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E!Online-Update

; Quelle: E!Online

Making Mordor and Other Behind-the-Scenes Artist Secrets - by John Forde

STONE STREET STUDIOS, WELLINGTON--Should you find a real oak tree to grow over Bilbo Baggins' Hobbit hole at Bag End, or build one and attach 250,000 artificial leaves to it?

How do you construct the rocky cliff face of Helm's Deep out of polystyrene?

What will it take to make the labyrinths of Cirith Ungol wide enough for a 10-member camera and sound crew to move around in without taking out someone's eye?

These are just some of the daunting questions tackled daily by Lord of the Rings supervising art director Dan Hennah and production designer Grant Major.

As heads of LOTR's art department, the native New Zealanders literally plan and craft Middle Earth into existence, sharing responsibility for some of the most important elements of director Peter Jackson's trilogy.

Both Hennah and Major are longtime collaborators with Jackson, having worked with him on Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners, and they are key members of LOTR's creative team.

While Hennah, a cheerful, bearded guy who wouldn't be out of place in Easy Rider, takes a quick call about shooting interior Rivendell scenes this weekend, I stroll the office corridors.

The walls are covered with sketches of the sets by Tolkien conceptual artists Alan Lee and John Howe. There are early versions of Treebeard, Gollum, the caverns of Khazad-Dûm, the dark Gothic towers of Mordor and the statue-lined hallways of Minas Tirith.

Lee, one of the original illustrators of Tolkien's novels, is temporarily back in Britain, but Major shows me around Lee's office. Drawing after drawing lays scattered across a massive drafting table.

"Alan and John's contribution to the project is fundamental," says Major. "They've provided us with the look and feel of Middle Earth, and they bring an enormous knowledge of Tolkien lore to their work."

Major, an art-school grad who's been designing film sets for more than 20 years, explains the design process: "We started three years ago, before the project was finalized, when Peter and Fran [Walsh] developed an early draft of the script," he says. "Each set idea began in discussions with Jackson's geographical concepts, Lee's 'Tolkienizing' of the idea and the art department team, who make it real."

The team's first focus is realism. "The sets need to be believable, so we can believe in these characters and this story and that these places have their own histories," Major says.

"We identified the sense of each set that we want to evoke and the culture that each set comes from. Although we've drawn from other styles--art nouveau for the Elves, early Scandinavian warriors for the Rohan--it's important to create a uniquely Middle Earth look and to give a sense of the history and depth of these places."

The Rivendell sets, for instance, reflect the Elves' artistry and their connection to the forest. The sets and props feature a leaf motif and "a lot of hand-carving of statues and pillars and door frames," Major explains.

But, he adds, "We also wanted a sense of their mystery." So, the team designed and built towers that stand more than 40 feet tall, including skeletons of other buildings that are seen in the distance but never entered. "The idea is that you never really see it all."

But no matter how elaborate, Hennah adds, "the sets also need to be workable. If it's a battle scene, we'll need to reinforce sets with [steel] and make harder surfaces, so an ax in the floor won't expose the polystyrene. But even for a set like Rivendell, where you have Elves wafting around, the sets need to be able to withstand foot traffic--and crews with camera and sound equipment. Access for the crew is essential."

After initial sketches are made, model makers construct a 1:100-scale model out of polystyrene. Major shows me a model of a Minas Tirith building; it's exquisitely detailed, with tiny pillars, archways and decorative carvings. "We'll have a good play with this," Major says.

"We talk about how to light it, what kind of camera movements we'll use. Sometimes, Jackson will put a tiny camera into the model and move it around."

The plans are reworked, discussed, then go through a long approval process. "We discuss how long we have to finish the set, what kind of budget we'll need--and the plans are trimmed or extended accordingly--and what we make the set out of," he says. Most of the sketches I see have been rubber-stamped with PJ Approved. The sets also need the green light from WETA Digital (which must review them for computer-generated imagery needs) and New Line Cinema producers.

Mostly, sets are built in the studios or locations where they'll be filmed. Hennah takes me to Studio C in Three Foot Six's Wellington Studios. Techies are hard at work constructing the towers and fortresses of Cirith Ungol, where Sam rescues Frodo from imprisonment by Orcs.

"We decided these sets needed to be ugly but intricate, as they reflect the evil of Mordor," Major explains.

Hennah says the team was inspired by Dutch artist M.C. Escher's drawings of impossible buildings. "The sets are asymmetrical and mazelike--they don't quite make sense. So, to Sam, who's running through this place, it's completely disorienting."

Staircases, doorways, ramparts and trapdoors are everywhere. Hennah points above us to a tiny staircase only three or four feet wide (just enough room for a Hobbit-scale double). I trip over a channel in the ground. "It's for rolling balls, which the Orcs use to knock out their enemies like tenpin bowling," Hennah says gleefully.

The skeleton of the set is built with untreated pine. (Pine trees are plentiful in New Zealand.) Techies wielding chainsaws hack huge wall blocks out of polystyrene, covering me in a mini snowstorm of dust. The blocks are later covered with concrete plaster and painted.

So, what does it take build a ready-to-rumble Cirith Ungol? Plenty. Try 1,000 cubic meters of polystyrene; 30,000 nails; 13,000 square meters of timber; 1,000 kilograms of plaster; and 2,040 liters of paint. The price for this set alone? Around $200,000 (New Zealand dollars)--with labor costs accounting for roughly 60 percent of that.

"We work to incredibly tight deadlines sometimes," says Hennah, "so we need the workers in the right place at the right time."

Aside from building all the sets, the art department also must adapt to the vagaries of Mother Nature. For instance, Major says New Zealand's landscapes and light are "more vivid than Europe's, something that works for and against the project."

