Concept Artist Award
Wacom 16" Cintiq Pen Display to take your design career global

Massey University Moana Oceania Narratives Award
$500 prize pack including flights to Wellington for a Weta Workshop experience
Awarded to the best entry that displays homage to Atua across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa

Massey University Te Ao Māori Award
$500 prize pack including flights to Wellington for a Weta Workshop experience
Awarded to the best entry inspired by customary Māori practices of sustainability, customary narratives and toi Māori

Gordon Harris Highly Commended Schools Participation Awards x5
$250 prize pack of art supplies from Gordon Harris for your school

Madeline Head, Burnside High School
Industry Selected Ultimate Concept Artist Award

Judged by a Weta Workshop panel led by Art Director Paul Tobin

Ykine by Madeline Head

Ykine (pronounced ee-kyn)
This urban-situated guardian is the essence and proprietor of rebellious nature. Every dandelion growing defiantly through the cracks in footpath concrete, every clump of grass and vines creeping into an abandoned house. It hides in plain sight, though its ability to do this is achieved through more complex means than just stealth.

For unknown reasons, this creature is usually only observed by those that believe it exists. Thus, it remains largely unstudied, existing in whispers among adult humans. It’s more often recognised by children, who notice its presence and aren’t yet trained to try and explain away what their senses are telling them. It interacts with these children, allowing them to plant seeds, and asking for access to their property. Any child that does discover it will do so by accident, while dwelling on a fantasy about why all the weeds grow in their garden. Children don’t tend to share this information, they want to be a part of this little resistance, reclaiming pieces of the world with defiant gardening. Despite the fact they cannot communicate, kids flock to create rebellion in the pristine cities and towns, guided by this spirit of lawless vegetation.

This earth guardian doesn’t really have a set location, and it would seem that multiple of them do exist. Their colouring, flora, and camouflage will change depending on the region they appear in.

This earth guardian has no drive to harm humans, only to reclaim parts of urban areas. It’s ultimately an immature troublemaker, picking indirect fights and silent wars with those that own the buildings and sites it tries to plant in. It hides its seeds, plants them in old objects, sneaks them beneath a building’s foundations, and tries to replant any of their shrubbery that humans make an effort to remove.

TeWai Ford (Rongomaiwahine / Ngati Kahungunu / Ngati Raukawa), Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Ngati Kahungunu o Te Wairoa
Wellington School of Design Create With Us Award

Judged by Design Kaihāpai, Wellington School of Design Astrid Visser

Whaea Ngahema
This Guardian Maiden is Ngahema (Whaea Ngahema) who is a mother figure of the forests or around the lakes protecting and embracing those who need the aroha, animals, plants, or humans. Whaea Ngahema is my image of Papatuanuku’s human size body or perhaps one of Tane Mahuta’s daughters.

Whaea Ngahema was naturally a mother figure to all, and as expected for most maidens, she fell in love with a man, without knowing his true intentions. Until he brought some men to burn down the forest, pollute the rivers, and hunt the animals. This damaged Whaea Ngahema’s eyes, making her blind and cracking the right side of her face so it began to bleed water that gives life when it touches something. While she experienced the horror in the forest she could hear the pain, and it aches her heart just by listening, so much so that she forcefully opened her eyes so wide they glowed bright white which burned the men to death, including the man she once loved. After they were gone, Whaea Ngahema closed her eyes as she is blind and right after that she decided to rely on her other senses such as listening or feeling the life of the earth with her hands and feet. Ever since then she continues to give aroha to all, and give life using her miraculous water blood, but to those who hurt the forest she will do the same as she did before to those men who hurt the forest.

Special Powers: water blood - gives life to everything it touches; bright white eyes - burns the enemy to death (awakened since the day of suffering); natural motherly love - knows how to communicate with all things in the forest and gives the love they need.

