An Unexpected Journey: Quint on the set of The Hobbit! Part 1 - Concerning Hobbiton
Published at: Oct 31, 2011 6:13:46 AM CDT
SPOILER ALERT !!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here currently writing from the overgrown wilds of New Zealandís North Island. Iíve been rather secretive about my trip to the southern hemisphere and for that I apologize, but it had to be done.
Hereís the deal. Iím kicking off a new, temporary, regular column that Iím calling An Unexpected Journey because thatís exactly what it is. A little over a month ago an email arrived asking of my interest in embedding myself on the set of The Hobbit for the entirety of their location shoot, spending over 2 months in New Zealand rolled in with the crew and writing up their adventures, hassles, triumphs and tribulations as they traveled all over the country shooting bits and pieces from the upcoming two-parter prequel to Lord of the Rings. As Winston Zeddemore taught us all, the answer to this kind of question is always YES!
Calling The Hobbit a prequel doesnít exactly feel right, though. This isnít a film cooked up to cash in on an absurdly successful franchise. As most Tolkien readers and human beings over the age of 7 know, The Hobbit burst forth from the pen of JRR Tolkien first. There are many Middle Earth stories, but The Hobbit is the natural choice. Itís high adventure and lets us revisit some of our favorite locations and characters within its own, unique story.
Case in point, the very first location visited on this trip: Matamata, Waikato, New Zealand Ė North Island, also known as Hobbiton.
Gorgeous, isnít it? As amazing as it looks in those pictures or in the movies thereís something incredibly surreal and humbling to stand ON TOP of Bag End and overlook The Shire. I love (good) CGI, I have a lot of respect for the digital artists that toil away for hours and days and weeks and months in a dark room so we can go to Ancient Greece or Pandora or spend some time with Jurassic Park dinosaurs or Gollum or Caesar or those fookiní prawns, but if there was ever a shred of doubt that real wins it was obliterated as the sheep bayed, horses neighed, wind blew and smoke started pouring out of hobbit hole chimneys dotting the lush green landscape in the valley below me.
And when I say green I mean GREEN. The grass in this North Island New Zealand farmland is like Wizard of Oz Technicolor. Itís so bright it almost hurts the eyes.
But we all know New Zealand is beautiful. Thatís a given at this point. By the end of December youíll be given your fill of unbelievable scenery images as I travel from location to location (especially when I hit the South Island). Letís get into what was actually happening in Hobbiton.
Wake up time was 5:15am, which barely gave me enough time to get showered and presentable before making the 40+ minute drive from my Hamilton hotel to the location deep in the rolling green hills of Matamata.
Once past security I found myself driving along a small dirt and gravel road following signs to crew parking. Sure enough, the countryside was beautiful and Tolkeinesque, but it wasnít until I made a turn and saw the incredibly iconic stone bridge leading to The Green Dragon that it really struck me where I was.
That feeling intensified standing at base camp, perched on top of Bag End, looking over Hobbiton with dozens of Hobbit holes laid out over acres of green hills and the massive party tree anchored in the middle of everything.
The crew was setting up a crane out on the narrow walkway in front of Bag End for their first shot actually in Hobbiton in over 10 years. Because of the narrow and steep path down, the crew had to bring crane parts down and assemble much of it there. It took a little while, but before too long the familiar circular green front door of Bag End cracked open and out stepped an even more familiar face.
Munching on jellied toast, Frodo Baggins sauntered out and hopped down the steps leading to the mailbox, grabbed some mail and headed back inside.
Whatís Frodo doing in The Hobbit? I donít want to spoil too much, but I can say that Frodo is part of the connecting tissue between The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring.
In fact, the next shot was an over the shoulder on Elijah Wood hammering a sign up on Bag Endís front gate: ďNo Admittance Except On Party Business.Ē You guys should have an idea where that puts this moment in the timeline.
Martin Freeman stood in for Ian Holm, who shot all of his scenes and close-ups in London. They would sometimes play footage theyíve already shot to remind themselves of what they had done previously and to help them match up shots. Peter and crew did that for these reverse shots on Elijah and I got to see Ian as Bilbo once again. It was quite extraordinary, actually. Seeing Ian in close up, wearing the wig, the vest and the pointy ears just put a smile on my face.
While I didnít talk to Elijah about it, I bet it meant the world to him to have Martin there actually giving a performance for him to act off of. Freeman even adopted a little bit of Ian Holmís speech patterns for these scenes and was so good at impersonating Ian Holm that more than once I wondered if the voice I was hearing over the coms was Ianís on playback or Martinís in real life. Usually in these situations theyíll have the script girl or one of the dialect coaches read the lines and while that works a charm, thereís something extra special about a performer giving a performance. Like I said, I didnít talk to Elijah about it, but I bet he appreciated Martin doing that for him.
Their conversation is about Gandalf and if Bilbo thinks Gandalf will show up. Bilbo says ďHe wouldnít miss a chance to let off his whiz-poppers. Heíll put on quite a show, youíll see,Ē and Frodo grins, saying heís going to go surprise him and bounds off down the path like a kid at Christmas. When I say he bounds down the path thatís not an exaggeration for illustrative purposes. He was damn near skipping, a glimpse of that pre-ring Frodo we meet in Fellowship.
After Frodo leaves the frame is very wide featuring The Shire in all its glory; The Green Dragon and mill smack dab in the middle.
Itís my understanding this shot will transition to ď60 Years EarlierĒ with Young Bilbo sitting in front of Bag End contently smoking a pipe and casually blowing smoke rings as Gandalf comes along and presents him with his adventure.
At lunch I caught up with Elijah who was wide-eyed and smiling, obviously enjoying being back in Hobbiton with the furry feet on. He ran off and I said, ďWhere do you think youíre going?Ē His reply: ďBack to Bag End, my friend!Ē
I had to run over to wardrobe to get fitted for my cameo the next day, but soon made my way back to set. We had the same scene going and this time they had the camera tight on Frodo. While it was a tighter shot than before, it still captured the landscape behind him. I mean, thatís the whole reason we were out there in the first place, so I wasnít going to see a whole lot of close-ups and insert shots being filmed. In this case, it was a full on front shot of Frodo, the massive Party Tree behind him.
Seeing the footage of Ian as Old Bilbo was crazy, but nothing compared to seeing Elijah as Frodo in the furry-footed flesh. Iíve gotten to know Elijah pretty well over the last 13 years and it was the very definition of surreal talking to Frodo. Not Elijah. Frodo. I was literally not talking to a friend, but a fictional character, not to mention the magnifier of actually seeing him in Hobbiton.
I have to talk about the livestock. This will be the first time Iíve traveled internationally where I will have to check off the Yes box when asked if Iíve been near livestock on the arrival card. All forms of livestock were on set. There was even a runaway cow who decided she didnít like the film business on the first take and bolted right the hell out of Hobbiton.
It was quite funny, actually. I feel bad for the production having to pause, but from my high-up point of view (remember I was standing on top of the hill overlooking Hobbiton this whole day) it was very entertaining watching this cow haul ass along the path between the hobbit holes with a poor A.D. running about 20 feet behind her, desperately trying to catch up.
