Last night I stumbled on this very clever post on TheOneRing.net’s boards. In it, user Skaan suggested that the promotional picture of Bilbo sprawled atop Smaug’s hoard could offer a guide to the size of Jackson’s version of Smaug (the Magnificent).
Well, we also saw Smaug’s head buried in that selfsame pile. So the size of the coins gives us a basis for comparison.
Skaan then resized the Bilbo promo figure so the coins matched across both. Just check out the picture above. And I think we can all agree that Smaug is, indeed, impressively large.
Then I wondered, why not take this a step further? Why not see if we can use this comparison to as precisely as we can* calculate the size of Smaug’s eye, nostril and even his entire head?
And then we can maybe extrapolate a little to guess the length of Erebor’s winged worm.
Establishing a base measure: how big are the coins?
This is the first and most important step. If we can’t calculate the diameter of one of those gold coins, we’re stuffed.
Luckily, Weta in its wisdom has told us exactly how tall they believe Bilbo is. That particular factoid was revealed through Empire last year with a chart depicting the heights of the major characters. Bilbo? He’s 1.27 metres tall, apparently. That’s 4′ 2″ in the old scale.
Aside: that’s actually a little on the tall side. In Letter #27 Tolkien notes the height of the Hobbit: “Actual size – only important if other objects are in picture – say about three feet or three feet six inches”. By clear implication he means Bilbo, but that’s an objection for another time.
So then, in our aforementioned picture of Bilbo sprawled on the hoard, I found myself a coin that appeared to be flat and front on. Then I roughly deep-etched it in Photoshop. Now I have a sample coin from the hoard. It’s going to be our base measure.
But Bilbo is all curled up there. No way to measure the coin against Bilbo there. Surely we’re stuck.
Getting Bilbo’s full height
Luckily Photoshop can come to the rescue again.
There are plenty of full-length shots of Bilbo out there. I chose the bog-standard press shot that has Bilbo leaning against his walking stick with a grey, textured background. The fact that he’s leaning forward might affect the perspective a little, but probably not too much.
Of course, I can’t just start using that image. How do I know this particular Bilbo is the right size? So we have to resize Promo!Bilbo to match the proportions of Hoard!Bilbo.
I used the spacing of the eyes as a visual guide (see image at right).
And, using some nifty canvas expansion, layering, and proportion-matching we can make Promo!Bilbo more or less precisely match Hoard!Bilbo.
How many coins tall is Bilbo?
Now, we can finally start stacking those coins against our standardised Bilbo in Photoshop.
Turns out (see image below) Bilbo is as tall as 31 of those shiny, shiny gold coins. So, with a little simple division we discover that the diameter of one of Smaug’s gold coins is 4.09 centimetres (127 divided by 31).
That’s a reasonably sizeable coin, by the way. The largest of Australia’s coin denominations — the 50 cent piece — has a diameter of just a touch over three centimetres. The UK’s 50p coin is around 2.75cm and the Kiwi 50 cent coin is just a touch under 2.5cm across.
We’re only halfway there, though. Now we have to start looking at Hoard!Smaug.