John Paul College, Rotorua
Weta Workshop and Wellington School of Design Top School Award

Judged by Design Kaihāpai, Wellington School of Design Astrid Visser

John Paul College students submitted eight outstanding entries by seven students:

  • Macy Pascual
  • Janna Rutor
  • Dan Borja
  • Alesha Hemingway
  • Kimberly Janla
  • Soo Jung Jin
  • Michaela Meyer

Isabel Rocha, Glendowie College
Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Award

Finalists selected by a Weta Workshop panel led by Art Director Paul Tobin and voted by the public

Sela Kidemonas
The world is a creature, and human greed has been slowly driving it to death. Sela Kidemonas took her very first breath as the earth took its very last - and so their spirits are forever bound together.

From a young age, Sela knew it was her destiny to leave home, destroy the human evils that killed this world, and bring it back to life. With a cloak of blossoms from a sacred tree on her back, and a staff of magic jade from the heart of the world, she travels to places of great natural power and restores them to their former glory.

Determined, stubborn, serious and headstrong, fiercely loyal and unafraid to fight, Sela will let nothing get in the way or her saving the world.

Nyle Turuwhenua (Tuhoe), Pukekohe High School
Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Award

Finalists selected by a Weta Workshop panel led by Art Director Paul Tobin and voted by the public

The Kaitiaki is represented in this artwork by a Kereru. He is the guardian of the forest and oversees the whenua (land) from his perch high up in the trees. He is the elder within his hapu and is responsible for the passing of knowledge. Wearing the Huia headdress as a symbol of his wisdom and a reminder of his tipuna.

Kaitiaki understands that the forest provides his iwi with the necessities of life. He also understands the forests mauri (life force) needs to be preserved. The korowai he wears signifies his links to the land and his connection with his whenua. The circle illustrates the spotlight he is under to pass his knowledge and wisdom onto his mokopuna just as it was passed onto him.

Gene Krairiksh, St Margarets College
Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Award

Finalists selected by a Weta Workshop panel led by Art Director Paul Tobin and voted by the public

Anaru lives and appears anywhere, most would find her in the forest or hidden between bushes. At the end of the day, her safe house is in the cave - she chooses to do the mission at night time. Specifically, she helps nature and animals to clear away from danger.

Marked on her face are two Hei-Matau (fishhooks) which represents good luck and safe journey, as other creatures spot her - the fishhook will be the first thing they’ll see. And they will automatically know, that it is a sign that danger is coming their way. Provided with enormous ears and eyes, this helps enhances Anaru’s ability to detect danger and to calculate a safe path for her mission as fast as possible.

Anaru does not make any sound, only gestures, so you need to watch quite carefully through her actions when she appears. She has no legs and can float through almost anything - like a ghost. After the creature in need spots her, she will point to the direction where it is safe. As she points, ancient rata vines with a soft pink glow will appear to lead the path which the creature will then follow (similar to the one around Anaru’s waist.) As the creature follows the path, she’ll slowly fade away and transport to the glowing cave where she stays. Whenever Anaru is closer to the cave, her powers get stronger, which then gives the ability to recharge her mind and track her mission to make sure their journey is safe.

She is cursed from her past life mistakes, resulting in her spirit trapped on earth. Though after years of suffering, Anaru eventually evolved into an earth guardian, freed from burden, as she developed powers and has been looking after earth’s creations ever since.

Giselle den Breems, Takapuna Grammar School
Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Award

Finalists selected by a Weta Workshop panel led by Art Director Paul Tobin and voted by the public

Nominer (meaning 'giver of names')
My character is of Elvin origin and resides in abandoned woodpecker hollows in trees. Like many elves, its diet consists of blue oyster mushrooms, wild strawberries which they gather from woodland clearings, and the rotten yolks of any discarded eggs.

Every day, as the guardian of identity, the giver of names, they travel through the forest, visiting slimy silky newborn fawns and faeries, wolverine and white mountain lion cubs, the tiny young of owls and hares. They bring them a sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter elixir of ground pine needles, honey, and something else (a secret) and dust the children’s noses and foreheads with pollen.

Occasionally, it becomes caught in their eyelashes. When they leave, they take the afterbirth with them and will later throw it into a creek for migrating salmon to feed on. This process is what gives an animal its ‘name’—what humans might label as the ‘soul’. The animal receives a feeling and understanding of life rather than simply being able to carry out life processes. These creatures might be considered midwives or baptists of the woods.

