Ringer Spy frodo’s girl writes in with this excellent report from Armageddon 2003, Wellington:

They Have a Cave Troll!LOTR Armor

According to the program, Armageddon is NZ’s biggest computer gamming and fantasy event. It was held at the Michael Fowler Center September 20th – 22nd (see http://www.pulpexpo.com for more info). This was the first year the convention went on for three days (it had previously been only two) and my second year to attend. The guests this year included Garret Wang (Ensign Harry Kim from Star Trek Voyager), David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), two talks from Weta, and several Anime and wrestling folk. I saw Garret, David and Peter, as well as the Weta talks. Garret is a very amusing speaker and I quite enjoyed his talks on sat and sun. David has lived a very interesting life and even brought slides to show – I learned the interesting trivia that he is also in “A Clockwork Orange” (good geek cocktail chatter). We also found out from Peter that he will be reprising a young Chewbacca in Ep3.

Weta Talks! Weta Talks!

Lord of the Rings was quite well represented with two talks (one Saturday and one on Sunday), the Dymocks’ booth and Weta Workshops’ display. Dymocks had several Sideshow Weta figures, lots of LotR jewelry and all the books. The Weta display included the final troll maquette, the Lurtz statue that was in the Embassy Theatre’s lobby for FotR, several cases of weapons, two suits of Gondorian armor and an Elvish suit of armor, several helms (including Sauron’s), several Gollum facial maquettes, and a Moria Orc that was part of the LotR exhibition in Te Papa (NZboy already sent in a bunch of photos – I’ve include some too, trying not overlap too much). As mentioned, Weta also had two talks. Saturday was Gino Acevedo and Bay Raitt (with Lawrence Makaoare along) and Sunday was John Hammond (art director), Jamie Wilson (onset coordinator) and Luke Hawker (prothsetic tech/set dresser). Unfortunately since they are still so swamped trying to finish of RotK, these gentlemen couldn’t stay around for very long to chat to fans after their respective talks, and this year no one else from Weta made themselves known.

Gollum Maquette

Both talks were interesting. Saturday’s talk was all about Gollum. Bay had brought along a laptop with lots of amazing screen captures and video clips about the process to create Gollum. He showed us the original designs before Andy was cast, and then how the design altered after Andy was cast. We even got to see Andy’s audition clip. They really emphasized how they used all the different techniques to design Gollum – clay maquettes, wire frame models, sketches both in and out of the computer and of course Gino’s final design of the head in silicon that gave the completely finished look, which then had to be transferred back into the computer. (if you want to see the head that they brought along, check out NZboy’s pics). They showed us some screen captures of a few of the programs that they developed to create Gollum. They were very impressive. One helped with body animation and one with Gollum’s expressions. For that program they started with digitally sculpted facial expressions as morph targets. This allowed them to morph between different expressions with slider tools. You can morph only half of Gollum’s face (just the left or right or just the top or bottom). They had 935 key frame morph targets. Truly amazing. They talked a wee bit about rendering time, saying that a single frame took between 1 to 4 hours to render, and that that meant that the Gollum frames in Two Towers took something like 4 million hrs to render (good thing they have more than one computer, eh?).

LOTR Axes LOTR Swords

Sunday’s talk was a Q & A session. John, Jamie and Luke talked about how they each got involved in LotR and what they did on the sets, then answered a series of audience questions. It was all very interesting, and I’ll share some of the answers that I managed to jot down. All three agreed that the biggest challenge was Helm’s Deep without a doubt. Jamie’s favorite set to work on was Edoras, and for Luke is was Mt Ruapehu because he was proud and amazed by the work that was produced there with all the restrictions they had due to environmental issues. He and John talked about how they had to leave everything as it was before they came, including reseeding lichen and small plants that had gotten damaged by the cast and crew during the shoot. That they had to be extremely cautious about where they walked and that they hauled all the equipment and props up for the final leg where the trucks weren’t allowed. They told us tales about Bill the pony, and missing sets and props that were recovered. Luke noted that the most common repair tool on the set was mud, closely followed by blood and hair. One kid asked about the moth scene with Gandalf, and to my surprise I found out that there was a real moth involved in that scene. I had always assumed it was all digital, but Jamie informed us that though a portion of it is CGI, that there were actually live moths on set complete with moth wranglers – who would have thought? One of the final questions was “What happens to the props and sets when everything is done?” And the answer was that Newline owns everything and that the majority of it will get boxed up and shipped to L.A. PJ and Richard will get to keep some pieces (and we already know that a few of the fellowship actors have a piece or two), but the rest will return to Newline and most likely go into storage (think of the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”).

All in all Armageddon was a brilliant again this year and I can’t wait for next.