Miniatures Unit-guru Alex Funke captivated a small audience in Pacific Palisades, California last night during a small panel about the movies. Ringer Spy and TORn Friend Garfeimao was present, wrote the following report and even took some pictures!

Alex Funke, who was in charge of Visual Effects with the Miniature Units did a discussion tonight in Pacific Palisades, California. He talked for about an hour and a half, and was very interesting to listen to. As you can see from these pictures, he’s very animated when he talks, which just helped to illustrate how much he enjoyed his job on the LOTR films.

He began by telling us he’s first read the books way back in the early 1960’s and thought they were just great. When he’d got the call from New Line to work on the picture, he was already a fan of Peter Jackson’s work. He couldn’t believe his luck to get to go to New Zealand, work with Jackson, and make this wonderful book into a film. He says that his first day wandering around the rabbit warren that was WETA was amazing, because there were artisans shoved into every corner making everything imaginable for this film. He describes it as being a very surreal experience, since most of the stuff was rather medieval in look. He then said that he could not believe how big some of the miniatures were, and then proceded to name off all the miniatures that would have been too big to fit into the store we were in.

The discussion then moved onto some very detailed descriptions of passages in the movie, where he’d say what was shot on location, what was a miniature, what was digital effects added later, and how it was all melded together. It was fascinating getting some of the details on how some of the incredible imagery in the film was created.

Finally, Alex Funke mentioned winning the Oscar last year, and how that Oscar sits in the WETA Digital offices, along with some of the BAFTAS and other awards the films have garnered. As he put it, his name may be the one put forward by the producers as head of the Department, but it’s his entire 37 man team that made it possible. He very specifically described bringing that Oscar back to Wellington and giving it to his staff as being theirs. He was also very proud of the family feel his department has and named off 15 births, a number of weddings, etc, to have happened to the group, but no separations or divorce, and no one has left from his group. In fact, he’ll be heading down to Wellington next month to begin work on King Kong, and his whole team will be right there with him.

It was clear from his talk how much he loved his time spent on the films, working for Peter and with his crew, and his love of the job he does. He seems to really love the craft of filming miniatures and it shows. We had a copy of the recent Cinefex magazine, and that coupled with some of the other LOTR companion books gave him ample opportunity to discuss each miniature in detail. He pointed out the snorkel used to get the camera lens into streets that were too small for it, showed completed shots and used his hand to show where the real set ended and the miniature shot was digitized in. It was very cool indeed.

Finally, he signed a few books for a few people, since
most had just come to hear him talk. This was a small bookstore in the Palisades, and it was a small, intimate crowd, which was perfectly enchanting. The last thing I did, before leaving, was to get him to sign a theater banner that we will be auctioning off at TORN’s Oscar Party. There will be loads of signatures on it by the time it makes it’s way to the party, the things I do for TORn. Alex Funke even took a picture with the banner, which was cute. As you can see, that’s only about two-thirds of the banner in the picture. You’ll see the rest on February 29.