To reflect the northern European design concept, he adds, "we need to subdue the lighting and colors of the sets, but the exoticness of New Zealand's land helps our sets look uniquely like another place."

Hennah continues our magical mystery tour with a trip through the modeling workshop. At one table, a draftsman works on architectural drawings of a set; at another, a guy carves a miniature Paths of the Dead out of polystyrene, using Alan Lee's sketches as a guide.

Brigitte, a sculptor, molds a miniature statue of a woman out of clay, while a warrior on horseback sits nearby drying in the sun. Later, she will carve full-scale, eight-foot-high statues for the Minas Tirith set. I look at a 10-foot-tall model of a Gondorian warrior and a pillar sprouting from the vulture-like heads of Nazgûl.

And what happens to all the sets after filming? Some are recycled. Hennah points at a pile of rubble. "That used to be Helm's Deep, but we'll turn it into Cirith Ungol," he says. Some may be kept in storage, but he adds conspiratorially, "I secretly prefer if we destroy them," to maintain the mystery of filmmaking.

Of course, not all the sets are made in warm, dry studios. Much of Hennah and Major's job has been to ride in helicopters with Jackson, searching for ideal locations throughout the New Zealand countryside.

So, how do they decide when to build on location versus in the studio?

Hobbiton was an interesting mix of a well-chosen location with a clean slate. "We found our perfect valley and our perfect party tree, then relandscaped the land to create the rolling hills and details Tolkien describes so exactly," Major explains.

LOTR then hired gardeners and New Zealand Army extras to lay 5,000 cubic meters of soil, plough fields, grow grass, tend the Hobbit vegetable gardens and build the sets. "We started a year before filming, because we wanted it to age naturally in the weather," he says.

"This project is a continual struggle against compromise," he concludes. "Tolkien had this vision, Jackson and his team are trying to realize it, and we try to make these places look as good as we can in the time and space and with the budget and materials we've got."

"You can always do more," Hennah adds, "but we're very proud of our work. Just wait till you see Edoras in South Island! We had to build a road to get to the site, as it's so remote, and the sets have been bolted into the rock so they won't blow away in the 140-kilometer-an-hour winds."

And with that, Hennah and Major are off to see a man about a wrinkled backdrop.

And what happens to all the sets after filming? Some are recycled. Hennah points at a pile of rubble. "That used to be Helm's Deep, but we'll turn it into Cirith Ungol," he says. Some may be kept in storage, but he adds conspiratorially, "I secretly prefer if we destroy them," to maintain the mystery of filmmaking.

Of course, not all the sets are made in warm, dry studios. Much of Hennah and Major's job has been to ride in helicopters with Jackson, searching for ideal locations throughout the New Zealand countryside.

So, how do they decide when to build on location versus in the studio?

Hobbiton was an interesting mix of a well-chosen location with a clean slate. "We found our perfect valley and our perfect party tree, then relandscaped the land to create the rolling hills and details Tolkien describes so exactly," Major explains.

LOTR then hired gardeners and New Zealand Army extras to lay 5,000 cubic meters of soil, plough fields, grow grass, tend the Hobbit vegetable gardens and build the sets. "We started a year before filming, because we wanted it to age naturally in the weather," he says.

"This project is a continual struggle against compromise," he concludes. "Tolkien had this vision, Jackson and his team are trying to realize it, and we try to make these places look as good as we can in the time and space and with the budget and materials we've got."

"You can always do more," Hennah adds, "but we're very proud of our work. Just wait till you see Edoras in South Island! We had to build a road to get to the site, as it's so remote, and the sets have been bolted into the rock so they won't blow away in the 140-kilometer-an-hour winds."

And with that, Hennah and Major are off to see a man about a wrinkled backdrop.

A Buffed-Up Bean Reflects on Rings and Other Things

by John Forde

It's been an exhausting week of training, horseback-riding and filming. But Sean Bean, the British actor who plays fearless warrior Boromir, remains ready for action. He's just returned to New Zealand to finish his scenes after a two-month break in the United Kingdom. We caught up with him in between his endless physical pursuits.

Boromir is a physically demanding role. What have you been doing to buff up for it?

I suppose the training is just the filming! [Laughs.] I've been going to the gym, and we've got a physical instructor--he's great, this guy! We've been horse-riding, swordfighting. It's an enormously physical film. Hardly two or three days go by when I don't get into a fight. Our stunt guys are fantastic and have really brought all the physical work together.

What have you been working on this week?

We've been filming in the mines of Moria, where the Fellowship gets attacked by goblins--which is a lot of blue-screen work and special effects. I've already died! I filmed my dying scene quite a long time ago, actually--back in November.

Boromir's struggles with the Ring make him a complex, morally ambiguous character. How do you negotiate his good and bad sides?

When he tries to use the Ring, his intentions aren't sinister. He sees the Ring as something that could be very beneficial. But he doesn't see the dangers of the Ring as Aragorn and Frodo do. He's more easily tempted because he's a man, and that ultimately is his downfall.

So, do you think he's a wiser, better man in the end?

Definitely. His eyes have been opened to the world. It's sad, in a way, that it takes him such a long time before he has this revelation. But it's better than not realizing it at all.

What's it like filming so far from home?

At first, it seems like such a long way away. And it is on the other side of the world. But it's such an amazingly laid-back, beautiful place. It's stunning! Because everyone's so tight here, so close, there's an amazing commitment from the cast and crew. I don't think you could make this anywhere else, because there are no other distractions. I'll really miss this place when I'm gone.

...read on at E!Online

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