As we know Weta Workshop is responsible for so many great things dealing with Middle-earth from the movies themselves to the collectibles we bring into our homes. So we wanted to take a chance to sit down with one of their amazing artists who, like so many there,has worked on both the movies and the collectibles. Today, we’re going to interview Steven Saunders who is responsible for the prosthetics for several of the Dwarves in The Hobbit as well as collectibles like mini-Arwen, mini-Strider, mini-Gandalf, Gandalf the Grey from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and Bombur Barrel Rider from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
1. What sparked their interest in art?
Most of us start off interested in art but grow out of it as adults, I just kept going.
2. What medium do they like to work in best (paint, pencil, sculpting, electronic, etc)?
Once I started sculpting in clay I probably got hooked for life
3. Can they pinpoint for us any of their work we may have seen in past films or those coming up? Any character or creature design or landscape we might recognize?
I can mention a few of my favorites:
I did a great deal of prehistoric skeleton sculptures for Roland Emmerich’s 10,000bc. In the Hobbit films I sculpted the prosthetics for Dori, Gloin, Bombur, a few orcs, and a few goblins. On Elysium I sculpted prosthetics for both Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley.
4. What project (book, film, poem, song, etc.) would you most want to help bring to life with your art?
Frank Herbert’s Dune, Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I was lucky enough to have already worked on a Tolkien adaptation project otherwise that would have been first on the list.
5. What tends to be your favorite subject to draw? In other words, if you were offered a million dollars to create a piece of artwork on whatever *you* wanted it to be, what would you create?
Time spent as a contractor doing reconstructions of extinct life for a South African Museum has convinced me that bridging the gap between scientific discovery and public awareness through pop culture could be the best possible application for my craft.
6. You work in a very competitive industry. What’s one tip you have for those aspiring to be in similar positions as yourselves one day?
Talent only provides you with a little extra initial potential. What you really need is to nurture perseverance, tenacity, practice constantly and the ability to work extremely well with others. Practice your craft constantly!
7. Do Weta’s artists get to keep a version of everything they sculpt? Say no.1 of every statue? Or would it feel weird to own and display your own work?
I have unpainted castings of my collectables at work but I enjoy buying my sculptures in the Weta Cave just like everyone else, still a very surreal experience as a collector.
8. As a high end sculptor that pays very fine attention to detail in your sculpts, how do you feel about the possibility of poor painting by contracted workers causing an outcry from some collectors on various fan forums?
We take very special care to ensure a very high standard of reproductions. I have been very happy with the paint jobs on my sculpts so far.
9. If you could choose only one, who would you say is your favorite middle-earth character? And why is this particular character your favorite.
That would be Gandalf I guess. He seems the most proactive in events but still very humble throughout.
10. You’ve now done several pieces involving The Lord of the Rings Trilogy or The Hobbit Trilogy. What would you say has been your favorite piece to work on or have we not seen it yet?
I am fond of my Hobbit Wizards Gandalf and Radagast, Barad Dur environment and the little Arwen.
11. Following up with the last question. Is there a something you’ve not worked on yet that you would love to work on be it an environment, statue, shield, etc.
12. Could you tell us how you got your start with Weta and what is been like working there?
I would like to think I got in through my quality of work and reputation but I think I really got a job offer through persistence. Weta is magical; I am at my happiest amongst a community of highly driven slightly crazy creative overachievers.
13. Can you point to any one particular artist who has most influenced you, or the direction your career has taken? And which of your contemporaries would you list amongst your personal favorites?
I draw inspiration from everywhere but if I had to pick one I think my mother and her support early in life definitely pulled me through. Contemporaries? Everyone at Weta but particularly the elusive Jamie Beswarick,
14. The Lord of the Rings has been around for over 50 years and The Hobbit has been around for over 75 years. These two stories have become huge in many fans lives. When did you first become familiar with Middle-Earth and what have you taken away from reading or watching the happenings in that world?
I read Hobbit and LOTR back to back as a teenager. I have always found it fascinating how we humans blur the lines between fantasy and physical reality. Tolkien’s writing manage beautifully to create a fantasy that feels like a real alternate history.
15. What is the hardest part for you as a sculptor in order to bring these characters to life? Do you do anything to help make it easier? Say, watch some of the movies to get things down.
For me the hardest part is to not start too many sculpts at once. I do watch the films every two years or so but find that a mountain of printed reference is all I need
16. Finally, If you could be any character from within Middle-Earth whom would you choose to be? Following that up why would you choose to be this character?
I could be a fat little Hobbit that goes on road trips twice a year to carve wooden sculpture first for Edoras and move on to do some stone carving in Minas Tirith then take the coastal road from the mouth of the Anduin via the Grey Havens all the way back to Hobbiton to spend the rest of my time gardening, drinking, eating and hanging out with my fat little Hobbit friends and family.
We want to thank Weta and Steven for taking the time to do this interview. I want to thank members of the Sideshow Freaks Message Board, Shadow & Flame Message Board, and my fellow TORn staffers for giving me some great questions to pass along.