Thanks to Julius for the tip!
Lords of the lance
For a couple of months Fort Dorset, and abandoned Army base built on a finger of land jutting into Wellington’s Port Nicholson Harbour, has been ringing tot he sounds of war as a horde of extras and stuntpeople practise Middle Earth battle routines for the epic The Lord of the Rings shoot. Amid the smoke and dust, Onfilm spoke (by telephone!) to their general, Bruce Brown.
What’s your role with TLOTR?
I’m the New Zealand stunt coordinator. My company is Stuntworx, which is owned by myself and my partner Elaine Newell. She’s a stuntwoman and a pilot for Freedom Air. Elaine works on TLOTR sometimes, when it fits in with her flying.
How did you get the job?
I was stunt coordinator on The Frighteners and Jack Brown Genius with Peter Jackson, and I did Aberration for TLOTR producer Tim Sanders. I guess they were happy with the work I did for them.
When did you get the job?
We’ve been chatting about it for well over a year – since I knew the project was coming up. I’ve got 20 people, including two woman, on the job now – most of them have been training for a year, prior to even getting the job, practising different fight sequences and styles, to be ready. They’ve all relocated to Wellington.
Are there a lot of stunts in TLOTR?
A hell of a lot. Fight sequences, falls,burns, horse stunts, and battles. Of course, these three films are being shot as one, with breaks in between.
There are many character and races involved in the story – each race has a unique, body language.
We’re trying to capture something that’s not been seen before, and adapting the body language into fighting styles in the leadup to the shoot.
Can you describe some of the stunts?
There’s some falls where the guys get shot with arrows off a cliff into rapids, there are guys scaling massive ladders up castle walls and the ladders are being pulled back as the invaders are shot off them by arrows. We pivot the ladders at the bottom, and have the stuntpeople falling onto an airbag.
And then there’s stuntmen falling off castle walls into these new crashmats we’ve come up with. With high falls you normally use a double airbag.
I went to the States and bought a lot of new equipment, including a double bag. It has two fan blowers and a bottom layer that’s four feet thick, and above that another layer six feet thick, and it’s 30 feet by 25 feet across. It’s rated to take up to 80 foot falls.
But the problem witht he airbag is when you fall into air escapes and it collapses, then you have to wait for it to reset. With a normal gym foam crashmat, it’s 16 inches or 400mm deep, and it’s 1.5m wide by 3m long. But a body only absorbs onto the mat by about a quarter of its depth.
So we designed a foam mat with solid foam on the outside, and it has longitudinal hollow sections running lengthwise and crosswise, vents on the sides and ends of the mats. Two of these – one on top of the other – enables us to do a 40-foot fall into two stuntmats, which means you can be in, roll off the mat, and within a second or two you can have another guy in behind you. It speeds up the process. We can have 10 guys going of the wall at once, and another 10 right behind, rather then one at a time into an airbag.
We’ve tested these mats up to 40 feet. Anything over that and we’ll go back to the airbag. The mats were built to our design in Auckland by the Boat Cover Company.
Tell me more about the fighting styles? Are they
recognisable, or did you ‘invent’ them?
They’re styles developed for each particular character. Some are creepy and cockroach-like, some are quite smooth and dainty – flowing gracefully, and some are just crash-bash-nothing-stops-them killing machines.
How do you devise the fight sequences?
We’ve been very lucky … the production has brought out a chap called Bob Anderson, who’s the world’s top swordmaster, An amazing guy – he’s 77, and he worked with Errol Flynn. Even now, he moves like Bruce Lee. When he has a sword or weapon in his hand, he makes the hair stand on end. He’s English, an Olympic fencer. He’s done all the Zorro films and and TV series, he did First Knight and all the Highlanders, and he played Darth Vader in all the early Star Wars films.
He’s been taken on as TLOTR swordmaster, to choreograph the weapon and fight sequences. We get on like a house on fire.
There’s also plenty of explosions, as well as sfx with Steve Ingram. He’s got a massive job ahead of him, the equipment he’s building is out of this world. He and his team have built the biggest wind machine you’ve ever seen, 450 horsepower and a V8 engine. It will blow you over.
The Wizard Saruman creates a primitive form of gunpowder. There is a battle scene where castle walls get blown up.
Have you read the book?
Only since I know the movie was happening. My oldest son is 18, and he’s been reading TLOTR since he was eight, and I didn’t realise what I’d been missing.