There were all manner of animals on the set ranging from goats to roosters, pigs, oxen, horses and all of them had handlers there to make sure they were fed, watered and safely munching on the lush green grass of Matamata. They would quickly duck out of frame whenever shots would go up.
Shortly after getting the shot on Frodo the unmistakable sound of chopper blades hit our ears. It was circling us. Obviously someone had hired it to fly above and take photos of the set.
An hour or two later a small, single-engine prop plane did the same thing, flying low and circling. Photos hit the net shortly after, I noticed. The crew was quite annoyed, not because Hobbiton was being exposed to the world, but because the choppers and planes were constantly getting in the shot and the sound of the engines was either ruining takes or making the production halt until they got out of earshotÖ which could be a long while if they are circling.
So, it was an unwanted intrusion, especially frustrating when you consider they were already waiting for the light to be right, to get behind a cloud or peak out from behind a cloud depending on the previous shot.
It got to the point that producer Zane Weiner asked me to take a photo of the plane so we can try to get its tail number. I had the 18mm-55mm lens on my camera (which means itís a shorter lens and doesnít zoom in too far), so I ran back to my bag, grabbed my 200mm lens and popped it on, but I was too late. The plane had already gone. Zane wanted me to let you guys know I failed at that particular task. And on my first day of location reporting, too.
That was one day of location shooting on The Hobbit. One day down, two months to go! Before I conclude this article, Iíd like to set up a little space where Iíll be featuring a member of the crew. God willing Iíll be able to do this with each of my pieces, introducing you to the fine folks who I spend my days with. These guys are the unsung heroes of filmmaking, so I feel they should be represented.
Kicking things off will be Kiran Shah.
If youíve watched the appendices on the Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films you should recognize Kiranís name. Heís a much loved character around the set. Heís an actor, stunt man and scale double. On Rings he doubled Elijah Wood, but before Lord of the Rings he had a massive career.
For instance, heís in Raiders of the Lost ArkÖ heís the guy who brings the poisoned dates into Indy and Sallah. He doubled Short Round in Temple of Doom, he was a character in Ridley Scottís Legend (Blunder) and even knew Stanley Kubrick.
The story he told me was that he got to know Kubrick a little bit, but even being on friendly terms with the maestro didnít save him when he popped in for a visit on the set of Eyes Wide Shut. Stanley spotted him and said, ďKiran, out!Ē We all know the stories about how Kubrick didnít like a lot of crew around and that was Kiranís little tale about it.
He also mentioned that LOTR and Hobbit illustrator/designer Alan Lee did the character designs for Legend and even drew the character that Shah ended up playing to look just like him. Shah attributes getting the role to Lee because he remembered auditioning for it and seeing Ridley Scott do a double take when Shah entered the room, looking back at the character design and up at him again.
In The Hobbit, Shah is up to his usual shenanigans, making the crew (and visiting movie geek reporters) crack up in-between takes and doubling hobbits. In the above picture heís waiting to double Martin Freemanís Bilbo, which is why his eyes are reverse raccooned in his picture. Thereís an eerie silicone mask of Bilboís face that heíll put on when Bilbo is needed to be seen in a close to correct proportion.
Shah will also be a Goblin in the film and is just an overall joy to be around and as such he is this columnís inaugural featured crew member.
The next report will cover my cameo appearance during a Hobbit market in front of The Green Dragon. There is a particular actor in this scene named Leroy that Iím especially excited to tell you about. He has huge talents and thatís even an understatement. I expect that report to land in a few days, but taking my own pictures means a bit of a clearance process.
I know the watermarks are annoying. I hate them, you hate them, so I made them as unintrusive as possible. If I see a bunch of sites take these images without credit and a linkback future pictures will have bigger watermarks. So, donít be a dick. I donít care if you use the image, just give a link back here, will yaí? Donít ruin it for everybody.
More soon! This is going to be a crazy couple of months! Oh, and Happy Birthday to Peter Jackson! Thanks for letting me join the circus for a spell, sir!
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This is going to be absolutely fantastic. One of the few movies I'm actually excited to see.
An Unexpected Journey: Quint on the set of The Hobbit! Part 2 - They Call Me Mr. Chubb
Published at: Nov 05, 2011 12:29:11 AM CDT
My name is Fredegar Chubb and I am a Hobbit. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.Let’s back up a bit, shall we?
My alarm went off at 5am and I once again took the gorgeous 40 minute drive from my Hamilton, NZ hotel up through the rolling farmland hills towards Hobbiton. At base camp I barely had a moment to scarf down a quick breakfast before being whisked to the wardrobe tent to shed my human clothes and gain my new Hobbit skin.
I gotta say, the actual wardrobe was incredibly comfortable. Loose, suedey, just warm enough to cut down on the morning chill and covering enough to save my delicate “living-life-in-a-movie-theater-and-in-front-of-a-computer-screen” pasty white skin from the burning rays of the sun.
With a spring in my step I made my way to get the Hobbit ears put on, another innocuous process (the pain and torment would come later after the ears were removed and the sticky remnants of the spirit gum refused to leave my skin and hair for a week), and then I was off to the makeup trailer.
The worst part about the process was having to shave my beard off. I’d be willing to bet there’s a fair amount of AICN readers that understand why that particular process wasn’t my favorite. Big guys use their beards like shields. My shield was taken away from me because Shire-folk don’t have facial hair, so my saggy jowls would be immortalized for all time.
A lovely lady named Ricci-Lee turned my irritated, pale beardless face into a nice solid Hobbitesque visage, rosy cheeks and all. The wig was a surprising amount of work, the netting clipped to my real hair by bobby pins, hair clips and, ultimately, glue. My own hair was blasted with industrial strength hairspray and laid as flat as possible. Still, there was a lot of tugging to get the wig fitted, but when it was on it looked great. Of course, I immediately covered it up with a floppy Hobbit hat, but you could still see wild curls underneath.
Up to this point I had been tooling around base camp in my shoes and socks. It was time to shed the last vestige of humanity and take the final step of my transformation. That’s right, it was time for my feet.On Lord of the Rings these feet were applied like shoes, glued at the ankle, which meant they had to be de-glued at the end of the day. In my brief time on the set of Return of the King I saw Elijah Wood undergo this process, which honestly looked kind of relaxing, but must not have been the most comfortable thing in the world to have to undergo every day for a year.
Hobbit feet technology has evolved in the last decade. No longer is there just a foot appliance, but a full silicone skin that your foot is guided into by a very patient prosthetics person (in my case a very pretty girl named Heather McMullan) until the heel sets in the squishy foot and then the skin of the leg is tugged up to just over your knee.
What that results in is a uniform piece that is secure and even provides a decent amount of padding for bare feet. There were some Hobbit feet that had little footies inside with extensions built into the toes so the wearer could actually twitch the big toe on the prosthetic.
I was in a pair of regular Hobbit feet, which were oddly comfortable as long as you didn’t stomp heel-first onto a sharp rock. Which happened. A couple of times. I’m sorry, heel. Please forgive me.
