I was lucky enough to have attended the 9:30 presentation of “Behind the Scenes of Middle Earth” at Lincoln Center in New York City. As I was waiting in line I saw the people coming out of the earlier showing and I rushed up to them to ask what it was like. First I found out that the Cannes footage, which I assumed we’d get to see, was not shown, and there were no special guests beyond producer Barrie Osborne and director of visual effects Christian Rivers. Then as they started collecting tickets I saw a group of people talking outside the theater and realized one of them was Elijah Wood! And there was Orlando Bloom next to him and Sean Bean right there as well! I am so glad I went to the later showing and got to see all three of these actors.
I got perfect seats 5 rows from the stage and just happened to be two rows in front of where the actors sat. The presentation was a nice mix of production stories, descriptions of how the film was made, and some really amazing behind the scenes videos, as well as about five minutes of the Moria sequence with the fight against the cave troll.
The presentation began with a description of New Zealand and why it was so perfect a location for the movies. Christian and Barrie briefly descibed their career histories and how they got involved with LotR. Barrie mentioned that during the Vietnam war he was in Korea as an army engineer learning how to make bridges and roads, a skill that came in handy when he was involved with such a huge production like LotR, which involved the creation of over 16 miles of road to get access to remote locations. He told us how scared Sean Bean was of flying and how Sean took a ski lift up half a mountain and hiked the rest so he wouldn’t have to fly up in a helicopter.
They showed us the second teaser trailer with the Gandalf voice-over and a really interesting sale pitch film that Peter Jackson showed to Bob Shaye at New Line. It had more footage of Peter (as the two presenters referred to him as) in front of the orc helmets as seen in the first Internet Teaser trailer explaining his vision for the films. It also included a wonderfully detailed model of the BALROG’S HEAD! It is truly original, really fantastic, and did remind me a little bit of a monter bull crossed with the alien from Predator. Barrie mentioned that Weta made over 48,000 items for the three films, including chain mail that was created by hand by linking slices of plastic pvc pipe (12.5 million links from 7 miles of pvc in all!) and then electroplating the finished product so it looks like metal and has some weight when it moves.
Then Christian talked us through the story board and digital “pre viz” process for the Moria sequence. He also mentioned how the Hobbiton set was built one year before it was filmed, so all of the greenery would have a chance to grow and look natural. One un-natural bit of Hobbiton was the over 250,000 fake oak leaves that were individually attached to the live trees to make them greener and fuller. Barrie told some more great stories like filming earthworms crawling out from under the toes of the hobbits as they are hiding from the ringwraiths, illustrating how all living creatures naturally want to avoid the undead kings. And also mentioned how Orlando, Sean, and a few others were trapped in a small town by landslides on the roads leading into and out of the town.
Orlando chimed in at this point to mention they bought lots of chocolate and Sean made tons of pasta because they thought they’d be trapped there for a long time, but the production sent in helicopters to airlift them out, and even Sean had to fly in them this time.
More brilliant behind the scenes footage was show, including how the forced perspective shots were created to shrink the hobbits as well as the use of actors on stilts, which WERE used in the film (sparingly) and were not completely abandoned as has been reported on the web. We saw some breathtaking shots like an elven charge at the Last Alliance, Gandalf’s stunt double flying through the air again and again when he is being thrown around by Saruman’s magic, and a really really fantastic shot of Arwen and the Black Rdiers during the flight across the ford. There were also some really funny bits like an elf in full make-up and costume saying how Galadriel in her swan boat is “a bit poncy…she had to have a special boat instead of just taking the bus”, and what looked like Gandalf intoning “Orcs! Orcs! And so far from Orcland!” (referring to Aukland, the capital of New Zealand) The shots of the digital work is really what blew my mind the most. The digital stunt double of Boromir was SOOOO amazingly realistic. The shots of the different levels in developing MASSIVE, the software for the battle scenes, were just incredible.
Christian explained how the digital combatants are programmed to get dirtier as they fight, each with their own racial fighting style, and how they could be programmed with different levels of agression, he added that they “eventually turned them all up to max”.
The final bit before the questions was centered on the creation of the Moria cave troll. Christian showed us about 16 different pre-production designs of the troll, charting his development and zeroing in on the elements Peter liked best like the two-fingered hands and the cloven hoof-like feet. We also saw some fascinating footage of Peter on the Balin’s Tomb set wearing VR goggles and controlling a digital camera so he could walk around the real set and compose his shots at the same time he was viewing the “pre viz” computer generated animatics that had been prepared of the troll and the fellowship fighting.
Then we got to see the footage from the entering of Balin’s Tomb to the Cave Troll stalking Frodo. Wow. It’s already been described many times so I’ll just add I was as blown away as everyone else. It was magical. My favorite part was Gandalf drawing Glamdring and then attacking orcs with his blade in one hand and staff in the other.
I’m really tired and need to get to bed, but here’s a quick paraphrase of the questions and answers:
Q: How much motion capture was used as opposed to hand animation?
CR: We really married the two and used both. It wasn’t all motion capture, for example the cave troll was all 3D animated by hand.
Q: What does “weta” mean and how long has it been around?
CR: Weta is an insect unique to New Zealand which looks like a huge grasshopper covered in nasty spikes. Weta, the special effects company named after the insect, has been around since about 1988 and bought it’s first computer for Beautiful Creatures, but became a named company in 1994.
Q: What will be the running time of FotR?
BO: About 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Q: What can you tell us about the scripts and any deviations from Tolkien’s books?
