Alan Lee Book Tour Report: Corte Madera, CA
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Celebriel writes: About 75 SF Bay Area Ringers were on hand to greet Alan Lee in Marin County Saturday evening, on his return to the San Francisco area to promote “The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook.” Many arrived as much as two hours early to reserve seats and have dinner in the bookstore’s café. They were treated to his wonderful presentation of sketches, photographs, and montages, as well as nearly two hours of stories from his six-year involvement in The Lord of the Rings.

He opened the program with material on Minas Tirith, explaining in detail how his art was used in the film production. His pencil sketches and montages (often combinations of his photographs, many taken from helicopters, and working models) were used by the model makers and the computer artists, who needed very specific information on the geography of Minas Tirith and the Pelennor Fields, for example, to complete their work. An example was a sweeping panorama from Osgiliath across the Anduin and the Pelennor to Minas Tirith, complete with the curves in the river where the Corsair ships would eventually be sighted. In a light touch, one drawing shows Denethor walking his little dog atop the Citadel and looking out over the city.

He also prepared drawings that would help the computer artists illustrate effects, such as Grond striking the doors of Minas Tirith, or stonework collapsing under attack.

For the Hall of Kings in Minas Tirith, he showed a mosaic design he had created for the hall and then painted in Photoshop. It was added in to the scene after principal photography had been completed.

In one of the most interesting sequences, Lee showed his series of pencil sketches of Gandalf’s and Pippin’s ride through Minas Tirith to the Citadel. He explained that as he worked through the series, “the details of the architecture became clearer” to him, and “the structures started to become real and fully formed.” The sequence and visual angles are incredibly close to what was used in The Return of the King. In addition to the layout and overall architecture of the city, Lee drew thousands of details including columns, wall hangings, furniture, and the many statues that line the hall. As we know, the eventual Minas Tirith miniature was so finely detailed it could be used not just in wide shots but in close-ups filmed just inches from its surface.

He said that the pickup shots for each film generally lasted three months, and often involved rebuilding sets or parts of sets that had been taken down so they could be used in new or expanded scenes.

Lee also did most of the design work on Edoras, one of his favorite sets. The craftsmen who worked at Edoras were “an extraordinary bunch,” he says. “There were 400 people working on construction and set building, 80% of whom had never worked on a film before. They were craftsmen in their own right who came to Wellington, announced their presence, and said, ‘Please let us work on this film’.” Many of them were characters, too, like Sam Jennett, the stone carver who carved with an axe in each hand.

The scope of his work on The Lord of the Rings is impressive: In his six years he made over 2500 pencil drawings. He also worked on packaging for the DVDs, including the icons on the Extended Edition of The Return of the King and the fellowship entering Moria for the Fellowship of the Ring. At the suggestion of Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, he did the sketches seen during the credits of The Return of the King, aiming to capture the actors when they were most themselves.

Lee shared photos of Saruman’s Book, with a white hand icon on its cover. He created the artwork in the book, in style a subtle homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks, that was combined with Daniel Reeve’s beautiful calligraphy.

In discussing his working relationship with John Howe, he said that Howe created creatures such as the Balrog, the Fell Beast, and the wraiths, and was responsible for Barad-Dur, Minas Morgul, the Black Gates, and Bag End, while he created Rivendell, Minas Tirith, Rohan, Moria, and also Orthanc.

Behind the scenes material included a photo with Jim Rygiel and his staff, comparing the artwork for the ring dissolving in lava with slices of leftover pizza.

He showed sketches that were to be used in flashback scenes of the five Istari arriving in Middle Earth, which was to have been filmed on a beach near Wellington. Props and costumes were tried out on some extras, but the scenes were not completed. He also mentioned talk of a scene in which Tom Bombadil would have officiated at Sam and Rosie’s wedding (THIS WAS NEVER FILMED)

Lee has two cameos in the films. In the Prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring, he is one of the nine men (who eventually become ringwraiths) receiving rings. In The Two Towers, he and Supervising Art Director Dan Hanna are seen in the Armoury at Helm’s Deep, when Gimli says “some have seen too many winters….”

His Elven map of Middle Earth appears as the endpapers in the new Sketchbook. He imagined it as something Bilbo would have brought back from Rivendell, and revealed that Numenor on the map is modeled after the North Island of New Zealand: “It’s star-shaped with a volcano in the middle.”

Lee said that there is still “a huge amount of art that hasn’t been seen,” suggesting that what’s needed is “a big thick book that really shows off the props and the armor,” for example. His next project will be an illustrated version of Ovid’s Metamorphoses for younger readers.

After the slide presentation, he stayed for well over an hour answering questions, chatting with fans, and signing books and the special t-shirts whose unique design he had created in July for the SF Trilogy Thursday which raised funds for Cure Autism Now.