Fully Hobbited up, I was shuttled to Hobbiton and slowly made my way to The Green Dragon where a market place was set up outside. I spent the walk trying to get used to my floppy, furry feet and had a decent handle on them by the time I made it to the outdoor market.
It was nuts there. The giant Technocrane was set up near the famous bridge and mill overlooking the front of The Green Dragon which was decked out in dozens of rickety stalls selling everything from cheese to toys to books to fowl.
I was told I’d be handling a giant rooster for the shot. His name was Trevor and the action I was given was that I’d go up and pay the Hobbit selling him (whose stall also had ducks, pigeons and chickens), pick Trevor up and place him on the ground and walk him through the market. Yes, walk him. Trevor had a harness on with a rope tied to it, so the idea was that I’d walk him through the market on this harness.
I was given a crash course on how to handle roosters which went something like this: “Hold him at the breast, make sure your hands cover the wings, don’t let go and watch out for his claws. Now you try.” Turns out I’m a natural and didn’t have any trouble with Trevor, but sadly he and I weren’t meant to be. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. I gotta stop that…
One of the cooler guys working crew on The Hobbit is a man by the name of Terry Notary. He is a movement coach, but geeks will know him for his rather iconic work in this year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He played Rocket.
This guy knows his shit when it comes to movement (the secret to doing an ape is to fuse the hips, keep the head straight and lead with the chin, for example) and I consulted him on how to walk as a Hobbit. I didn’t want to look too bouncy or make my feet jiggle when stomping about.
Notary said Hobbits lead with their knees and are always happy, looking around as a child seeing something new and interesting everywhere they look. Also, the secret to keeping the feet from jiggling as I walked was to step down with my heel, but follow through with putting my weight on the edge of my foot. So, not heel-toe, but heel-edge-toe.
I was practicing this, trying to get Trevor to walk where I wanted by guiding him with my foot (this wasn’t going too well and I was wondering how on Earth I could do this when the cameras were rolling) when Peter Jackson came up and told me I was no longer going to be walking Trevor through the scene.
“How do you feel about fish?” he asked. I don’t eat ‘em, never could stomach the taste of seafood for whatever reason, but I don’t have any phobias about handling them, so I told him I was up for it.
“Good. You’re going to be selling a fish to Bilbo,” he said and I was pointed to the fish stall. An older extra was already placed there and the A.D.s pulled him out and put him in another part of the scene, placing me behind the counter which was flanked by baskets of realistic looking giant fake fish and eels.
(Note: I didn’t have my camera on me for obvious reasons, but I got this shot of the stall the next day. It’s about half-dressed, the real fish long gone, but gives you an idea of what my station looked like.) I looked up and saw the Technocrane was pointed right at me. A few feelings hit me at once: excitement, nervousness and guilt. I felt really bad for that poor guy who was pulled out of this spot. He must have thought it was going to be his big moment. I did some extra work as a teenager and I know that excitement when you think you’re going to be featured and I know that disappointment when it doesn’t come to pass.
Anyone have any idea?
NM, according to IMDB, its slated for Dec. 2012. Hopefully, I'll get to see it before the world ends. :D
I love that they are getting the same cast members back for this as well as the new ones.
An Unexpected Journey: Quint on the set of The Hobbit Part 3 – Beginnings and Endings
Published at: Nov 14, 2011 2:57:17 AM CST
SPOILER ALERT !!
Welcome to the third and final Hobbit article focusing on the Matamata (Hobbiton) section of the big location shoot as The Hobbit crew moves all around New Zealand.
Main unit spent 5 days in Matamata with second unit getting aerial and pick-up shots after the circus moved on to the next location.
In true movie magic form we ended our second to last day with a big shot of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins hauling ass out of Hobbiton, chasing down the dwarves, and began our final day with Mr. Baggins returning to The Shire as his grand adventure comes to a close.
The beginning and the end within one 24 hour period.
I’ve gone ahead and put a spoiler warning on this article and while I do touch upon the end of the second movie here I don’t consider it a radical spoiler. For one, it’s in the book and for two, if you’ve seen LOTR you know that Bilbo makes it back to The Shire. I am conscious of keeping some of the surprises for the film, so I’ll be delicate with spoilers in these pieces, but this one shouldn’t be a shocker to anybody who has seen the original LOTR films.
Matamata was gray, the bright blue skies of the previous days gone. That didn’t put much of a damper on the look of the actual landscape, though.
Speaking of, after my first report I received a lot of feedback from people who have either visited or plan to visit Matamata. It’s probably the most accessible, recognizable location to visit from Jackson’s Middle Earth and it seems like future generations of Tolkien and LOTR fans will have an even better experience when they stop by for a visit.
I cornered production designer Dan Hennah to discuss the rebuilding of Hobbiton, which was quite a task. They’ve been at it since January of 2009, back when Guillermo del Toro was still directing and they thought they were going to be shooting in 2010.
The centerpiece of Hobbiton (and also the main reason this location was picked some 13 years ago) is the Party Tree and when Dan Hennah and crew showed up to begin the process of resurrecting Hobbiton they found the Party Tree was in dire condition. Limbs were falling off and leaves were dying thanks to a very bad dry season in New Zealand. An emergency fertilization regiment was conceived, something that wouldn’t shock the tree, but slowly bring it back to fighting shape.
As you can see, it obviously worked.
In terms of manpower there have been 6 greensmen in Matamata every day for the last two years keeping the grass, growing the foliage and guiding the exposed roots INTO the set design. In the months leading up to filming that crew was upped to 20 greens and 15 set dressers in order to make Hobbiton… well, Hobbiton.
That doesn’t even count the construction crews that actually built the Hobbit holes, the stone bridge and The Green Dragon. And built them to stay, I should add.
The last time out they built the Hobbit holes and structures like most movie sets. They were temporary, not functional past the time the crew needed them to work. This time out they made a deal with the landowner to make this site an official and long lasting attraction for fans of the movies.
Forty-Four Hobbit holes were built to be permanent, with retaining walls, waterproofed roofs, etc. The stone bridge was constructed with a steel superstructure covered with real stone cladding. The Green Dragon is the most impressive of them all because it was built with a functioning fireplace, plumbing, water pipes and the works.
Hennah said the plans were to actually turn The Green Dragon into a real, working pub, but that’s all on the landowners at this point, I believe. I can picture many a geek wedding happening in Matamata, vows under the Party Tree and reception at The Green Dragon. Ah, geek love!
While they did remove a lot of set dressing (meaning props like chairs, ladders and various odds and ends) the Hobbit holes will remain and all can be entered safely. They even left the curtains in the windows.
This is the website for the big tour, which have started up again, I believe. If you find yourself in New Zealand and are a nerd for these movies (if you’re reading this that means you are, FYI) do yourself a favor and walk around this set.
Hennah called the Hobbiton set the most important one he has been in charge of in all the films. It starts the story and, if he’s done his job right, puts the audience right into a believable magic world. As a set, Hobbiton makes the first impression and the final impression of each set of Middle Earth films, beginnings and endings.
