Check out this interview with interview that Ethan Gilsdorf conducted with John Howe over two sessions in January and July last year. It’s a corker.
Howe is, of course, a long-time Tolkien illustrator and is currently working with Alan Lee as Conceptual Designer for The Hobbit movie trilogy.
Meet the man who remade Middle‑earth
by Ethan Gilsdorf
You may not know John Howe, but you have probably visited his worlds.
Howe is among the best-known illustrators of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. Since the 1990s, Howe has helped visualize Middle-earth by creating art for various bound editions of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and other works. He also provided artwork for more obscure Tolkienania, such as calendars, posters, postcards, jacket art for the covers of audio editions and games and trading cards. Not only that, he’s the man behind the pen for a variety of other fantasy art projects: Beowulf board games, Anne McCaffery book jackets, Magic: The Gathering cards, children’s books, and folk tales such as Rip Van Winkle and Jack and the Beanstalk. Howe has also illustrated books on dragons, knights and “how to” instructional manuals for how to draw your own fantasy art.
But Howe’s stature as a fantasy artist catapulted to new heights when Peter Jackson tapped him and Alan Lee, another prominent Tolkien illustrator, to serve as conceptual designers for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson has said that even before he hired Howe, the illustrations that Howe drew of Gandalf (see banner image above), Bag End, the Balrog and the Nazgûl’s flying beasts helped guide his vision for Middle-earth.
Today, given the millions who have seen Jackson’s films, Howe can be credited with irrevocably shaping how we see Tolkien’s world on the screen, and in our imaginations. Someone had to design every dwarf axe, evil tower, hobbit mug, and orc prosthetic, and Howe had his hand in nearly every decision about Middle-earth’s “look and feel.”
Plus, thanks to the seemingly infinite production documentaries found in the Rings trilogy’s Extended Edition DVDs, Howe has become somewhat of a celebrity—at least among the ranks of those who care about the behind-the-scene scribblers, sword-forgers and model makers who work for the special effects house Weta Workshop and Jackson’s fantasy empire down in Wellington, New Zealand. (Howe actually works for 3 Foot 7 Ltd., the New Zealand production company created by Warner Bros.) With his colleagues, Howe has brought new levels of fastidiousness to movie production design.
“John is highly productive,” said Alan Lee about his office mate and artistic collaborator, “producing brilliant drawings in the brief periods when his turbo-charged metabolism allows him to sit still.”
The tag-team of Howe and Lee moved back to Wellington when Jackson decided to adapt The Hobbit trilogy. The first installment, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, came out Christmas of 2012; film two, The Desolation of Smaug, hit theaters a year after that. When the “Extended Edition” of An Unexpected Journey was released last year, fans got an extra taste of Howe’s magic touch. Expect the same sneak peeks into Howe’s process when the extra dance mix version of film two comes likely comes out in October or November. Of course, there’s also the final installment of the trilogy, now with the new title The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which arrives just over half a year from now, in December.