Obituary — Malcolm Angell — 8 November 1973 ~ 29 May 2020

Goodbye to the Superfriend

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Malcolm at the 2012 Weta Christmas party pre-drinks, Holy Haus. Photo Mel James.

Malcolm (Malc Mally-Mal Malcome) Lewis Jih Yeow Angell was the finest of friends to an astonishing number of people who continue to mourn and celebrate him all over the world, following his way-too-soon death on 29 May this year in Montreal.

He was 46 when he died, but for the last quarter century he still looked like the same bright, mischievous 21-year-old who told his friends that he wanted to be ‘a do-er and not a sayer’ in life — a promise he delivered on, and then some, and then some more again.

Mal’s was a self-described credo of fun-ism, which he defined as ‘having as much fun as possible without hurting anyone’ — and indeed, he was the best and biggest-hearted kind of hedonist, whose love of living impelled him — and anyone he collected — on all kinds of fulfilling, exciting and occasionally straight-up reckless adventures. He never stopped planning the next one.

We will remember him like a thousand photos show him.: playing games, exploring the world, sailing into the wind, hitting the snow, protesting for human rights, literally driving too fast, literally playing with fire, literally getting too close to the edge, and eternally dancing — to the metal and yacht rock and disco and electronica and soul and roots reggae he loved and knew so well.

Aside from being totally present for life itself, Malcolm was physically present for absolutely everything — and somehow, for absolutely all of us, all the time. He was like some omnipresent magical character from one of the films he worked on — first and last at your party, easing those pre-party nerves; first and last on the dancefloor; first and last at your gooby kid’s kindy fundraiser (who manages that?); first next to you on the sofa offering comfort after your shitty breakup; first to crew your boat across the big blue; first on-site at your backyard cleanup with his trusty chainsaw and last out, expertly backing the trailer.

But first and last, he was himself. The same, radiant, disco-ball Malcolm.

Gregarious and sincere, Mal’s superpower was friendship. He was gifted not only at making friends and keeping them, but at being a truly good friend, remembered by those closest to him as someone who showed his love and care, rather than talking too much about his feelings — yet always alive to others’ emotions, always there for the deep stuff and the quiet times, too.

He had a knack for finding the best folk in any situation, then making them all feel lucky to know him and each other. ‘Why would you spend time with mediocre people?’ he used to say. He did have fine taste in people in general and women in particular and is remembered as a great boyfriend as well as a kind and gentlemanly date, a shining exception in the ghosting era.

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He was always a looker, Mal, with his sexy snaggletooth, sparkly eyes and dark, wavy hair, cheerfully ageing better than his pasty Pākehā friends. A suave dresser, eternally raising the bar at costume (and all) parties, he wasn’t above undoing just one more shirt button than was strictly necessary, either — the better to see his trademark pounamu. And his smile. God, that lopsided, cheeky, made-for-sharing grin. Nobody ever looked less like themselves in death, partly because Malcolm was never seen for that long without his famous smile or its inevitable companion (like thunder follows lightning), his silly helium laugh.

It’s fair to say nobody ever thought he’d stop laughing.

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Little Malcolm complete with cheeky grin, left, with brother Ivan. Photo Ivan Angell.

Malcolm grew up in Upper Hutt, the much-loved son of teachers Norman and Shirley Angell (both now deceased), going to Trentham School and later Upper Hutt College with a core crew of other clever kids who would remain tight friends for life.

A true raconteur who could always find the funny side of things — even painful things — his Upper Hutt Stories were some of his very best. I remember them dancing, perfectly formed and completely publishable, right out of his mouth one late, smokey, boozy night when everyone else had weakened and faded to white. Malcolm — of course — had only grown brighter, and he lit up the room. There it all was — fun and freedom, trees and tennis courts, bikes and bogans, Minipool and Metallica, Playboys and pyrotechnics, girls and good grades, bullies and big brothers and best friends. This was middle-class, satellite-suburb life lived in Anywheresville, Aotearoa, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and at times it can’t have been easy to be a little Kiwi Chinese kid there.

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Upper Hutt College, graduating class of ’91. Malcolm is far right, third row.

Regardless, the sum of his experiences and his innate empathy made Malcolm wise where others might have been ignorant, true where others might have bluffed or puffed themselves up, and understanding of human frailty where others might have been mean or bitter. He was hilariously, cut-through-crap honest, but seldom unkind. His later commitment to social justice and the environment were the natural extension of his love and righteousness. Child of Jah, indeed.

Malcolm aced everything, easily. Many people remember his rumoured genius-level IQ, his straight As at school and Massey University and his head-hunting right out of there on graduation by Andersen Consulting in Florida — but Mal was no unrelatable swot. And as it turned out, he wasn’t made for the corporate world, either.

With his sharp, practical intelligence, creativity and people skills, it’s no surprise Malcolm found his home in New Zealand’s nascent VFX community, joining the Weta Digital on-set survey team just in time for the epoch-defining Lord of The Rings trilogy in 2000 and advancing through a succession of technical and then production management roles as the industry digitised, globalised and massively commercialised. (His complete filmography is below.)

Making movies isn’t for anyone who can’t collaborate, learn fast, work hard physically and mentally, meet impossible deadlines and handle frankly insane levels of pressure — and Malcolm thrived.