The aim is to stay close to the book?
Very much. To every last detail.
Does Peter Jackson get involved personally in the stunt sequences?
In everything. He scripts everything, and then we break it down and come up with a sequence. We rehearse it, and then we shoot it on video, usually at a Wellington site that resembles the action location – we’re not going to Queenstown to shoot a rehearsal when we can find something similar in Wellington. Then Peter’ll view that, say whether he likes it or wants to change something, then we’ll lock it down. We do two or three of these tapes a week.
Does he direct these sequences?
Not when we rehearse. Bob Anderson and myself direct and shoot them – pretty roughly, but close enough so Peter can make a judgement.
Do your people do any horse work?
No, we’ve brought in nine riding specialists … there’s some galloping chase sequences where nobody’s coming off, but they’re going very fast. There are a few falls, and we have specialists to do those, and pulling the horse down.
How do you approach the script?
We started by breaking the script down and working out the action, then we made lists of equipment we need. I went to LA, not only to check out the latest airbags but also air rams, which are platforms that when you run on them throw you 60 feet in distance and 20 feet in the air.
I also bought are ratchets which are for falls, and jerkback rigs. Rather then using airbags or a mat for a fall you can use an air ratchet. It’s a wire that attaches from a harness on your back up through some pulleys and through a purchase system and then down to a pneumatic cylinder. If in the one shot you need to have someone jump 50 feet, leave, fall all the way to the ground, hit the ground and run off, this system allows you to freefall for, say, 40 feet on a slack wire.
Then the wire takes up and runs a pneumatic ram out, and as it pulls to its full length, it slows and slows down your fall. You can set it so you actually step off onto the ground.
We also bought all sorts of flying rigs, so that if someone is being thrown 50 feet through the air they can be spinning around and look like they’re doing somersaults as well. That’s what we use the air ram and air ratchets for. I brought some back from LA, and Steve Ingram is developing some new ones. Normally, they just fire one way, but he’s developed one that’ll fire in and out – he’s got two-way control over it, which is pretty unique.
You can have a scene where you’re standing on the ground, and you’re hit by, say, a magical staff which throws you at 45 degrees from the ground straight back and up, say 50 feet in the air, and then pulls you back 30 feet. And that’s the end of the shot, then it just lets you down to the ground.
There’s a lot of rigging in it, I’ve got a guy, hopefully, coming down from the States who specialises in the rigging of those gags, name of Tony Snegoff.
Is your stunt crew going to grow?
We’ve got the core group of 20, and then we’ll be using extra action people – a B group if you like – for the odd sequences like battles, where we need a lot more stunt people.
When armies meet in battle, the front row are actors and stunt people, then we’ll fit in army and extras behind them. When we have two or three hundred extras to train for a fight sequence, each of my guys takes 10 or 20 extras and teaches them a fighting style. Then they put it all together and keep an eye on each group when we shoot it.
It’s quite dangerous because extras can hurt you when they’re flinging blades and staves around.
We screened all the extras in audition to make sure they’re of stable character. When the casting people brought them back for a second interview, we put a sword in their hand, paired them up and had them do a few parries and ripostes. You soon see if people have coordination and skills. Some of them we marked: “NO WAY. NEVER EVER TO GO NEAR A SWORD”.
The weapons were designed and built by Richard Taylor from Weta, a process that’s taken months. He runs the designs by Peter Jackson. Many are unique, and that’s something Peter wanted – weapons that had never been seen before. The period in which the film’s set – in pre-history in Middle Earth – precedes the eras we know of, and every fighting style that exists today. We want the audience to look at our styles and say “oh, that’s where this modern style of fighting came from.”
The styles are specially developed, rather than being classical karate etc?
Exactly. Very natural and realistic fighting. None of this television series bullshit where somebody gets hit in the head and does five backward somersaults.
Bob Anderson says the quality of the weapons is the best he’s seen in his career. They’re made of rubber, composite, kevlar, aluminum and carbon fibre but they can definitely inflict real damage. We’ve had no serious injuries – just a few nicks and bruises among my guys, but that happens when you’re pushing things to the limits. There’s little room for error, and we’re often working very close for things to work to camera.
Can you talk about locations?
All over.They really look after you. Peter Jackson seems to stick with the same people and he knows how to keep people happy. He never raises his voice or loses his rag. He’s open, and that’s really helpful when you’re doing stunt work. You can put things to him, and if he doesn’t like them he says so. When he does like something, his face lights up.