How’s that for a segue? Quite nice, right? I’m pretty proud of myself for that one.
Usually during filming I tuck myself away at an off-set monitor in a tent well away from shooting as to keep myself out of actors’ eyelines and to ensure that I don’t get caught by the camera. If that should happen I would incur the wrath of Caro Cunningham, producer and Peter’s longtime 1st AD. She’s the taskmaster on the set, probably the most loved and feared woman amongst the crew. She’s got to keep this massive production moving and somehow manages to be strict, but motherly. Very quickly you get to a point where you’re more nervous about her being disappointed in you than getting mad at you for mucking about. Hopefully I’ll be featuring her in a future report and get to go a little more in-depth about her role in the production. She’s one of the most crucial pegs in the wheel that churn out these great Middle Earth films.
Anyway, I’m usually tucked away while they’re filming. I would venture out to watch rehearsals, new set ups and (my favorite) to have a wander during lunch while the crew is off chowing down, but during filming I’m typically as out of the way as I can make myself. That wasn’t the case for this shot of Bilbo running off to catch up with the dwarves.
Here was my view for this series of takes:
I set up camp with Leith McPherson, one of the dialect coaches, next to the sound guys on top of a hobbit hole, overlooking The Shire. We were down the hill from Bag End and as such the shot had Bilbo running full out towards me and his contract with the dwarves trailing out from his right hand.
He passes Worrywort, the hobbit he talks with during my big fishmonger moment, who asks where he’s running off to.
There’s an excitement in his voice as he shouts out that he’s going on an adventure, which is a slight change from the Bilbo in the book who is more chuffed about being forced out of his hobbit hole. That Bilbo is still in the film, especially in the first scene where Gandalf asks him to join up on the quest.
However, Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have taken the little acorn of Bilbo being an adventurous child from Tolkien’s novel, having a little bit of Bullroarer Took’s blood in his veins, and seem to have injected some of that young adventurer deep inside the otherwise content hobbit.
From what I’ve seen, I think it makes for a more interesting character and one that we recognize from Ian Holm’s portrayal in Fellowship.
Returning to Hobbiton is a little more melancholy, of course. The quest is done, friends have died and Bilbo’s exhausted, not to mention a bit shell-shocked. And he finally gets home to find all his shit’s on the lawn! How’s that for a welcome back?
Having been gone for 13 months Bilbo was presumed dead and there’s an auction for his possessions, which the Sackville-Bagginses are very happy about.
I talked briefly with Martin about this section and he mentioned that he wanted to play it a bit harder than Peter was probably expecting. He’s not happy to see people making off with his possessions and after a hard journey he’s not the same laid back hobbit as the one who left. That was Freeman’s thought, anyway, and from what I could see being filmed Jackson agreed that when he stands up for himself it should be done with more force than you’d expect.
The man’s not screaming and knocking fools out, but he’s noticeably stronger and more confident than he was before.
Hobbiton proved to be a popular location for visitors to the set. I got to see some Austin friends as Red Vs. Blue’s Burnie Burns and Brandon Farmahini came by for a few hours while heading to Armageddon Con in Auckland. On other days a few different Make-A-Wish families came through and it was quite something to see the looks on these kids’ faces as they got to look out over Hobbiton.
It made the news when the New Zealand Prime Minister John Key came by as well. In fact, they held a press conference where Jackson and Key announced that Wellington would host the world premiere of The Hobbit next November. I didn’t get to meet the Prime Minister, but I was there when he arrived with his entourage of secret service guys. That’s about as close as I came to brushing shoulders with the real movers and shakers in world politics.
All good things must come to an end and that was true of my time in Matamata. But like Bilbo, my adventure has just begun.
At lunch Unit Production Manager Bridgette Yorke and the hardworking locations crew handed out packets containing maps, keys and detailed information on the next location to each person on the crew. It’s quite an exciting moment, I have to say. It felt a little bit like a reality show since I had a vague idea of where we were going next, but no real specifics until receiving the packet with an address and a key in it.
Where would be going? Here’s a tease:
Now on to the featured crew member for this article. I couldn’t leave Hobbiton without putting a spotlight on Heather McMullan. If you read my last report you may remember she’s the one who made and applied by hobbit feet. Heather he master of all things furry footed and personally in charge of Martin Freeman’s Bilbo feet.
That’s Heather with some Hobbit ears on (of the Frodo variety. I know they look elvish, but apparently Frodo has very petite ears).
Hailing from Northern England, Heather studied at Madame Tussauds (!?!) in London before jumping down to the Southern Hemisphere to be the foot wrangler on The Hobbit. While in London, she worked making wigs for stage plays and then was hired on to the last Harry Potter film where she punched the eyebrow hair for the Goblins in Gringotts.
In my mind the predominant image I have of Heather is her sitting with a pair of floppy feet in her lap, a needle in one hand and a clump of hair in the other. She spends hours every day stippling hair into hobbit foot after hobbit foot. With a few quick jabs the process of punching the real human hair into the silicone skin begins.
When really under the gun she says she can pump out a pair of fully punched hobbit feet (toes, legs and all) in about 90 minutes.
If she’s not making footies furry Heather is watching Martin Freeman’s feet, always keeping an eye out for rips and tears in the silicone. If there’s a toe missing (that can’t be covered up with some mud or dirt) she has an extra set on hand.
So, that’s Heather. And that’s it for Matamata. It was lovely, Hobbiton. I shall miss you… but the adventure continues. Stay tuned for a report on the next location which features wizards, dwarves and horsies!
Click here to read Part 1 - Concerning Hobbiton
Click here to read Part 2 - They Call Me Mr. Chubb
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An Unexpected Journey: Quint on the set of The Hobbit Part 4 – A Palaver of Istari
Published at: Nov 24, 2011 9:39:27 AM CST
SPOILER ALERT !!
Welcome, welcome to the fourth set report from the set of The Hobbit and the very first from a brand spankin’ new location!
We started in Matamata (Hobbiton) and the plan was to work our way down the North Island of New Zealand, zig-zagging south until we hit Wellington again where the 450 strong main unit would board planes and ferries bound for the South Island and the bulk of location photography.
Upon departing Hobbiton I made my way to a small town called Te Kuiti. This lovely little farm town is famous for being home to (Colin Meads), one of the most revered All Blacks of all time. The dude is so famous that my place was on Meads St.
This new location was on remote lands, so the production had to house the sizeable cast and crew in the small towns surrounding the location. There weren’t many hotels or motels, so the vast majority of us were put into houses. And not just rental houses, either. People graciously gave up their homes to the cast and crew. I felt a little like a Civil War soldier requisitioning someone’s home as my regiment was on the move.
At first I thought there might be a mistake. The house was an old two story place with a swimming pool to the side, stretches of green farmland populated with cows and sheep to the rear and a private drive leading up.
I’m still convinced that I was accidentally thrown into one of the dwarves’ place by mistake and they felt too bad to move me out.
Our location was Mangaotaki Rocks, a popular rock-climbing spot because of the distinctive bluffs, owned by the Denize family.