BO: They are very faithful to the books, there are no introduced storylines. One of the biggest planned changes was the removal of Bill the Pony due to the cost of transporting animals to so many remote locations, but in the end Peter had to keep him in the film. (Hooray!)
Q: How much of the footage that we saw tonight will be on the DVDs and what special features can we look forward to? (this was the question I asked)
CR: I can pretty much promise you that almost everything we showed tonight will make it on to the DVDs. Peter has set out to make the greatest trilogy of movies ever, and he also has plans to make the greatest set of DVDs ever made with tons of great extras.
Q: Is the scourging of the shire going to be portrayed in the films?
BO: Yes, but you’ll have to wait to see how and when.
Q: When are the films coming out? (Duh!)
BO: The next three Decembers.
Q: What is the DVD release plan? One per film or all three together?
BO: I’m pretty sure there will be one released after each film, and then you can also expect a full compilation at some point in the future.
Q: Has there been any talk of making the Hobbit next?
BO & CR together: (laughing loudly, then…) No!
(I guess they just want to finish this project and then take a well deserved rest!)
As the presentation ended and we all drifted back to reality I was thinking how cool it would be to meet the three actors who were there. Unfortunatly we didn’t see them as we were heading out of the theater. My wife and friends and I hung out outside for a bit to see if they were coming out but they didn’t show. So I decided to poke my head back into the theater and saw a small group of about a dozen people incluing Barrie, Christian, Elijah, Orlando, and Sean! So we rushed back in and waited until a good moment to introduce ourselves. All three were really personable and friendly, though Sean, the oldest of the three, was more quiet and reserved. Each seemed happy to shake my hand and give me an autograph, and I even chatted with Elijah for a few moments thanking him for his involvement with web sites like Ain’t-It-Cool and TheOneRing.Net.
I still can’t believe I got to see actual footage AND meet the actors who brought to life Boromir, Legolas, and FRODO! What a fantastic, magical, mind blowing evening it was!!!
And this one from RP
Got back from Lincoln Center tonight; it is now and 2 AM and the threat of work looms tomorrow morning, but for now I just wanted to post you a bit about the evening. You will probably be getting a LOT more of these as the night progresses….
First of all, my wife and I got to the later show and had a good place in line, and even though they didn’t begin seating till almost 9:30, we got in at about seventh row center and the theater filled up in no time.
Well, the first thing you saw was that a portion of the front row of the second section back was roped off, so my wife and I skipped that and went to where we eventually sat down. The Walter Reade auditorum is pretty small and intimate considering its locaton, so you could see how the shows could sell out so quickly.
No sooner had the place been seated when suddenly applause broke out behind us. I looked around behind us not sure whom the clapping was for, when I suddenly saw Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, and Sean Bean, part of a larger group, sitting in the roped-off section, just a few feet behind us! They seemed very happy to be there and Elijah Wood seemed very shy and normal. There was a LOT of laughing going on among them as they remembered stories with each other and confirmed details of others with the fellows on stage.
Now the discussion started, hosted by a Lincoln Center guy and chaired by producer Barrie Osborne as well as the storyboarder for the films (Sorry I forgot your name, dude)and pretty much everything as described went on; the look at the Massive computer program, the video footage of Jackson choreographing the Balin’s Tomb scene, the Troll genesis to its final form, the armor and weapons creation, etc; we were treated to a funny story involving Jackson and three others and an empty tank of gas; we found out that Sean Bean was reluctant to get into a helicopter to get to some key locations; and that yes, Peter Jackson does indeed resemble a hobbit!
The key thing I noticed was that these guys knew a lot of the details of Middle Earth, with locations from the Dimrill Dale to Midgewater Marshes being brought up matter of factly, effortlessly, and it made me feel better realizing that these were no casual devotees of the LOTR saga, but people who actually had READ the thing.
OK, OK, we did NOT get to see the Cannes footage in whole, but even with that, we got to see the Moria fight sequence with the cave troll, which was great, and in any case the fact that three members of the Fellowship were on hand was more than enough to make up for it.
The effects were virtually flawless, although some elements needed to be worked on a bit. The Cave Troll was the stuff of nightmares, and Gimli was as impressive as I had expected him to be. His grief and rage in Balin’s Tomb were believable and awe-inspiring! For some reason, seeing Sting glow with the presence of Orcs gave me a thrill of excitement. I also liked that Pippin did not just toss in a stone into the well to see how deep it was; in this version, it was an accident when he inspects a dwarf’s skeleton.
Finally we came to the question and answer session, which at first seemed to catch people by surprise, because nobody raised a hand for about twenty seconds. Finally they started coming, with the revelation that Gollum would not really be making an appearance in the series till “The Two Towers” in 2002. I got in a question about the DVD release schedule for the films, and was told that they would most likely be releasing each film individually as the films came out, but that a boxed set was also likely at the very end of the run.
Afterwards, I was standing in line for the Men’s Room when I heard a burst of laughter and then Elijah Wood and Sean Bean came out. I debated the coolness of asking them for autographs, decided the hell with it, and got autographs from both of them. They were both very friendly, but Elijah seemed like such a regular guy and so casual that I forgot that I was looking at Frodo Baggins and Boromir for Chrissakes! I even got to shake their hands. Orlando Bloom had moved on, so I missed a chance to speak with him.
To sum up, this was a GREAT evening, lots of fun, and left me completely jazzed to see the movie. Anyone else who went there will tell you the same, no doubt; but I also just wanted to say that I enjoy your site very much and wish you well in the future. Thanks again, and good luck!