Radagast sends in these excepts from the latest issue of Starbusrt Magazine (#302) featuring some great interviews! Take a look at these 2 with Richard Taylor and Grant Major.

Fans the world over are anticipating the final part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King. And as Richard Taylor from New Zealand’s Weta Effects workshop explains, the best is yet to come…

Richard Taylor is the head of New Zealand’s Weta special effects workshop, which has produced such dazzling effects for the Lord of the Rings films. As we anticipate the third part of Jackson’s epic trilogy, Taylor takes a moment to tell us some secrets of the new film…

LAWRENCE FRENCH: By making these films in New Zealand, do you think you brought a certain freshness of style to the effects work, just as you did by using all the varied and beautiful New Zealand locations?

RICHARD TAYLOR: Oh, yes very definitely. Our workshop has a very specific style and the style we try to bring to the film is a very specific New Zealand style. Being part of the British commonwealth, and being on the furthest edge of the world, there is in a certain mindset, or time-warp, that has the sensibility and the subtlety to understand Tolkien’s writing of fifty years ago. And we choose to create five departments for the film, so we could create an integrated design aesthetic over all the aspects of the film. The process encapsulates the design in a way that feels like we’ve woven the different threads into a very fine tapestry. So for the backdrop of the film, rather than grandstanding specific effects shots, we’ve tried very much to create a tapestry, in front of which the actors can play out the main story. We’re just trying to do our best in our own unique and particular way. We haven’t won Oscars because we’re better or worse than anyone else in the world, we won them because we’ve produced a uniquely different film. I think there’s a sensitivity and a harmony to the work, and that it comes across in the film. I was adamant from the outset, that unless we felt completely in our hearts that we could do justice to Tolkien’s writing, we shouldn’t take on the project at all. And to do justice to it, you have to take the viewer out of the darkened cinema looking at a movie screen, and place them in front of a picture window, so they can look out a world that is revolving in front of them. The way to create that illusion, is to create cultural inheritance, to try to create the feeling that the characters that you’re watching may be existing at that very moment, but behind them is thousands of years of cultural inheritance. Their armor, their weapons, their insignia, the graphic design, even their breed and their race, has come about due to a culture that has existed over many, many centuries. In the process of doing this, pursing that level of design aesthetic, the audience will be transported somewhere other than a darkened cinema, and can watch the film unfold, as if they are watching the real world rolling past them.

LAWRENCE FRENCH: You went through quite an elaborate design process not only for all the cultural details, but for all the various creatures, making many hundreds of drawings and maquettes for each one, as well as creating back-stories for them. So while you had a cave-troll in the first film, in The Return of the King we’ll see mountain trolls at the Battle of Pelennor fields.

RICHARD TAYLOR: Yes, there’s no doubt, along with the heighten reality we tried to create for the armor and weapons and the culture of the different races of Middle-earth, we also wanted a physical reality for the different creatures. So a character like the cave-troll, as bizarre as it is, is still based very strongly within the confines of the skeleton of a bi-pedal humanoid creature. Likewise, in The Return Of The King, we have tried very hard to rationalize all the creatures, so at no time are they so fantastical, that the audience is forced into a leap of the imagination. We don’t want people to have to suspend their disbelieve to a great degree. We want people to expect the creatures to exist, as if they were an integrated part of this world. With the M{makil or Oliphaunts, we have created these huge, hulking 45 foot tall elephants, but they are not any ordinary elephants. They’re amazing creatures that carry the Haradrim into the battle at Pelennor fields, with these huge battle platforms on their backs that have 50 or 60 soldiers on the upper battlements of these huge platforms. They were designed in the workshop, and maquettes were made of them, which we then scanned and replicated as digital creatures, which were then integrated into the film. We even built a fallen Oliphaunt for Pelennor field and it was the biggest thing we made. And all of the creatures become more and more visceral and real and gritty as they take on the mantle of Sauron’s world. We have six young New Zealand designers, who were primarily responsible for designing all the creatures, the weapons, the armour and the cultures of Middle-earth, and of course, they took great inspiration from Alan Lee and John Howe, watching them develop the architecture of Middle-earth.

LAWRENCE FRENCH: Will we see Gandalf’s confrontation outside the Black Gates of Mordor, with the mouth of Sauron  the Lt. of Barad-d{r?

RICHARD TAYLOR: Yes, and remembering that in the book, the emissary is blind, he is played by Bruce Spence  best known as the gyro-copter pilot from The Road Warrior  heavily made-up and Helmeted. Our concept was that he has spoken so much evil over the years, that the infections of the evil and the poison from his words have begun to affect his mouth, and split open his lips, all achieved with very subtle gelatin appliances. Bruce Spence was fantastic, a wonderful person to work with, and an incredible character, very focused on the role and very much enjoying bringing that character to life.

Production Designer GRANT MAJOR on creating




LAWRENCE FRENCH: Minas Tirith, Gondor’s ancient city of the Kings, looks like it will be an incredible set. And in the book it was originally the home of the seven Plantir, or seeing stones.

GRANT MAJOR: Yes, I think Minas Tirith is the largest set ever built in the Southern hemisphere. The scale was just massive, and we had scaffolders working on the set for six months, just trying to keep ahead of the building crew. It was built on the ruins of Helm’s Deep, in the same rock quarry outside of Wellington, and we built some parts of it from the leftover pieces of Helm’s Deep. In the book, Minas Tirith is supposed to be at the base of Mount Mindolluim, and it’s built around this 700 ft high knoll. There is this sort of rock arm that juts out like a ship’s prow which comes from the citadel heights, all the way down to the bottom. Given that Minas Tirith is so vast in the book, we were only building parts of it, but all these parts were linked together with a road that winds it’s way up the hill through seven gates, which allowed us to do these big traveling shots through the city. The city itself was built in seven terraced levels around the side of the mountain, with the court of the Kings and this 300 foot white tower of Ecthelion – the tower of the sun – on the top level. It’s a very bold design, with all this interesting medieval architecture. The buildings are made of white stones that are beautifully wrought, but are now crumbling a bit, and becoming tarnished with age.