greatest feeling of success has been to watch all these bits and
pieces of polystyrene and metal and wood become a world so real
you believe these characters live there. Weve painted Tolkiens
palette as much as possible across the film."
Until now, Tolkiens Middle-earth has existed only in the
imaginations of readers and in the wondrously detailed yet limited
illustrations for the novels. But in The Fellowship of The
Ring, the hobbit holes of Hobbiton, the sylvan glades of the
elf refuge Rivendell, the smoky innards of the Prancing Pony Inn
and the networks of underground caverns in the Mines of Moria
come physically, palpably to life.
had one underlying precept for the visual design for The Lord
of The Rings trilogy: a transporting brand of realism. But
how do you realistically create a complete fantasy? Jackson knew
that the answer would lie in an incredible amount of detail. So
he immediately engaged the services of WETA Limited, New Zealands
premier physical effects house, under the direction of supervisor
and Tania Rodger and gave them a mission: to create Middle-earths
physical reality, from the interiors of hobbit holes to the heights
of Mount Doom, as if they believed with all their hearts and senses
in its existence.
Taylor approached the project like a general going to war. He
immediately employed a crew of over 120 technicians divided into
six crucial departments:
Makeup and Prosthetics
Armor and Weapons
WETA Digital, a separate arm, also took on the challenge of creating
the groundbreaking computer-generated creatures and effects for
The Lord of The Rings trilogy.
But before WETA could get to work, the filmmakers needed to turn
Tolkiens vividly drawn descriptions into three-dimensional
visions. They turned to the two men who knew Tolkiens universe
best: conceptual artists Alan
Lee and John
Howe, who illustrated the Harper Collins editions of The
Lord of The Rings. Freed from that format, Lee and Howe sketched
madly, producing seminal images of the cultures, creatures, buildings
and landscapes that make Hobbiton, Rivendell, Mordor and more
feel so alive.
by their own intimate love of Tolkiens work, Lee and Howe
produced hundreds of life-like sketches which later were metamorphosed
into storyboards, then scale models of Middle-earths many
landscapes and regions, and sometimes into full-scale sets under
the aegis of production designer Grant
Major. In addition to full-sized sets, the production widely
used miniature sets models so detailed and artistically
rendered that the slightly larger ones became known as "bigatures."
"As a conceptual artist, it is quite a mine field treading
through Tolkiens world, but you somehow have to trust your
own judgment and your own vision. Tolkiens descriptions
are so beautiful and poetic, yet he has left plenty of room for
us to make our own little explorations," said Alan Lee.
Lee was especially excited by Peter Jacksons mandate. "When
he said he wanted to be as true to the spirit of the books as
he could and try to create very, very real landscapes and as believable
a world as possible, I knew I was the right person for the job,"
Says production designer Grant Major of Lee and Howe: "Their
contribution to the project was absolutely fundamental. They gave
us the Industrial Age look and feel of Middle-earth, and they
brought the most intimate knowledge of Tolkien lore to their work."
had always tried to make his illustrations believable, but now
he and Howe had a new challenge: producing illustrations so rich
they could be turned into miniatures, models and sets. He recalls
the magic of seeing Hobbiton evolve from Tolkiens charming
descriptions to detailed sketches to life-like sets. "We
had drawn so many sketches and had so many conversations and then
there was the whole construction process," he recalls. "But,
finally it became this absolutely real place where grass grew
over the roofs and the chimneys were spouting smoke, and it was
like a dream to see it come to life."
Lee also watched, as his sketches became miniature sets that seemed
to take on a life of their own. The miniature production unit
was guided by director of photography Alex Funke, who won an Oscar
for his effects on Total Recall. Funke and team filmed
an unprecedented 64 miniature sets, some of the most complex ever
rendered. Among those seen in The Fellowship of The Ring
are the "forest kingdom" of Lothlorien made up of tree-houses
connected by walkways and lit with fairy lights and the land of
the dwarves known as Khazad-Dum.
Many of the sets, big and small, were carved out of polystyrene,
a material that can look like wood that has aged for thousands
of years, as in the Prancing Pony Pub or the stone sculptures
at the gates of MinasTirith. WETA made some remarkable innovations,
using a polyurethane spraying machine developed for spraying rubber
coatings on North Sea oil rigs.
"We were able to do in a week what might have taken months
to build in a traditional manner," explains Richard Taylor.
"With this machine, we could sculpt anything. We were making
a hundred helmets in a day with this machine. It helped us to
build many worlds."
Production designer Grant Major oversaw the creation of such life-sized
exterior sets as the intricate and delicate Elvish kingdom of
Rivendell, the grassy knolls of Hobbiton, and the underground
interior realms of the mines of Moria. He, too, made realism and
exquisite detail a priority but with a fantastical twist,
including hobbit-esque earthiness and Escher-like mazes throughout.
sets for Rivendell, for example, were created to reflect the Elvish
culture which is highly artistic and intimately connected
to the forest and nature. It appears as a place of deep serenity,
with arching walkways spanning babbling streams and quiet wooden
gazebos. "We used a leaf motif throughout the sets, and used
a lot of hand-carved statues, pillars and door frames. Even the
colors are right out of the forest," Major notes. "We
even added Art Nouveau-style influences that reflect their elegant
nature." Major also wanted to lend Rivendell "a sense
of mystery," so he designed and built a series of 40-foot-tall
towers that shimmer in the background of Rivendell, suggesting
more than meets the eye.
Many of Majors sets were built at Peter Jacksons Three
Foot Six Wellington Studios. This, for example, is where he created
the Mines of Moria, where the Fellowship journeys in The Fellowship
of The Ring. Gray granite walls were sprayed constantly by
WETA technicians to appear as glistening, dripping, jewel-encrusted
caves, a whole network of which spans beneath the dwarf land,
One thing Major always had to consider in the design of his sets
was durability. "You had thousands of people trampling through
these sets, and sometimes people were hucking axes into the floor,
so they had to be built to withstand a lot! Our sets had to withstand
60 pounds per square foot." Major worked hand-in-hand with
WETA Digital, to make sure the sets would accommodate computer-generated
images to be added in later.
Major even found himself becoming a fledgling gardener. To create
Hobbiton, he had a large greens department team plant 5,000 cubic
meters of vegetable and flower gardens a year before filming began.
"We started the year before filming because we wanted the
look of it to age naturally in the weather," explains Major.
"We were always trying to make every set as real in time
and place as could be imagined."
Everyone who entered Hobbiton was transported. Observes Ian
McKellen, who plays the hobbit-helping wizard Gandalf: "Hobbiton
really wasnt a set at all. It was an actual open-air village
with growing crops and flowers actually sprouting in gardens,
birds singing, insects... Nothing was plastic or fake. It was
just totally thrilling to enter another world like that."