In this mahi, over decades and continents, 100-hour weeks and 1000-column spreadsheets, he found some of his greatest friends and proudest moments — as well as more parties, crazy scrapes, travels, and yarns to share.

From Lord Of The Rings to I-Robot to King Kong to X-Men to Avatar to What We Do In The Shadows, Wellington to Melbourne to Vancouver to London to Sydney, colleagues loved him for his collegiality, competence and professionalism and appreciated his no-fuss, no-dramas attitude — as well as his notorious ability to sleep on set. (Everybody, everywhere remembers his extreme snoring.) VFX friends universally comment that Mally somehow managed to maintain an exquisite sense of humour even — especially — when the going got tough, keeping others sane and focused, not sweating what didn’t need sweating, and maintaining deep calm in seas of chaos.

His generosity, desire to help and apparently boundless energy extended themselves to the wider film community. With whatever spare time he had, Malcolm took part in the annual 48Hours film competition many times, directing, acting and working as crew, and returning to his roots to mentor the children from the Naenae Clubhouse in the competition. Among many other side projects, he worked on Taika’s Waititi’s first music video and numerous short films, photoshoots and IT callouts for his friends.

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Malcolm with niece Pepper. Photo Ivan Angell.

Fiercely determined, hugely resilient and willing to push and reinvent himself, Malcolm was a man always seeking the next challenge and striving to meet his own, high standards. Little wonder he took up sailing in his 40s, crewing as bowman on Montego Bay from 2014, learning how to skipper, and making friends and memories on journeys to Wellington, the Marlborough Sounds, Waikawa, the East by West race, the Latitude race, an epic delivery between New Caledonia and Sydney, the Tasman Sea, and most recently from Wellington to the Bay of Islands via the West Coast, Tutukaka and Poor Knights Island.

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Hilariously (especially for a super-uncle and friend to kids everywhere) it seemed the only thing he couldn’t handle was teaching a classroom of real, live, primary-school children — as he fast discovered during his brief foray into Teacher’s College and frontline education. He thought it would be cruisy compared to VFX — a source of great amusement to his teacher friends — and returned to movies again.

But then, this May, the fun somehow ended and Malcolm stopped living — after a long, cold Montreal winter, deep inside a demanding production gig, and in a time remarkable for the pandemic that isolated so many of us from each other, and that kept him from coming home.

He is there now, at last, and at rest.

God, didn’t see it coming,
Never said I love you, hope you knew.
Now my bags are packed and my sails are tacked
And my course is marked by stars.

(Moving On — James)

Kua wheturangihia koe, Malcolm. You have now become a star. (You always were.)

Malcolm is survived by his older brother Ivan Angell, sister-in law Jo and their children Dylan and Pepper, and broken-hearted friends in their hundreds, everywhere.

The above is drawn from some of their words and memories.

If even this most-loved, most loving and most resilient of men can fall to depression and suicide, so can anyone. Donations in memory of Malcolm are welcomed to:

SHOT BRO Theatre for social change: Illuminating wellbeing and suicide prevention with aroha to communities throughout Australasia.

Bank details account number: 38–9015–0860549–01 (Toi Turama Wellbeing)

SKYLIGHT TRUST Supporting children, young people, and their whānau to navigate through tough times by building resilient individuals and communities.

Bank account number: 06 0501 0788246 26

Further wellbeing, mental health and bereavement resources are available at: www.mentalhealth.org.nz

Malcolm’s death notice

Malcolm’s Filmography

2019 Thunderbirds Are Go -TV Series — 17 episodes — Visual Effects Producer

2017 Justice League — Production manager: Weta Digital

2017 Wonder Woman — Production manager: Weta Digital

2016 Independence Day: Resurgence — Sequence manager: Weta Digital

2015 Thunderbirds Are Go — TV Series — 26 episodes — Visual Effects Line Producer

2014 What We Do in the Shadows -Visual Effects Production Manager

2013 The Wolverine — Sequence Manager: Weta Digital

2013 Man of Steel — Sequence Manager: Weta Digital

2013 Iron Man 3 — Sequence Manager: Weta Digital

2012 Prometheus — Visual Effects Production Manager: Fuel VFX

2011 Captain America: The First Avenger — Visual Effects Production Manager: Fuel VFX

2010 Yogi Bear — Onset Data Wrangler

2009 Avatar — Sequence Production Coordinator: Weta Digital

2008 The Day the Earth Stood Still — Visual Effects Onset Surveyor: Weta Digital

2008 The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian — Visual Effects Onset Surveyor: Weta Digital

2008 Jumper — Camera Matchmove Artist, Weta Digital

2007 The Water Horse — Camera Matchmove Artist: Weta Digital

2007 30 Days of Night — Camera Matchmove Artist/Visual Effects Onset Surveyor: Weta Digital

2007 Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer — Camera Matchmove Artist: Weta Digital

2007 Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer — Camera Matchmove Artist and Layout, Weta Digital)

2007 Bridge to Terabithia — Camera lead: Weta Digital

2006 X-Men: The Last Stand — Camera Matchmove Artist: Weta Digital)

2005 King Kong — Senior Onset surveyor: Weta Digital

2004 I, Robot — Onset surveyor: Weta Digital

2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King — Onset surveyor: Weta Digital

2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers — Onset surveyor/Camera Technical Director: Weta Digital

2001 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring — Onset surveyor: Weta Digital

Malcolm’s IMDB Profile

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