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From Tonga to Hollywood

In the 1970s, there were hardly any television sets in the Friendly Islands of Tonga. The only time children got a glimpse of the world beyond their shores was gathering around the only set in the village on the weekends.

Among those children was Liz McGregor, a wide eyed child whose obsession would become movies and designing.

Her primary field of work on Mulan was the design and construction of the Tang Dynasty armour and uniforms for the Chinese army. Picture Liz McGregor
Liz McGregor’s primary field of work on Mulan was the design and construction of the Tang Dynasty armour and uniforms for the Chinese army. Picture: Liz McGregor

Fast forward 40 years, and now award winning costume designer Ms McGregor is living her obsession and passion. She is the woman behind the costume designs on productions like Mulan, Lord of the Rings, Yogi Bear, and Blood Diamond.

“Films became an obsession of mine, I felt my true path in life was revealed. I knew that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” said Ms McGregor.

She designed the costumes for the popular series The New Legends of Monkey for which she received the 2018 – 2019 Daytime Emmy award and a New Zealand TV award for the costumes.

For the 10 half hour episode series of Season 1 of The New Legends of Monkey, McGregor's team created a world unique to it's characters inspired by the 16th century Chinese fable Journey to the West. Picture Liz McGregor
For the 10 half hour episode series of Season 1 of The New Legends of Monkey, McGregor’s team created a world unique to it’s characters inspired by the 16th century Chinese fable Journey to the West. Picture: Liz McGregor

She was part of the design team working with costume designer Bina Daigeler on Mulan and they won a Costume Designers Guild award for that film.

“A lot of them have involved some really wonderful people whom I have had the opportunity to work with, both in front of and behind the camera,” Ms McGregor said.

“Through my work I have been lucky enough to travel to many countries including Africa, the United States, Europe, Japan and China, and they have all been incredible experiences.”

“Through my work I have been lucky enough to travel to many countries including Africa, the US, all over Europe, Japan and China, and they have all been incredible experiences. Picture : 2019 Getty Images
Award winning costume designer Ms McGregor is living her obsession and passion. Picture: Liz McGregor Instagram

Originally from the village of Kolomotu’a, Tongatapu the costume designer said working in the film industry is no walk in the park.

“It is hard work but ultimately satisfying and can be fulfilling. It is also a great industry for creative minded people and really teaches you a lot about collaborating and working as a team,” she said.

“Success has its challenges and one of the hardest she encountered was being away from her family. We work long hours… and will not see them for weeks or months. What is important to me is finding the balance between work and life.

On Blood Diamond she had to recreate the tribe of Kamajor, an ethnic group of traditional hunters from the Mende group who were known for their distinct look in the war. Picture : Liz McGregor
On Blood Diamond she had to recreate the tribe of Kamajor, an ethnic group of traditional hunters from the Mende group who were known for their distinct look in the war. Picture: Liz McGregor

“This can be difficult but achievable if you set some limits on where your boundaries are. It does work but it does require some effort.”

A great message for those currently in the villages of Tonga and across the wider Pacific.

 

1 Comment
  1. Sam Lala 2 months ago
    Reply

    Admiring the inspiration shared by Ms. McGregor, I am inclined to share with her a unique, less-known, episode in recent Tongan history, for possible movie production.

    I sincerely hope that being part of Tonga, Ms. McGregor could give some direction towards this venture. It is in essence, a new project that will be able to bring back the heart of tourism to the Friendly isle. The Volcanic eruption, Tsunami, and COVID-19 of January and February 2022 devastated the daily lives of Tongans and the environment of this friendly archipelago.

    Sincerely

    Sam

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