The Production
The Production

NL: Could you introduce yourself.

Richie: I am Richie Cordobes, the special FX onset coordinator. I coordinate, with my team of guys, all the physical effects that have to happen on the set during the filming of the film. All the atmospheric stuff, all the weather type stuff- wind, rain, snow, explosions. We do a lot of stunt rigging, falling leaves, any kind of debris that would fall in front of the camera, we do it.

NL: What's your background?

Richie: I've been working in special FX, working as a special FX technician for about 10 years. I've worked on films like Twister, The Rock, Armageddon, Apollo 13, Lethal Weapon 3, Anaconda; The Rocketeer was the first film I ever did. I've done mostly feature films, but some TV shows and commercials in the dry times. I try to stick to feature films because they're longer, and you get better results when you see your work on the screen.

NL: Are you still excited about what you do, do you still get pumped about it?

Richie: Yeah, I still get pumped about it. There're some times when it's a job just like anything else, but for the most part I really enjoy it. It's not a 9 to 5 job, you work 12 hours, but if you work for less than 12 hours, you don't know what to do with yourself for the rest of the day.

This project is kind of cool because I've never really worked on a fantasy project before. It's not a modern film where we're doing lots of bullet hits, lots of big explosions, car explosions, crashes, things like that, it's all more mellow, not necessarily such big stuff, such big explosions, but we have done some full structure burns. We burnt down Hobbiton and The Green Dragon; we made it look like Hobbiton was being destroyed in the dream sequence of the film. Then we've done a lot of flying, where we pull the actors up into trees, simulating the Elves grabbing them magically and lifting them off the ground.

On Saturday we rigged a cave-in set, Moria Gate, where this octopus creature, a kind of squid-like thing rips these doors off as the guys go into the cave, and it creates an avalanche as the door is ripped off and all these rocks come down. We're doing that with pyrotechnic devices and cutting and things like that. We're shooting that on Thursday in studio D. For that we have 26 different explosive hits going off. There are 27 different ropes holding everything up, and we're going to have to cut each and every one. There will be 27 different bullet hits, we call them bullet hits, but we're using them in a different aspect. They are squibs, however, so we have 26 of those, but we're wiring them into 10 different circuits to cave in the whole piece of that set with only the 10 different circuits. It is basically a ceiling piece that drops, and on top of this there is a huge hopper that goes way up to the top, and that's all filled with foam rocks.

NL: This is a very long project. Did you know what you were stepping into time wise?

Richie: Time wise, I knew it was a year and a half, but I was sitting at home in my own living room watching baseball on TV when I got the call, and you just don't realize how much it involves when you're sitting in your own place. But then you come all the way across the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand. I'd never been to New Zealand before, and I thought it would be a really good experience to come and see the country. We've been on location all over the place. We've been down in the South Island and all around the North Island, and we're going back down to the South Island again soon. It's a beautiful country, the South Island is gorgeous.

I have been here in New Zealand now for 10 months, I'm getting very homesick, but the people here are great, we have a great crew of people. Steve Ingram, my boss, is a great guy to work for; I'm just enjoying the experience really.

NL: Have you done locations before?

Richie: Yeah, but I've only ever worked out of the USA one other time, except for Mexico, I was on Mask of Zorro in Mexico for three months. The first overseas location I went to was Easter Island for a movie called Rapanui. That was the first time I had worked with Barrie Osborne, the producer of this film. That was only five and a half weeks; this will be a year and a half all up when it is finished.

NL: How would you say this production compares with other big budget films like Twister or Armageddon?

Richie: There is no comparison.

NL: So it is bigger in scope than even those productions?

Richie: Yes, they are different scales of big I think, really. This is something that has never been done before, three films simultaneously, so that is kind of a neat experience. But it's also the timing. We now have the computer technology to make a lot of the middle earth landscape and creatures possible. Though it's still the largest production ever done.

NL: I know visual FX has taken leaps forward in the last couple of years with CGI; have special FX progressed as well?

Richie: There are some things that have become more technologically advanced, but the basics are still the basics: you still have to use a big fan to make the wind blow. As far as physical FX go, we do get into some fancy technology when you get into air ratchets, pneumatic rams, hydraulic rams, and things like that. So technology has grasped us also.

NL: You said you've pulled some of the characters into trees which will be cleaned up in post production; this special FX technique, taking out wires, has been standard for quite some time, right?

Richie: Yeah, it's been standard forever. Rotar scoping it was called way back when; I don't know if it is still called that, it's all still the same. We've been hiding wires forever. For arrows flying into people, we use the same technique, which was developed years ago. Computers have taken that away from us in a majority of the sense, because it is too time consuming for us, and it takes a lot of guys to man every single arrow that would be coming in on a wire. But we've done it a few times on this film, and it sells because you actually see the arrow hit them in 3D. It still works.

NL: The timing must be helped by that no doubt, with the actor's reaction.

Richie: Yeah. You don't make the wire so rigid that the actor can't move, you do it with a bungee cord and shock cord, which allows the actor movement so he can take a few steps. We've done some shots where the actors were actually running more than four steps into the shot, so the FX guys were running back with them, keeping the wire taut. There is enough flexibility in the stretch line so there are variables for error, but it still keeps it taut enough that when you fling it in the sling shot, it actually flies in, you've got a lot of movement, so that helps. We use some old techniques, there's that old saying, if it's not broke, don't fix it, and it still comes into play with FX a lot of times.

NL: Would you say that LOTR's is a very heavy special FX film?

Richie: Pretty heavy, for the amount of people that we have doing it, we're really working a lot.

NL: How many people are there?

Richie: On the main unit we have five guys and myself on an everyday basis. Then on unit 1B we have one coordinator and three to five guys with him. On units 1A and 1B we swap crews back and forth. The second unit has another coordinator on that set and another eight or nine guys. I think we have 18 people employed in the physical FX end, which is very small by today's standards. Armageddon was a mega FX show, with the bus that imploded with a meteor and stuff. For that we had two crews, there were at least 50 FX crewmembers in one of the shops, and there were about 15 of us in the other shop. On Batman and Robin we had 100 FX guys, but we were building a big telescope set and everything was major steel stuff. We do all that work too, all the steel fabrication, and the big heavy duty rigging that goes along with films and stunts.

NL: I'm still fascinated by your saying this is bigger than some of these other massively large productions.

Richie: Physically, FX wise, I don't think it's bigger; but with the number of scenes and locations and costumes and extras and departments, and the immense opportunity to try and do something that has never been done before, yes, it's bigger in that sense. They've taken a technique, the forced perspective technique, developed in America but never been used in a film, and now we're using it for the first time here.

NL: How does that affect the special FX department?

Richie: We haven't really done much of that forced perspective. Mostly it would be a motion control rig, which is done by the grips, they do all the motion control, and dolly movements are done by the computer. They're doing some really cool stuff on this film; all the scale issues are really cool, interesting stuff we've never seen before. It's quite an experience really, one that we'll be looking back on I'm sure, once we finish.

NL: Do you expect that this is going to be a great film?

Richie: I expect, but I also hope that it will be epic.

NL: Thank you very much Richie.

The Production

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© 2002 New Line Productions, Inc. ™ The Saul Zaentz Company d/b/a Tolkien Enterprises under license to New Line Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.