You know where on Earth that spot is now, but where on Middle Earth is it? This was to represent Trollshaw, where Bilbo and the Dwarves run into the Stone Trolls. That scene has already been shot on stage, but they needed some real, beautiful jungle for a few scenes afterwards.
Not only that, but there’s an abandoned and rundown farmhouse the talented crew erected about 70 feet from the edge of the forest for another shot entirely. So, one location, two places in Middle Earth.
First up was Trollshaw as 13 dwarves, a wizard and a hobbit search for the troll’s stash of rich stuff in a beautiful, misty forest. Here’s a pic of me out in it with my fancy new outdoorsy hat:
Some of that was natural mist and dust kicked up by the production trucks driving up the dirt roads to the set (which I was told were actually cut into the hills by the production in order to get the shooting equipment to the location, with the consent of the Denize family of course) and some of it was manmade in a quite clever manner.
Tall Paul (Paul Randall, who is well over 7’ tall) stands in for Sir Ian McKellen so the dwarves are the correct height in the shot. More on him later.
Sir Ian is there and is delivering some lines for this wide shot, giving Tall Paul his cues to wave an arm or shoot a look back over his shoulder to the dwarves and giving the other actors in the scene the real Gandalf to react to.
Gandalf (affectionately referred to as “Gandy” by the crew) is essentially shouting orders to the dwarves to search the area, in a way acting like a parent chaperoning a school field trip, trying to keep everybody on task. Sir Ian came in for the next set up, which was closer. With the incline of the slope and various dips and valleys to the landscape they were able to get Sir Ian and the dwarves into the same shot without using doubles.
It is Bilbo who finds the entrance to the troll cave, which was a giant rock set out at a sharp angle over the forest floor. A set had been constructed a good 100 feet away, but Peter didn’t like it, so they used this natural spot for the mouth of the cave. There was talk that there might be a new interior set constructed back in Wellington for reverse shots.
As you’d expect, this cave had some good stuff in it. Chests, swords (including a rusty Rohirrim sword) and some dead dudes, like this unfortunate gentleman:
Tolkein fans know that this marks a big moment as a rather important weapon is introduced to the Baggins family.
Amongst the stash of treasure and weapons taken from poor dwarves, elves, orcs and men captured and eaten by these trolls is a tiny elvish blade, barely bigger than a dagger for a regular man, but just the right size for a Hobbit.
Unless I’m misremembering Fellowship, Peter Jackson filmed Gandalf handing Sting over to Bilbo to mirror Bilbo giving Frodo the sword in LOTR. In other words, he makes a moment out of it. With the beautiful green forest in the background (cave entrance), Martin reluctantly receives the sword, pulling it slowly out of its sheath.
Thorin gets Orcrist here as well, which you can see him wield in his promo picture by the way. Orcrist is a long, flat blade and they filmed a scene of Richard Armitage swinging it down in a wide arc striking down a leaping evil thing to be added in digitally before all is said and done.
Kili uses a bow and arrow and the rest of the team have their own different weapons, like Graham McTavish’s Dwalin wields two axes and William Kircher’s Bifur more often than not uses stabbing weapons like spears. There’s also single axes, clubs and even cooking spoons as in the case of the fattest of the dwarves, Bombur (Stephen Hunter), who I’m convinced was modeled after Harry.
Check out Stephen chilling out between takes and tell me Harry didn’t play a part in the inspiration for the design of the character!
Not only did this location play host to the giving of Sting, it also featured a palaver of Istari.
That’s right, Gandalf and Radagast share a scene as well. Sylvester McCoy plays Radagast the Brown, a somewhat kooky wizard who is more at home with animals, insects and flora than he is with people.
Based on what I’ve seen over the last few weeks I think it’s going to be a toss up between Bombur and Radagast on who will steal the movie. Bombur is just so loveable and funny and Radagast is ridiculously endearing, an absent-minded St. Francis of Assisi.
Radagast comes with a word of warning that foreshadows some trouble our group will run into later. The words “Mirkwood,” “webs,” “Ungoliant” and “Dol Guldur” are mentioned.
The production avoided being rained out of Hobbiton, but there was some wetness in this location. Luckily the rain was inconsistent, very rarely heavy and the scenes within the wooded area had an extra level of protection due to the canopy, so we never had to move to wet weather cover shooting. If you’re not sure what that is, I’ll give you a brief explanation.
When shooting on location, especially in a place like New Zealand where the weather is quite often unpredictable and uncooperative, production has a Plan B in case of weather stopping the planned filming for the day. This shooting is usually moved inside and is fairly simple moments that could easily be done on a stage.
For instance, the wet weather cover for The Hobbit as it tours around New Zealand involves greenscreen shots of Gandalf and Bilbo being carried by the eagles. These shots are needed, but not something taxing for the actors to have prepared in their back pockets at a moment’s notice. It’s also easy to set up and doesn’t need a whole lot of built sets and props on hand.
From what I gather from the crew, it’d take a Terry Gilliam-level catastrophe to stop Jackson from shooting on location. It’s rare he buckles down and moves to wet weather cover.
As I said before, it was lucky that we were shooting in the wooded area because even though it looked like this at tent city 20 steps away:
It could still look like this in the trees:
Due to the complexity of shooting a group of different sized races they had to do an effects shot in this location. As Radagast arrives and talks with Gandalf the dwarves look on, distrusting this newly arrived individual. Bilbo is there as well and is obviously taken aback by this weird man (even once pulling an Office and looking at the camera with wide eyes, head slightly shaking… how cool is that?).
The wizards are taller than the hobbit and dwarves, naturally, and Peter wanted to get a wide shot of the entire team. Shooting in 3D makes it difficult to pull the same forced perspective tricks he used on Rings, so getting this shot will require some digital tinkering.
There’s a motion control process being used on this project that is quite spectacular and I’ll go into in a later article, but they did a simple version of it here for this wide shot.
They locked off the camera on a platform looking down on the action and had Sir Ian and Sylvester do their scene with two greenscreen flats set up in the background that just barely outlined both wizards. After Peter got what he wanted in terms of performance for this static shot they removed the greenscreens and wizards entirely and brought in the dwarves and Bilbo.
Sir Ian and Sylvester remained off camera to give their dialogue so the dwarves could react correctly.
Since it’s a locked off camera Weta Digital’s team should be able to pull out the normal sized wizards and enlargen them before replacing them into the shot with the dwarves, making the scale work. Even in this simplified version it’s a complex shot, making sure the wizards, Bilbo and the dwarves are all their correct heights.
Like I mentioned before there’s a much more technical process to get this effect that is really quite remarkable, but I’m saving that for a future report.
That about wraps things up on this one. The next report stays in Mangaotaki with more dwarf action and will be up rather quickly, so keep an eye out.
Let’s look at our featured crew member, then. With all the talk of Tall Paul, I figured it was about time to spend some time with Paul Randall.
Many LOTR fans should recognize Paul from the appendices on the Rings DVDs. This Kiwi native stands over seven feet tall and has been crucial in the success of selling the size differences between the races in Middle Earth.