Mignon Ferreira, Paraparaumu College
Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Award

Finalists selected by a Weta Workshop panel led by Art Director Paul Tobin and voted by the public

Sitting atop a mountain was a small town that goes by the name of Orrinshire, housing the diverse population. The town’s existence proved to be quite a threat towards the much larger neighbor kingdom, The Kingdom of Anuca, ruled by one of the most well known tyrants to reign over them. Due to the town housing many out-casts and criminals, the king was set to wipe Orrinshire from existence. Determined to carry out the task, the king and his army set out to lay out an assault on the town, but little were they prepared for the challenge that they were to face. Residing within Orrinshire was one witch in particular- cast aside due to her nature, and overlooked as nothing more than a peasant. The town was her home, and upon discovering that the king sought out to destroy it, had prepared for the worst.

On the day of the assault, the witch was perched by the mouth of the mountain, book in hand and waiting for the king’s arrival. Soon approaching the witch, was the army and the king himself, amused by the witch’s bravery, or to what they believed, arrogance. When the king announced to press the assault, the witch cried out a chant which shook the earth and made a flock of birds fly from their nests. The mountain which stood before them had begun to grow and grow, until one of the largest golems. Wasting no time, the giant stepped forward which shook the ground, alongside squashing a majority of the army, and the king himself under it’s large foot.

Ever since that day, the golem Lios- with Orrinshire on it’s back, now wanders the mountains, protecting the town from harm. Lios doesn’t possess any supernatural capabilities aside from it’s overwhelming size and strength.

Troy Fea, Katikati College
Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Award

Finalists selected by a Weta Workshop panel led by Art Director Paul Tobin and voted by the public

Tāne Mahuta
“The Whistling of birds could be heard in the bush next to my house, it didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary at the time. It was a sunny day and my mates were having a barbeque, and I noticed the bin was full. “All goods,” I said, “I’ll go empty it,” and I picked up the bin and walked into the bush. I approached the stream that ran past my house. I always chucked my trash in there because it was just so easy, and who cared anyways? I could hear the birds whistling behind me in the trees. Probably just checking out what I’m leaving here, no biggie I thought. As I bent over to tip the box out I noticed that all the birds had stopped singing except for one. It was deeper, and sounded hollow. A shadow fell over me and as I turned to investigate, that’s when I saw him. The whistling I heard wasn’t coming from any birds, but beer bottles hanging from string. They were wrapped around its chest, and as I looked up at its horned face I saw silent rage. It pounded a stop sign on its chest, echoing throughout the bush. Its message was clear, and I bolted home. I haven’t thrown any more bottles into that stream and I don’t plan on doing so anytime soon. Next time you think about littering in the bush, just stop and listen. Are those really birds you hear?”

Tāne Mahuta is the god of the forest and all that lives in it. The constant pollution and littering that his forests endure is starting to get too bad for his forests to handle, and he has decided that he will have to step up and defend his environment, one whack at a time.

Rachel Berridge, Epsom Girls Grammar School
Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Award

Finalists selected by a Weta Workshop panel led by Art Director Paul Tobin and voted by the public

Adzuki ('red bean')
Adzuki is a friendly breed of Guardian who roamed the earth many years ago. They are most well known for their clumsy behaviour and strong, big teeth. They are native to Japan, but they are rare to find nowadays in modern times. In history, they are depicted more like monsters, emphasizing the big teeth and defensive nature as threatening.

They had been given the nickname ‘Adzuki’ as many people have described their paw pads as ‘red beans’. They tend to be very gentle creatures, which is also why they have not been seen around nowadays, as humans try to hunt them down for their teeth, horns and fur, as it is seen as a symbol of luck. Luckily a lot of locals go out of their way to care for their big friends, adopting or befriending them, giving them food, shelter and protection.

In warmer seasons they tend to shed their green fur to a bright red during summer months. Moss flourishes where these friendly giants have wandered, giving life and food to the nearby animals.