RINGMASTERS: he stunt team on location in Seatoun for The Lord of the Rings. Brown is the shorter, dark-haired figure in the centre at the back; Bob Anderson os on Brown’s right.
An air ram and a ratchet, one is used to launch a stuntman in the air, the other is to let one jump from high places with saftey. I’ve seen the ratchet in action in some behind the scenes work in Men In Black.
Posted in Old Spy Reports
A large mat used for high jumps. All images thanks to ‘Actionpac.com’ and are NOT from the LOTR set.
Thanks to Sam for the pics!
Posted in Old Spy Reports
Hobbits come to life
Liv Tyler’s surrounded by creatures great and small in The Lord of the Rings but some of them are real dummies.
After 50 years of waiting, the world has finally had its first real-life glimpse of perhaps the century’s most famous literary creation, a furry-footed hobbit. Deep in the woods and hills of the South Island, J.R. Tolkien’s diminutive fantasy creatures are the stars of the $360 million movie trilogy The Lord of the Rings.
As Woman’s Day’s exclusive pictures show, director Peter Jackson’s hobbits come in all shapes and sizes – and some are not even flesh and blood.
You won’t notice on the big screen, but Hollywood siren Liv Tyler, as Elf Princess Arwen, had only a plastic hobbit for company when she filmed a dramatic horse chase sequence last week near Wanaka.
The dummy was standing in for the pint sized actor playing Liv’s hobbit sidekick Bilbo Baggins as they escaped from a fearsome band of Ringwraiths, among the books’ eeriest bad guys.
Meanwhile, on another set in nearby Queenstown, the movie’s hobbit heroes Frodo and Sam Gamagee appeared, played by Elijah Wood and Sean Astin – who are both normal-sized. Peter and his team of special effects wizards have created an awesome computer system, called Massive, which will shrink the stars down to size on film – except for the giant hairy feet which are a hobbit’s trademark.
The torrential downpours that flooded Queenstown and Wanaka have wreaked havoc to the Lord of the Rings’ shooting schedule, trapping one unit in remote Te Anau and even washed some elaborate sets built on riverbanks around Lake Wakatipu.
The weather also took its toll on 22-year-old Liv. She may have become one of the movie world’s hottest properties after starring roles in Armageddon and Stealing Beauty, but she still needs a hot-water bottle under each arm as she waited for the cameras to roll. Luckily for her, it was Liv’s last day on set before taking a break back home in the US after several weeks filming.
Like the other Rings stars, she has been able to watch the floodwaters rising from her suite at Queenstown’s Novotel Saint Moritz Hotel.
And when on well-wisher asked her as she boarded a plane what her memories of Queenstown were, she said simply. “Lots of rain!”
Thanks to Julius for the tip!
Posted in Old Spy Reports
Tehanu’s 3rd report is chalk full of news!
After being in Queenstown for a few days, I’ve chatted to a few people that know people in the production (well, that’s everyone in Queenstown actually) and I can answer some questions that have come up a few times.
1) Moria orcs have scaly skin – greenish, if I remember rightly. The Uruk-Hai are black and smooth-skinned. So, something for everyone there.
2)Legolas is fair-haired not dark, according to an orc I spoke to. You can all expend a lot of Internet bandwidth discussing this, I know. Legolas also wears two throwing-knives in a kind of back-holster (you’ll see the blades poking up over his shoulders) and a small bow which is beautifully made with laminated would and finely detailed inlay work. Let’s hope we get to see that ín close-up!
3)My source says that Orlando Bloom makes a great Legolas. He also had positive things to say about Liv as Arwen. I know some of you think that I’ve got a bias here (rah rah rah, everything’s going to be great etc.) but if so it’s one that all the extras I’ve spoken to share. Their bias could stem from the fact that they are having such a great time and are totally stoked to be involved in the film. On the other hand to offset that, I know that in New Zealand, the more famous somebody is, the more reluctant we are to be impressed by them. Especially if they’re from overseas. So if the local consensus is that Liv is doing a good job, then I’m looking forward to seeing her as Arwen.
4) Moria orc armour is leather and chainmail (actually fabric or knit mesh sprayed to look metallic, so my scepticism about that was unfounded!) with an overall spiky impression. The helmets are hard to see out of. In fact the layers of prosthetics are hard to see out of. Some of them had been in scenes to do with the breakup of the Fellowship, and several of them said that at first they were continually running into trees instead of doing whatever tightly-choreographed fight scene had been planned.