As you can see in the picture above he’s mostly being used as Gandalf’s stand in and it’s pretty eerie just how much he looks like Sir Ian when in full Gandalf getup. There are some shots from the side where all you can see is beard, hat and nose and that’s enough to make your brain register Gandalf, even in person.
Paul has worked closely with Sir Ian to make sure his Gandalf moves in much the same way as Sir Ian’s.
Before playing Wizards, Tall Paul was, believe it or not, a cop. Can you imagine being pulled over by that guy!
He’d be intimidating if he wasn’t such a nice guy. Always quick with a joke and an easy-going attitude Paul is one of the guys that makes spending 12 hours a day on the set a blast.
So, hats off to Tall Paul!
Next up is a small report about a big dialogue scene. Richard Armitage fans will be interested in the next one, I guarantee it. See you then!
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An Unexpected Journey: Quint on the set of The Hobbit Part 5 – Thorin's Dilemma
Published at: Nov 27, 2011 11:23:04 PM CST
Welcome back to Middle Earth! One more report from Denize Bluffs (aka Mangaotaki Rocks) before we move on to the next (and pretty awesome, I might add) location.
This day was fairly unique as far as location shooting goes. Typically you go out in the wild to get big establishing shots, which is why a whole lot of the footage I’ve seen so far involves running. With the quickly changing light, fast moving clouds, uncooperative weather getting anything but quick bits is often difficult and will make even the most adventurous director long for the controlled confines of a studio.
However having a real meaty dramatic scene shot amongst this kind of backdrop gives even the most fantastic movie a sense of grounded reality that a stage simply can’t replicate. Not 100% anyway. Look at Jaws, a movie about a pissed off, maneating shark. It is all the location work (and the headaches that came with it) that made that movie believable.
So it was a great pleasure to see one of the location days on The Hobbit that wasn’t an action beat. I mean, most of the Bag End stuff wasn’t actiony either, but for the most part it was bits and pieces.
The scene shot this day was a hefty bit of character work as Thorin and Gandalf’s friendly consultation turns heated.
I knew I was in for something different when they were getting close ups, the background barely edging into frame because the focus was now on the drama, not the scenery.
The introduction to the scene was a good LOTR style shot, though, so don’t you worry. There’s still a lot of New Zealand on display as all 13 dwarves, Bilbo and Tall Paul ride their horses and ponies through some rocks to the hill where the derelict farmhouse sits, or what’s left of it.
Two giant Technocranes were set up to catch this action, one pointed at the group as they ride up and the other catching them as they pass then panning and rising to see where they’re headed. Seeing these monsters out in the wild was quite fun, I must say.
In-between takes the hardworking crew had to run in and literally rake the grass to hide the horseprints. See?
It’s late in the day and the idea is that this is a suitable place to make camp, but Gandalf wants to push on and seek Elrond’s council at Rivendell.
This scene is all about Thorin and my first real chance at seeing Richard Armitage craft a layered performance with the character. Thorin’s a stubborn dwarf, very much a leader, but is smart enough to heed the council of Gandalf.
He is a man torn in this scene. His deep resentment at the elves (he believes they have betrayed his ancestors by not stepping in when they needed their help) pulls him one way, but his respect for Gandalf pulls him the other.
Sir Ian had to be here for this moment since a full performance was required from both men, so he spent the day as he does most days on this movie: standing on a platform a good 2-3 feet off the ground. Peter was getting mostly medium shots and over the shoulders (or beside the shoulder for the shots from Gandalf to Thorin if you want to be anal about it) so there shouldn’t be any need for digital augmentation here.
Armitage does a great job with Thorin’s inner struggle. The look on his face isn’t someone locked into a decision. Gandalf urges him to seek Elrond’s help, for the good of the quest. Instead of playing it like a stone-faced general, Armitage does weigh his options and mostly in reaction to Gandalf’s words, not in his own dialogue.
In other words he conveys the struggle with his face, giving Thorin a depth I was anticipating. I’m sure the inclination would be for Armitage to play it stubborn and he does, but he layers it with some real emotion.
I was wondering how they were going to handle Gandalf’s disappearances, which in the book always happened at the worst possible times with the wizard pretty much just saying “Alright guys, good luck. Gotta run!” That wouldn’t fly too much in the movie, I don’t think, even though we are getting more glimpses into just where Gandalf is zapping off to.
In this instance Gandalf’s departure is an emotionally driven one. The dwarves and Bilbo stay behind, Bilbo especially concerned about losing their Wizard. Will he come back? Nobody knows.
This location served as Peter’s Birthday spot. The man came to work on his birthday without much fanfare until the dwarves surprised him with their present… a calendar that featured each dwarf in some inappropriate position. Think of it as a Hunky Firemen calendar but instead of hunky firemen it was all hunky dwarves in the most ridiculous romance book cover positions imaginable.
I know of some fans on Twitter that would kill to have a look at that calendar. There’s a mighty large Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner contingent on social media sites I’ve recently discovered.
Wow, that was a short one this time out.
Let’s see who my featured crew member is this report. Why it’s Weta Digital’s Eric Saindon!
I knew early on that I’d feature Eric because he figures into my daily set routine at least a dozen times. I’m not used to there being other Erics around, so when somebody says my name I automatically assume they’re addressing me.
Many times a day Eric, the visual effects supervisor on set, is called to action and every goddamn time I turn around like an idiot thinking someone’s calling me. In fact Peter Jackson just recently called out for Saindon during a rehearsal by going “Is Eric here? Where’s Eric?” He looked at me and I raised my eyebrows in a “Me?” way and he said, “Not that bloody Eric. Where’s Eric Saindon?”
Eric has been part of the family since Fellowship and has been kind enough to invite me in to cop a squat in the VFX tent on location, which gives me a clear view of the monitors, protection from the wind/rain/harsh sun and some great conversation.
He started his career with (admittedly) one of the worst Star Trek movies (Insurrection), but got pulled into the Weta Digital family on LOTR and stayed after for Kong, Avatar and now The Hobbit films.
So, what’s Eric doing in that picture above? That’s the inside of an abandoned farmhouse which will feature in the next report and what Saindon and his super hip team (comprised of Seb Abante, Kevin Sherwood, Brian McMillin and Adam Harriman) do is essentially get as much detail and info about a location/set/prop as possible.
Above, Eric is taking photos of the entire set, piece by piece, area by area, so he can build a digital replica of the environment if he needs to. Sometimes he knows he has to recreate a prop or section of a wall or rock or whatever, sometimes he doesn’t, but wants to keep the info anyway.
It’s usually Eric, Seb or Adam doing this work with Brian manning a 3D scanning device called a Leica. When you see those little orange strips of tape on a greenscreen or on a rock it’s for this scanning device.
Brian or Adam typically use these strips as tracking markers, noting their location in the Leica and doing a full scan of the set. What they end up with is a ton of data, 1s and 0s that represent a detailed 3-D representation of the entire scanning area.
Eric told me that he can take these high res photos he takes and basically lay them over this framework and have a near photoreal recreation of the shooting area, which makes it easier to roll with digital additions, subtractions and CGI creatures (like Wargs, for instance).
