Happy Hīkoi’s short films about the Tauranga Moana series are being enhanced with AI technology.

Artificial intelligence and intelligent animation feature in a unique film project that uses influential 18th century Maori chiefs, settlers and Pakeha colonists to tell the story of Tauranga Moana.

We hope that the technology of the future will change traditional forms of interpretation for Maori and allow tribes to lead their own journey through life through their ancestors.

Te Tuinga Support Services Trust has a ten-part mini-series. Happy Hiko He assumed that this practice would resonate with the younger generation and visitors to the region.

Executive director Tommy Wilson said it was “exciting” to chronicle Tauranga’s early days in a contemporary format, with its limitless potential as it tells Indigenous stories from Aotearoa and around the world.


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The AI ​​technology used in the Happy Hikoi series is expected to change the face of the film industry.
The AI ​​technology used in the Happy Hikoi series is expected to change the face of the film industry.

10 two-minute film clips were in production but had the potential to become half-hour spinoff episodes that delved deeper into historical events and the people behind them.

Wilson acknowledges that Tauranga’s history is marked by brutality and bitter bloodshed in the Maori land wars and the Battle of Get Pa. Although the film’s narratives are designed to be informative and realistic, they are supported by the positive side to encourage people to engage with the kaupapa.

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

Stories included include Heni Te Kiri Karamu, Taiaho Hori Ngatai, Henare Wiremu Taratoa, the voyage of canoes such as Takitimu, the importance of Matariki, the missionary Alfred Nesbitt Brown and the naval commander Captain John Fane, Charles Hamilton, the commander of the colonial army and died. In the battle of Gat Pa.


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Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust Executive Director Tommy Wilson.  Photo / Alex Cairns
Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust Executive Director Tommy Wilson. Photo / Alex Cairns

A prolific author with 33 books under his belt, Wilson is passionate about his films and future possibilities.

“I have been a storyteller for a long time. The format is still in our heads and coming out like a balm. The more we did the better way it would come out. The process is very organic.

From day one, he collaborated with local Māori historian Reon Tuanu to ensure that “the voice of tanga te whenua was captured in real substance,” Wilson said.

Film director Robert Morgenstern is working on the Happy Hikoi film series.  Photo / Alex Cairns
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 on various documentaries for the BBC and has worked in the industry for 20 years – said AI technology was changing the film landscape “at an incredible pace”.

“It allows you to work quickly and use new creative angles that we haven’t seen before and make animation that can only be done with big Hollywood budgets. Instead of spending billions and billions, you can do it on a limited budget. It’s mind-blowing and scary because it cuts a lot of jobs in the creative industry.”

“Every week there is a new development.”

of Happy Hiko He said that the stories fascinated him and that it was an amazing project to work on and research.

“I think we can offer an incredibly fresh perspective on local history. You don’t have to tell a boring blame game story all the time. You can see who the strong characters were and how they see the future and what they’re trying to do.”

According to Morgenstern, the production process was fun and he used animated images as references alongside the dialogues and dialogues.

“AI is a new paintbrush… you can throw stories on the wall and even if they’re not very fine details, you can go very quickly. It allows you to do new creative angles that we have not seen before.


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“That’s why I’m totally thirsty.”

Some of the characters’ descendants took part in the vocals, while Kiwi musicians lent their talents to it.

The project, which Te Tuinga has funded to date, was presented to a teachers’ conference in Te Puk last week and to Tourism Bay of Plenty this week, and Wilson said the feedback had been positive.

Oscar Nathan, general manager of Tourism Bay of Plenty, said the short films were a fantastic way to bring the stories to life.

“It allows people to understand the history of Tauranga Moana, the important places that are right under our noses that everyone passes by all the time.”

“We’re very happy with what we’ve shown,” Nathan says, using technology as a means of future-proofing history.


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Nathan says he’s sure he’ll find a way to incorporate the stories into some of his initiatives.

“It makes it so much easier and connects so well when the personal interests in the community want to bring the stories to life.”

Lisa Broadmore, vice-principal of St Mary’s Catholic School, said schools are focusing on local history and the ability to tell local stories using AI is part of the school curriculum.

“It’s a way to bring it to life for students, it’s really engaging,” she said. “It’s being able to tell our story in a fun, visually simple, fun and positive way, using apps that are actually free. This is important for schools because money is tight.”

She said it will be a tool to reconnect students from disconnection.

“For whatever reason, there’s a lot that’s been cut off for young people … and it’s about being able to bring it back with students who know technology.”


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She said the message of Wilson’s presentation was to be able to respond to the complex needs of young people, in line with the key messages of the day’s conference.

Additional reporting by Stuart Whittaker


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