5) I asked about how PJ directed them, and they confirmed the impression I’d got from the ‘NZOnfilm’ article on the stuntmen: he keeps a close eye on things, but lets people work things out for themselves, and only offers suggestions when the result doesn’t work for him. One comment I heard was that he puts a good deal of trust in his assistant directors.
6) Somewone said of Boyd and Monaghan that they seem to have a naturally impish ‘hobbit-quality’ both in and out of character, and are pretty hilarious.
7) Ears-up for NZers – I heard a RNZ interview on the Kim Hill show with some guy who’d designed armoured boots to protect loggers from chainsaw injuries. The boots were co-designed by Warren Green, who’s one of the head armourers for LOTR. He came to armouring from a background in clothing design. I could hear Kim Hill’s interest perk up as Warren’s current fortunes on LOTR were described. “He must think all his Christmases have come at once!” she said, and I could almost hear her thinking, ‘Now THAT would be a good interview subject!. I wouldn’t be surprised if she tries to get an interview with him. If it happens, we want to hear about it!
Posted in Old Spy Reports
“I saw a great picture taken from the air by the local paper, Mountain Scene.
They’re not willing to part with it though.
The image they have is of the top of some grand stone building with huge statuary on it. It’s being built on a knoll near Closeburn. There are blue squares that are being laid out next to it, they look like crash pads, so there might be some flying stunts planned to happen there.
Some people claim that the film co. have bought the property that this new set is on, but their publicist denies this. PJ may have bought a neighbouring bit of land here.
I saw the remains of the set by the Kawerau River, basically some polystyrene steps and bits of masonry, painted to look like slimy stone. Don’t know if they’ll rebuild in the same place. There used to be a natural stone arch or bridge there and it’s been washed away. The whole area is wasted by the floods and the water is still roaring with incredible speed and power all through the gorge, even though it hasn’t rained seriously since the floods.
Filming is still going on pretty intensively in the Paradise Valley. People reported seeing the forest filled with smoke during filming one day.”
Posted in Old Spy Reports
Harry over at Ain’t It Cool News has gotten his hands on more set pics taken from what appears to be another magazine:
LORD OF THE RINGS pics… Frodo, Ring Wraiths and Liv…. new stuff
Posted in Old Spy Reports
Hey everyone… got more stuff for ya it looks like. Seems ol Hairy Reems, scanned in some pics at higher res and better quality and man… this stuff looks great… Now none of them are final shots. Elijah as Frodo is eating off a styrofoam plate… This is not a scene from the film!!! Actually… none of these are actual shots from the film. Just either publicity shots or smuggled shots… I imagine they were smuggled. But here ya go…
We started our adventures by climbing to Mt. Owen, in the top of the South Island. It only took about two days to get to where we could see the Owen massif peaks all around us, covered in golden tussock. Fantastic views. Nice to know that PJ and the crew got up here by helicopter in about ten minutes. Later down closer to sea level we recovered from our walk at the Kohatu Tavern. The locals said that the film crew had been helicoptering in and around those peaks for a few weeks up until three weeks before. They filmed in a cave, we were told. We’d seen plenty of caves but none that you could get to without abseiling. One girl at the pub said she’d seen Peter Jackson.
“Over by my Nanna’s place.”
Right. As though I was going to know.
“Where’s that?” I asked
“By the Tapawera campground.”
Later we drove on round to Murchison on the other side of Mt. Owen. At the cafe they reckoned that people further up the Matriri valley had seen big lights up around Mt. Owen as well.
I had photos of those peaks – not going to do all that
walking for nothing – but won’t be near a scanner for
weeks. Meanwhile, imagine a landscape of fantastic twisted silvery marble peaks sheltering a high rolling basin of golden tussock dotted with tiny tarns reflecting the sky. Below us, clouds churned and boiled as though held back from us by a spell.
No clues on WHAT was being filmed there, something with caves, that gives about three options, so you can make up your own minds when we finally post these photos.
Posted in Old Spy Reports
This exclusive interview with a very relaible source from the set talks about somw sword fighting, Blue Screen CGI and PJ himself!
(Amyd) can I ask you a few questions about the movies?
(Source) Sure, shoot.
A- did you by any chance happen to be on the set when WETA guys were around?