That also helps him digitally recreate props to be as close to the physical prop should he be required to.
Since most of the Weta Digital team on the ground at main unit is American we’ve kind of turned the VFX tent into the American Embassy on the set, with discussions of how we’re going to celebrate Thanksgiving and how we miss simple things, like 24 hour stores, free refills, actual Mexican food, unlimited internet and other such American topics.
So, I’m going to cheat a little bit and also include a couple shots of the guys so while this is really Eric’s feature I’m gonna throw some love on his team, a group of awesome guys. I’ve only left out Brian but that’s because I have a good shot of him sharing a helicopter ride with me in a future report.
Here’s Adam (left), Eric and Seb (right) along side the Leica looking concerned about whether or not there’s enough tracking markers put up in a shot.
Next report takes us away from the Mangaotaki Rocks and on to some sacred Maori land. Here’s a sneak peek:
See you folks for that one very soon!
First trailer is out.
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Starting to geek out!
**** it's a year away?
I'm glad that trailer didn't show too much.
Glamdring... in my pants.....
OO.. can't wait!
An Unexpected Journey: Quint on the set of The Hobbit Part 6 – Good Morning, Koro.
Published at: Dec 20, 2011 9:25:12 PM CST
The next location was our final spot in New Zealand’s North Island and turned out to be pretty special.
Ohakune was our destination and was to serve as two locations within Middle Earth. One of these locations was up on Mount Ruapehu, which is the tallest mountain in the North Island and very sacred lands to the local Maori Iwi (tribes). They filmed quite a lot of the Mount Doom scenes in Lord of the Rings, such as Sam carrying Frodo up the cliffs, on other parts of the mountain, but this particular area was new ground for the production. That’s not to say that Ruapehu is Mt. Doom, which is a common misunderstanding amongst touring LOTR geeks.
It’s considered disrespectful to photograph the distinctive peaks of Ruapehu, so while they filmed much of the prologue battle and the slopes of Mt. Doom scenes on Ruapehu they had to digitally construct the imposing Middle Earth landmark out of a hodgepodge of other mountains, including active Hawaiian volcanoes.
The local Iwi (two tribes specifically, Ngati Uenuku and Ngati Rangi) granted permission to the production to film on this side of the mountain and to show the union of the tribes and the production they hosted a Powhiri. The production couldn’t force the cast and crew to go to this traditional event as it was on a day off, but they strongly urged everyone to go as the more people who showed the more respect would be shown to the Maori people who granted the crew permission to film on their lands.
They expected maybe 30-40 people and when I arrived at the Maungarongo Marae there was easily double that, including producer Zane Weiner and all the principal cast from Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen to all the dwarves. By the time the ceremony began there were 130 people from production there.
The hosts, Ngati Rangi, began with a haka, a sort of warrior dance made world-famous by the All Blacks Rugby team who perform it before every game. We, the visitors, weren’t allowed on the field (known as the Marae aitea) until after the haka when one of the warriors was sent out to distinguish whether us visiting movie types were friend or foe in a custom known as Tikanga. This man presented a rau (a fern) which was picked up by Zane, indicating that we came in peace and signified our two groups were met as friends and that we may enter the Marae aitea.
From here on out it was a series of speakers from both sides, which were kept separate, calling back and forth in turn, giving speeches that end in a song. The Ngati Rangi leaders each had a turn, speaking in Maori, which was translated for us by a liaison by the name of Turama Hawira.
We were all given a song to sing and in the parking lot went over it as a group. Since we were all visitors, in order to show respect to our hosts we all had to take part, including fat American reporters.
With the clouds slowly lifting off of Mt. Ruapehu in the background and bright sun shining down on us all the whole ceremony triggered some very serious spiritual buttons in me. I’m not a religious man, but there was an undeniable power here. The history behind the ritual, the sincerity of our hosts’ words and the obvious respect from the cast and crew all jumbled together into one heavy, focused atmosphere that was kind of amazing to experience.
Ian McKellen was the last person from the crew to speak and he gave a great speech talking about the journey this crew was undertaking and thanking them for letting us share their beautiful lands with the people of the world. “You could have easily told Gandalf the Grey ‘You shall not pass’ but you did not,” he said before reiterating his thanks for their cooperation and letting the filmmakers pass onto their property.
Remember I mentioned that each speech was followed by a song? After Sir Ian gave his speech all the actors playing dwarves stood up and sang one of the songs from The Hobbit, a particularly haunting baritone ballad called Misty Mountains (the very one from the newly released trailer).
The final part of the ceremony involved something called the hongi, where the visitors line up and walk past the iwi leaders, women and children, shake their hands and lean in to touch noses and foreheads. This invitation into each other’s personal space solidifies the union of our tribes and makes us no longer visitors, but tangata whenua (people of the land).
Walking down the line I must have done the hongi with a good 20 people, ranging from adorable kids to kindly old men and it’s not as awkward as I expected it to be. When touching noses with strangers that forces you to look them in the eye and consider them as more than what you take in at first glance. I was told afterwards that looking our hosts in the eye during the hongi was actually a sign of aggression, but they didn’t seem to take offense.
After all of us had completed the hongi, we gathered together and discussed some of the Maori mythology about the land and were told that we would have an iwi representative with us while the crew filmed “to protect the mountain from you and you from the mountain.” Remember that Ruapehu is an active volcano and the Maori believe there are good and bad spirits in the region that have to be respected in order to not upset the balance.
In addition to Turama Hawira being on hand at location we were asked to always say good morning to Koro (the Maori word for grandfather, referring to the mountain) when we arrived and good evening to Koro when we left as a sign of respect.
I can’t speak for everybody else, but I sure did. It’s hard not to get caught up by the majesty of this area and even though I don’t believe in exactly the same things that our hosts do I felt the power of the place.
The first location was at the Ohakune Beech Paddock, which wasn’t quite up the mountain, but just to be on the safe side I still turned to the mountain at the horizon and whispered a “Good morning, Koro.”
This wooded area was to represent the outskirts of The Shire and featured Bilbo catching up to Gandalf and the dwarves. They’re riding on horseback so you can imagine the circus that day. Thirteen dwarves and a Wizard and horses for them all!
The dwarves’ horses were wearing sort of shaggy jackets since they were supposed to be ponies, but the guys playing the dwarves would look silly in all their gear on tiny ponies. In order to sell the stature they had to make the regular horses look more pony-like.
The day was spent mostly getting wider shots of troop on horseback riding through the woods as Bilbo catches up to the party, but there was one shot in particular that you can actually glimpse in the trailer that had Fili and Kili picking up Mr. Baggins (from horseback) and putting him up onto his pony.
Watching Jackson, Martin Freeman, Aidan Turner and Dean O’Gorman set this up was particularly interesting. For more room, they moved out of the wooded area to a flat field where tent city was. Tent City is what they call the set-up just off-set. Peter’s tent, VFX, armor, prosthetics, cast and a few more get tents so they can do their work while close to the camera.
Peter, Martin and stunt coordinator Glenn Boswell (you’ll hear more about Glenn in a future report. This dude is a stunt guy who survived the making of The Road Warrior and Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Turkey Shoot!) blocked the shot, which was tricky because it involved three actors, two horses and needed precision timing to come off.
