Weta designer Paul Tobin
Weta designer Paul Tobin

TORn staffer Justin caught up with Weta conceptual designer Paul Tobin at the San Diego Comic-Con last month and scored this long, informative chat about the intense effort that went into the design of the dwarves of the Company, and about John Howe’s immense artistic talent.

As well as working on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy, Tobin has worked on James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) and Andrew Adamson’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), Prince Caspian (2008).

Speaking to TheOneRing.net, Tobin said the effort the designers put into perfecting the look of the dwarves was enormous.

The design team created over 500 different beards and hair designs in under two weeks. Crazy, crazy, crazy stuff.

He says that, generally, they would initially take the actor and paint the beard and hair up in Photoshop.

Then Peter, Fran and Philippa would discuss it … if they liked it then it would get marquetted onto the actor’s bust, of their head, so they could walk around and get a sense of the volume.

If that was good, the hair was carefully peeled off. They would then start the finishing all the prosthetics. And then the hair department would take of designing the rest of it from the photographs of the bust.

So it was quite an elaborate process.

Tobin says he himself worked on more than 50 different renditions of Thorin’s beard and hair — and other designers working were working on their own concepts.

Thorin didn’t come easy. Because he’s a really important character, we played around with a lot of different options.

He says that Ori, on the other hand was locked in within six or seven iterations.

Tobin praises the talents of Alan Lee and John Howe

The Fall of Gondolin by John Howe
The Fall of Gondolin by John Howe

He’s also a big fan, both personally and professionally, of John Howe.

[Alan Lee and John Howe] are incredibly experienced. They’re so gifted with their pencil. I was just about to reduced to tears one morning when I was working up a design for some elven armour and John was on the same brief. We were given the brief in the morning, to come back in the afternoon and show where we were at. And this was pretty early on, I’d only ever met John very briefly.

And I showed him my work-in-progress — a digital painting. Then John unrolls this A1, poster-size pencil sketch of an elven warrior … nearly life sized. And, literally, I was nearly tearing up — I can’t compete with that. That’s the difference between me and someone like John.

Click to watch our exclusive interview with Paul Tobin in full!