Eva Hu, Epsom Girls Grammar School
Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Award

Finalists selected by a Weta Workshop panel led by Art Director Paul Tobin and voted by the public

Rumoured to be a monstrous terror patrolling the skies of the South Island and preying on unsuspecting people, the Pouakai is a Māori legend that strikes fear into those brave or desperate enough to venture into the mountains.

As the messenger for the God of Weather, Tawhirimatea, it is said that wherever the Pouakai flies, a storm follows. And whenever it beats its wings, thunder echoes through the valleys.

Seldom seen by hikers and climbers scaling the mountains, the Pouakai remains elusive with only a few individuals claiming to have witnessed a large shadow pass overhead. It once roamed across the land, guarding the sacred mountains and tending to the earth. Now, driven back by human settlements, it only resides among the peaks and fjords of the Southern Alps as the guardian of New Zealand’s last untouched wilderness.

Mo Meehan, Ashburton College
Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Award

Finalists selected by a Weta Workshop panel led by Art Director Paul Tobin and voted by the public

My wind/fire guardian is inspired by both the Japanese and Jewish creation stories.

In the Jewish tradition the Creator is both loving, and a fearsome judge. The Creator is not able to be seen, and is only experienced through the veil of smoke, wind and fire - this imagery reminds me of volcanoes!

As the Creator’s name can not be spoken, I have blended this creation story with the Japanese deity of volcanoes... Konohanasakuya. Her work is to prevent volcanoes from erupting, but it is a difficult job to pacify a volcano!

Konohanasakuya is a wind and fire druid, she guards the earth using the power of wind and fire. One of the first things you notice about her is her smile. Is her smile happy, or a grimace? It is both, to reflect the two sides of her nature.

The top half of her clothing and the softness of her flowing long hair show the gentle side of her nature. Her gentle wind and home fires warms the earthlings and the earth, inspiring the earthlings through warmth, happiness and joy, to care for the earth. The red and orange reflect passion and love.

But note the bottom half of her clothes. Her steel mesh skirt is held secure by a double belt, flanked by thick strips of heavy leather, and weighted down by sharp blades. You can imagine the blades whip and slash across your face when she unleashes her fury with fire and wind. When Konohanasakuya unleashes her fury, the earthlings can feel the destructive force of her nature - she literally erupts! The brown and grey are natural colours, reflecting the earth and rock; and the wind can not be seen.

The fiery halo has no end or beginning, reflecting her infinite nature.

Mercedes Conroy-Wright (Nga Puhi), Fraser High School
Weta Workshop Rising Stars Highly Commended Award
Massey University Te Ao Māori Award

Judged by A44 concept artist Hamish Fraser (Ngāti Tūwharetoa)

Tui Mahuta
Tui, younger brother of Kaitiaki Tane Mahuta (Guardian of the forest), is a wise but impulsive young kaitiaki that often finds himself in challenging situations. He carries two Taonga (treasured gifts), around his neck. The first is Toki, an adze shaped pounamu (greenstone) with the power to give the wearer super strength and courage. The second is a Koru, a carved spiral shaped pounamu which gives the wearer healing and insight abilities.

Where ever Tui goes he always has his trusty Taiaha on hand. A powerful weapon that has the story of his people carved in the blade.

Tui wanders the native forests of New Zealand, protecting the native birds, animals and trees in his realm. His power of insight has turned his eyes bright white, illuminating the dark forest night, guiding his way and enticing creatures toward him.

Film/animation and Game concept: Tui fights to save the forests of Te Urewera from an oil drilling company that has lied and cheated to get drilling rights. The company is clear burning the forest to get there drilling equipment in to the site. Tui must go on a quest, gathering Taonga that will give him super powers to beat the oil company and show the government the treachery of the oil mining industry. Along the way Tui meets incredible Kaitiaki that help him save the forest.