As you can see, the camera went where Peter’s hands are framing that shot, so Martin didn’t have to be fully lifted out of shot, just pulled up enough to sell the motion. I imagine they’ll grab another angle with Martin’s stunt double actually being pulled up and put on a pony. For this shot they just needed to sell him moving up so they have some motion to cut on.
That also explains the apple box Freeman has a furry hobbit foot up on. The action has him walking towards camera and stepping up on that apple box right when Kili and Fili get up to him so he can push up with his foot as they grab his backpack and hoist him up.
As you’re well aware, I’m sure, there’s a famous stigma about working with animals and children in show business. Some usages of this quote are from an actor’s perspective in that animals and children will steal the scene away from even the most charismatic actor every time out, but if I were a betting man (and I am) I’d say the roots of that saying come more from a practical aspect of filmmaking.
Working with either usually means slow going days and when on location that could be particularly frustrating.
It takes a lot of coordination to make the timing work when you have humans and animals in a scene together and I noticed some interesting things the trainers did to make the horses comfortable. For instance, I saw one of the trainers gently sniff the boom mic in front of a horse so the horse would follow suit and realize this fluffy thing hanging over his head wasn’t going to attack him.
Another issue at this location was the cloud cover. It was really cloudy, but not the cool puffy clouds… just white. At one point during filming the clouds parted and beautiful sunshine shined down on us all. However that wouldn’t match with everything they shot the previous day and that morning, so we waited around for more clouds.
Lighting is, of course, crucial for continuity. They can (and probably will) replace the flat white sky with interesting clouds, but if there’s bright sunshine and not the diffused light from previous takes their shots won’t match.
It was a quiet period. The shot had been set up, the work had been done and there was nothing to do but wait. It was kind of like being in the eye of a hurricane. Everything slowed down, the contained chaos of a movie set put on hold. It was pretty relaxing to be honest. After about 10 minutes the cloud cover came back and it was like some evil bastard kid had shaken up the ant farm and everybody was back to work.
In this lull I noticed the great artist John Howe was on set. I had seen him around the Stone Street studio set in Wellington, but didn’t want to bug him. I was hanging out with the sound guys Tony Johnson and Corrin Ellingford when Howe came up. I figured he was going to chat with them, but to my surprise he introduced himself to me and complimented the set reports.
I’ve been following his work for years, so I was quite taken aback by the kind words from somebody whose talent I admire so much. He was even kind enough to bring up the reports on his blog (read it here).
Before long he was joined by Alan Lee and we discussed the 3D art they did in the last production video. In reality that started off as joke and they didn’t really draw in 3D, but as the joke took shape they actually did collaborate on that piece, the very first time in all their years of working together that they both drew on one single piece of art. They used the computer to really add dimensionality to it, so that’s why that image really does work in 3D.
I strongly urged them to get it printed up for next year’s Comic-Con and that people would go nuts for it. I know I’d love to have one. They liked the idea, but we’ll see.
After two days of shooting at the Beech Paddocks the company moved to the mountain. I won’t have too much for you on this location thanks mostly to this:
That moss is endangered and very old. One of the conditions of shooting in this location was that only essential crew went down to the set and essential I am not, so I stayed up on the mountain road, which I was kind of okay with. They built this scaffolding to get down there, you see, and that scaffolding was declared safe, but I took one step out on it and felt the connecting slats bend under my girth and suddenly didn’t want to be there anymore.
The view was incredible, though, so inched my way out to get a clearer look back at the valley below us.
Between that epic vista and the crazy massive waterfall (and super rare moss) this location was visually stunning and I understand this place also plays a very important role in the journey. I know there is going to be a giant statue put into this location digitally. All the dwarves and Bilbo were down there looking for something. I can say no more!
I talked with Peter a bit before he made his way down to the set and he pointed out that they shot a lot of the opening prologue battle from Fellowship about 5 minutes drive from this spot, on the opposite slope. And down the mountain, the stream from this waterfall was where they shot Gollum catching his fish after joining up with Sam and Frodo.
Peter also tried to convince me that the surrounding area was all built by Weta Workshop, that all the rocks were really foam and the waterfalls were just salt being poured in slow motion, but he can’t trick me! No sir, not this time!
Since I spent most of my time in this location sitting in the catering tent catching up on writing (probably working on the Holiday Guide, actually) that’s about all I got for here.
Ruapehu represented the very last North Island location for Main Unit. After this we all drove back to Wellington, had a nice night (in my case filled with good company at a great Indian food spot called Planet Spice) and then boarded planes bound for the South Island, where the real fun (and weather extremes) kicked in.
As usual, here’s the preview of our next location:
Now it’s time for our featured crew member! One of the most important people in the whole location process, and a key figure in the arrangement with the Ngati Rangi and Ngati Uenuku, is a man by the name of Jared Connon.
Jared is the supervising location manager and is one of the key members of the team that hunts down, checks out, organizes and locks in each of these locations that we’re tagging along on.
From the first recce photos to the clean up after filming has wrapped Jared is on the front lines, searching out spots that not only work for the story being told, but that are also logistically feasible. Keep in mind that a crew some 400+ strong (and that’s just counting main unit) has to be able to stay within close proximity, but also has to be able to access these locations.
So, it’s not as simple as Jared and his department finding pretty locations, there’s a whole logistical side that has to be figured out.
Talking with Jared he said the process on The Hobbit started back under Guillermo del Toro’s direction and many of the spots picked remained when Peter stepped from producer/writer to producer/writer/director.
The brief rundown of the process begins with the script (naturally) and a list of locations is made when Peter informs them what he’s planning on shooting in studio and what he wants to find on location. A scout researches and makes his or her way up and down both islands taking tons of reference photos of prospective spots.
Back in Wellington the team will look at these and any that might prove worthy are marked and a big recce is planned with many of the department heads and Peter to see each location for themselves and decide if they want to go for it.
When that call is made the real fun stuff begins. Securing the locations, dealing with landowners, or the government if it’s public land, and trying to squeeze every bit of value from these stops.
Location shooting is an expensive process and whenever possible they try to get a couple different locales from one company move. This time out there aren’t a lot of one or two day stops before moving on to the next location and they planned it that way. If the company can stay based in one spot and get multiple locations for different segments of both movies they get more bang for their buck.
Jared is one of the many members of the team that keep the machine greased and moving smoothly. Without him you wouldn’t get those pretty aerial shots and the whole iconic feel of these films would be reduced. So, this one’s for you, Jared! Thanks for all that you do and for the help in getting all the Maori stuff right at the start of the report!
Click Here to Read An Unexpected Journey Part 1 – Concerning Hobbiton
Click Here to Read An Unexpected Journey Part 2 – They Call Me Mr. Chubb
Click Here to Read An Unexpected Journey Part 3 – Beginnings and Endings
Click Here to Read An Unexpected Journey Part 4 – A Palaver of Istari
Click Here to Read An Unexpected Journey Part 5 – Thorin’s Dilemma
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