The latest issue of SFX Magazine holds an interview with conceptual artist and worldfamous Tolkien illustrator John Howe. He talks about his involvement in the building of the sets and such, and he never stops praising Peter Jackson and his crew for the great job they are going to do, it’s a very interesting read! [More]

Text below: (Thanks to Jakob for the text!)

They said, at the beginning, if your draw it, we can build it,² says Tolkien artist John Howe. As Howe¹s been a penciller and painter of Tolkien related pics for many years, it was only natural that Peter Jackson should come to him and fellow artist Alan Lee for pre-production designs. Though he¹d never heard of Peter Jackson, and was not entirely convinced the film could be made, Howe jumped at the chance.

³I¹d heard of the rumours, I knew it was coming up,² he says, his Canadian twang undimmed by 20 years of living in Switzerland. ³When the phone call came, they did a huge sales pitch, they had like ten people on the other end of the line, ready to convince us that is would be a good idea. I was just waiting for them to finish so that I could say yes! I wasn¹t sure it could be done, and there was that feeling you might get involved in something that won¹t work, but it¹s easy to sit back and sneer; the real challenge is to take a deep breath and jump in.²

Though originally commissioned to work on landscapes and buildings ­ ³All the stuff they had to build, because there is nothing in New Zealand except the landscapes² ­ Howe¹s enthusiasm for weaponry and armour meant he was soon helping design the harness and wargear of Middle-earth, and many of the creatures have something of his and Lee¹s work about then, being originally inspired by their paintings.

³We drew some crazy stuff. The Dark Tower is something like a thousand feet high. I always thought of Middle-earth as somewhere where everything is too big, too huge and breathtaking. One of the most exciting things, which may not be all apparent in the film, is this layer upon layer of civilisations in the book. It¹s full of ruins, Middle-earth, because it¹s much less populated than it was in the second age.²

He also found the challenge of having to incorporate sets into real locations a new and exciting challenge. He mentions Hobbiton as an example.

³It was this place in North Island, and we wandered round these fields saying, well, Bag End can go here, that can be our party tree; it was very exciting. It¹s almost even more fun to have a location imposed upon you, because you really have to get down to brass tacks and figure it out, imagine it on paper. It¹s a real illustrator¹s job.²

Howe is full of nothing but praise for Jackson, the cast and the crew. He says the Kiwis will take any problem in their stride, mentioning the carpenters unfazed by the rounded Hobbit burrows, and the new technique they came up with to make realistic looking chainmail out of plastic.

³Peter Jackson¹s filmmaking skills will make it or break it. He¹s such an amazing man, so skilled at filming people. And you¹ve got a wonderful set of actors. I think there was an atmosphere of enthusiasm practically unheard of on a movie set. No huge actors being flown in for two weeks and flown back out again. Everybody took it to heart. People like Christopher Lee, who is passionately interested in the books, would be going to talk to the sculptors all the time. It would have been a disaster had it been done in the States, it would have been impossible to do it in Europe. It is an incredible set of circumstances for Peter Jackson to do it.² He¹s sure there¹ll be some people who are unhappy though.

³There will be hue and cry of ¹traitor¹ and ¹what has he done to the books?¹

But the power of the books is such that though the script was originally quite wide of the book, each rewrite brought it back closer and closer. Some people you can never please. I get this all the time ­ ¹He doesn¹t look like that¹, so I¹ll say ¹What¹s he like?¹ and they¹ll say ‘Not like that.’ But that aside, I think Peter¹s actually going to fix a lot of the imagery once and for all.