S- Ummmm, a few.
A- Did you happen to be when they did stuff for later post on computers, or was it just model shooting and stuff like that?
S- When there has been cameras present, I’ve seen guys dressed up as, I assume orcs, but with some of them the standard rubber masks are a bright green; and then we’ve gone through various practice rallies (sword fights), on a blue-screen set, with the camera set up on some rails, moving to the left, then flying above us, and the wrapping around. I think they may have just been seeing how various things work.
A- Was the camera guided/moved by a human or was it automated, controlled by a computer?
S- Automated, we had to be pretty exact in replicating the strokes (swings) as well
A- you didn’t happen to notice the name of the automated camera crane did you?
S- No, too busy watching the other guy’s blade. I only really noticed it because of the way the track curved, it looked like a piece of modern art.
A- So, did they happen to have a computer to preview the shots on or were they just recording for later viewing?
S- Oh, they had various monitors, but yeah, I got the opinion they were just looking to see how various moves looked.
A- Did you get to be close to the camera? Did you happen to see what type was it? Arri… Aaton… etc
S- Nope, it all looks the same to me. I was more interested in the buffet table they had at the back of the room. They’d set various things up while we ate and drank. I’m surprised by the amount of food located on any set I’ve been on. Even for tv commercials. (very true, some buffets are better than the actual production! -Xo)
A- k… did they actually shoot takes? With camera rolling?
S- Well, they played back various shots and asked us to keep out arm in, or step back a bit, at various parts in the rally
A- Did they have a sound crew on location? for live recording?
S- No, no sound, I would have noticed that.
A- Did they use a clapper-board?
S- yup, but I never saw what was on it. They’d say “take” we’d hear a small clap, and then someone behind the monitors, (no, not PJ, I would have noticed that) yelled out Go! Well, action
A- Were you present when they did takes with hobbits or supposed elves, when they would have to use force perspective techniques and all that?
S- I’ve never seen the hobbits or the hobbit doubles. I’ve just seen a couple of women dressed as elves talking to each other as I walked by them off set though that was another time, not that day, when I had the second audition.
S- So, were there guys with weird remote controls being agitated around the set when the camera started rolling?
S- Actually, there were people worrying about the lightening of everything, even the blue floor, and they were getting orders about increasing this and dropping that from others behind the monitors.
A- aha… k… that would be the gaffers, electricians and ACs So, did you see Lesnie? the DoP (Director of Photography, AKA Cameraman -Xo)
S- ha, beats me 🙂 I just recognized the woman from Trio Talent, and they gave us a couple of minders for the group
A- Any particular WETA folks? that you got a name for… recognized/etc…?
S- Nope, didn’t recognize anyone else.
A- what did you think about PJ?
S- He was pretty cool and friendly at the second audition. Seemed concerned that if I could see without my glasses, what was I studying, had I seen any of his films.
A- really? what did you say?
S- Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir….
A- so, he really gets involved in almost every aspect of the filming?
S- I said I’d really been fooled by Forgotten Silver, and how I’d wanted a part in the Frightners., Well, that was the first and only time I’ve seen him
A- oh… he wasn’t on the bluescreen set?
Posted in Old Spy Reports
S- I didn’t see him
I had the oddest thing happen to me recently, I was sitting here, enjoying my cup of Earl Grey, when suddenly a package came through my window (the odd thing is, it’s cold as hell! Why is my window open!) so I opened the package and read the cover.
One Extras Trip on the Set
So, with great hesitation i peeled back the cover, and peered inside:
Last Friday 100 souls had to meet for fitting, from 6:30, we were then taken by bus to the set, where we waited for our moment.
The scene was Daytime Ext, beside an old ruin of a building
Aragorn, tells frodo to run, then is set upon by 20 Uruk Hai, he starts to get the better of them, when a seemingly endless swarm of Uruks comes over a hill towards Aragorn (viggo Looks great, so do the Bad Guys). Aragorn retreats with all in pursuit, when the Uruk Hai Band leader forces through yells “Find the Hafling!!”
The band splits into 2 or 3 groups then ran off in pursuit, it was mucho fun.
We did 4 takes the first time, with cameras behind, that nearly killed us, the heat was intense in costume, particularly I was in full Prosthetic.
Lunch Reset camera’s 3 takes from in front
A full day for mabye 20-30 secs of film.
PJ was there, Viggo was cool, 1st AD was there WETA were amazing help.
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