Jessica Kong, Hamilton Girls' High School
Massey University and PikPok Best Game Concept

Judged by PikPok Art Director Sarah Dixey

Tāne Mahuta, the god of forests and lands once blessed a Tōtari tree with magic. This magic seeped through to the surrounding trees and deep into the earth below. Once the earth shook due to heavy rain, the earth and Tōtari trees toppled over each other and moulded into a beast. Hence, came the birth of Tōtari the Guardian. Tōtari dwells in the underground forests and caves, detecting wrongdoings. Once something angers him, he lets out a low grumble which penetrates the depths as seismic waves. The quakes create discord to the surface, toppling buildings and cracking lands, allowing the earth to renew itself and flora to sprout. Unfortunately, the innocent may get caught up in his fury. Those large corporations who don’t use eco-friendly products really get on his nerves.

Tōtari’s character design was based on the facial structure of dragons to include elements of fire and wrath. I was inspired by the staunchness of a rhino which was the main reference I looked at while sketching and rendering Tōtari’s body. My goal was to achieve a look of a benevolent beast that is also capricious after witnessing the exploitation of the forests and earth. Therefore, Tōtari must look both gentle and menacing. The story that links with my art was inspired by the Māori deity; Tāne Mahuta the god of forests and the Tōtari tree which is endemic to New Zealand.

Nathan Jed Napolitano, Libertad National High School, Philippines
International Student Concept Artist Award

Judged by Design Kaihāpai, Wellington School of Design Astrid Visser


Once there was a greatly known wanderer and warrior who travels the world defeating evil and protecting the people. He had a great sense of justice and he helps people with all his might. Time passes by, his achievements has deemed him worthy to be called the 'Hero of the Earth', being the one who defeated the Demon Lord and bringing the world at peace. 

After accomplishing world peace he continued to travel the world helping people. One day he passed by a certain village being ravaged by a great flood. He quickly ran to help but in the end many lives were lost, the village devastated. He blamed himself thinking that if only he had the power to stop the flood, casualties would have lessened, and no lives were lost. Holding on to the thought, he searched for that power, with great conviction and perseverance. Continuing to help people and striving for the near impossible goal he had.

He died of old age with regret and disappointment. But later he find himself standing before the Goddess of Creation. She said she saw his hard work and dedication to protect and help the people, granted him the power he needs, and sent him back to the world. He reincarnated as an old man wrapped in leaves and cloak.

With him are the Staff of Prosperity which brings the soil he's standing prosperous, the Sword of The Sacred Branch letting him control nature and the environment, and the Bag of Enchanted Items where he stores artifacts he collects which are the sources of natural abnormalities. He can't be seen but it is said that he draws the rainbow after his visit on a certain land, which also means he had done his job. He later named himself Garalattou, The Wandering Earth Guardian.

Filoi Ikitau, Spotswood College
Massey University Moana Oceania Narratives Award

Judged by Massey University lecturer Sonya Withers

Filoi Ikitau

Princess Loi
My character is inspired by a Samoa Legend called Sina ma le Tuna and Avatar the Last Airbender.

Basically the story of Sina ma le Tuna is a love story between a eel and a beautiful girl name Sina, the eel got sick and told Sina to plant his head on the ground. Sina did what he said and it grew into a coconut tree. Its says when Sina drinks from the coconut its like kissing the eel. So I wanted that to cooperate it with a character.

My guardian is named after my nickname Loi. Loi in Samoa means ants so I thought it would be a cute name. Princess Loi is a goddess that protects the islands from any harm or danger. She lives in a village in Samoa called Salelologa. She had control of the 4 elements air, earth, fire, water and had a special healing powers. She is still trying to get the hang of her powers but with the help of her friend eel she knows one day she will be as good as her dad. She's 16 years old and wants to carry her family name with pride and honour, but she has a hard time without her parents guidance. She has no one to guide her through her tough times. Her parents were killed from a fire that happened when she was young that is where she got her scar from. Even though she doesn’t remember that day clearly she blames her powers for her parents death. The eel is the only true form of happiness for her. She knows that she carries her family name with her, she will represent her country till she dies.

Gordon Harris Highly Commended Schools Participation Awards

Judged by Design Kaihāpai, Wellington School of Design Astrid Visser

  • Aotea College
  • Spotswood College
  • Katikati College
  • Macleans College
  • Takapuna Grammar

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