This has been a year of challenges and loss. Our collective experience of a global pandemic was peppered with losses in our intimate Tolkien community as well.

Today, on this last day of the year, we wish to take a moment to remember just a few of those in our community who left this earthly realm, and have found a far green country under a swift sunrise. Whether it was the patriarch of the entirety of Tolkien’s legacy, or the artist who created infamous cover art, they will all be missed – along with so many others who sailed into the West this year. We honour them all. Fare thee well!

  • Orson Bean - July 22, 1928 - February 7, 2020

The incredible 'Fantasy Film' section in WETA's 'Unleashed'
This is the Fantasy film section. Photo by Jason Dorday/Stuff

On December 15, 2020, WETA Workshop opened up Unleashed, a hybrid entertainment experience in Auckland that is part film set and part creative workshop. This project started as an idea about 3 years ago, but it was 18 months ago when they landed on the concept that would become Unleashed – A Fantastical Film FX Experience. WETA took over an entire floor at the SkyCity entertainment precinct in Auckland, at the foot of the Sky Tower. This finally gives WETA the space to grow and flesh out what they began with the WETA Cave and the Window on the Workshop experience they have in Wellington. 

The Health and Safety officer named Jeff, who greets visitors to the attraction - an otherworldly looking character.
Jeff, Health and Safety officer Photo by Sylvie Whinray

Upon entering, guests are greeted by Jeff, head of security and health and safety; who happens to be an animatronic character, voiced by Mark Hadlow, with 40 points of articulation. Guests will go on a 90-minute immersive journey, through several rooms that aren’t always what they appear to be. Jeff will get you started on your adventure to learn about the creation of three original films in the Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction genres. Each room will offer hands-on, interactive activities, such as sculpting, making armor, or tracing creatures. The concept is to show the creative process involved in filmmaking from the beginning through the final stages before release, and leave the guests inspired to take that creativity home with them.

Some sculpture work on display
Photo by Jason Dorday/Stuff

In addition to being a fun day tour experience for movie fans and tourists, this facility is big enough to be an event venue, a themed event venue at that: from small groups of 15 or more for things like Birthday or Anniversary parties, all the way up to large corporate or professional groups. There is room for receptions up to 700 people, or banquets of 300. And to add atmosphere, you can include an SFX make-up demo, hands-on workshops, guest speakers, and Middle-earth themed feasts. Makes one wonder if they will have space for some 20th anniversary partying next December…?

For details on where to find WETA Workshop Unleashed and all of their various tours and venue options, simply head over to WETA Workshop Unleashed

An incredible display at WETA Workshop Unleashed
Photo by Jason Dorday/Stuff

Welcome to part two of our tips for touring New Zealand as Middle-earth. In our first segment, we covered getting around NZ and the Top Ten Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit locations.

Today we’ll offer a few options for itineraries as well some helpful additional resources.

Continue reading “Can We Please Go There and Back Again? Touring New Zealand As Middle-earth (Part Two)”

Twenty years. On December 19, 2000, a young TheOneRing.net was abuzz with news of LotR Christmas parties, a new spy photo of four battle-ready hobbits, and the big one: New Line Cinema was starting the countdown clock. Only 365 sleeps until The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring would make its long-awaited debut.

At the time, we hoped that the movie could live up to crushingly high expectations; that we would be transported, live-action style, into Tolkien’s Middle-earth. What many of us did not appreciate, though, was the thorough gob-smacking we would experience through Aotearoa – how completely transporting, impossibly immersive, and mind-bendingly beautiful this remote archipelago of New Zealand could be.

Now here we are, on the cusp of 2021 and a series of 20th anniversaries for movies that have never faded in their grandeur and emotional impact (not to mention meme generation power).  And like Bilbo, pandemic or no, the heart stirs and we long to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains! And lakes, rivers, forests, fields, and fens. New Zealand is calling.

For the LotR-lover, this is mandatory bucket list territory. But did I mention remote? New Zealand is a long flight from literally everywhere. Even flying from Sydney to Auckland covers more than three hours and two time zones. One does not simply pop by.  That means you need a plan, aspiring Kiwi-connoisseur. And TORn is at your service, with some thoughts on must-see filming destinations, an example itinerary or two, and some resources that might prove useful, should 2021 prove kinder than this last year to those itching to get out into the World again.

Note: This is the first part of a two part series. In this portion, we will review getting around NZ and the Top Ten Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit locations.

Continue reading “Can We Please Go There and Back Again? Touring New Zealand As Middle-earth (Part One)”
Click to watch on YouTube

On April 7, 2020 the senior members of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings production team came together with fans to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first teaser trailer of LOTR, an online-only digital video that broke all online download records.

This digital trailer, released on Apple Trailers, was responsible for 30% of all internet traffic upon release according to Akamai. It surpassed the Star Wars Episode 1 trailer, arguable the most hyped film in history, in downloads the first day and first week.

Prior to this trailer, fandom was seen as “Star Wars.” This validated fandom and a different way of marketing and appreciating what fandom can bring. It created a different perception of the power of fans.

Gordon Paddison, VP Marketing LOTR

Michael Pellerin describes watching the LOTR trailer with Chairman Roy Disney at Walt Disney Studios, the parent company of Miramax that actually let LOTR walk away to New Line Cinema. “He just went huh, wow, good on them. Disney would have made it a company film. This is more of a visionary thing.”

Richard Taylor tells a heartfelt story of offering a job to a professional make-up artist early on, which was respectfully declined. “We were turned down by almost everyone… but when the trailer came out, a number of people we had pursued actually wrote back to me!”

An early Cinefex advertisement soliciting resumes for Weta Digital c. 1999-2000

“What Michael did under Peter’s leadership was to unpack everything about everything, the whole process. In that trailer the world got to see the first thing that Weta Digital was doing. There was unbelievable groundbreaking stuff being done. It was all so beautifully unfolded for the world.”

Gordon Paddison was New Line Cinema’s VP of Digital Marketing who took a risk engaging with fan sites early on. “Nobody is doing anything bad, its just that they care! That’s how you develop a relationship that lasts 20 years. It comes down to passion. Fans are passionate and I was a champion of the fans, as was everyone on this chat and Peter. A strategy of love is the best you can have.”

“Star Trek had been taking legal action and shutting down fan sites for years. This was the beginning of embracing fandom and we developed a great relationship working with you guys [at TheOneRing.net]. This video changed the velocity & tone of the fan response.”

“Peter was so good at saying very early to the fans that this is not the definitive version of Lord of the Rings, this is my personal impression of what the films should be. It did a lot to right-set the filmmaker vision and set us on a journey that was really humble. “

I have a very in-depth trust in Peter. When he came to us that he wanted to do this trailer, there was no question that it was the right thing to do. I hadn’t seen a trailer like this, so I was surprised that there would be this level of reveal.”

Richard Taylor

Co-Producer Rick Porras describes the unique vision of this first teaser trailer, “What made it special was intercutting the old footage and seeing the filmmaker talk about it. Including Peter [in the video] really started something special.”

A big reveal is that the this teaser trailer actually includes footage of the original pitch package for studios to even make LOTR. Everything with Peter Jackson in a white shirt was part of the pitch package delivered to Miramax, New Line, and all other potential studios. New Line Cinema of course saw the vision and financed the films.

Sasha is a Weta artist who designed the Lord of the Rings logo and typefaces – who also pulled double duty as an orc on stilts.
Jed Brophy is the first actor ever shown officially from LOTR, on Nazgul horseback

“The fans were so engaged. Normally you can hide under a rock for a while. The fans were getting materials and putting them out. From my experience you don’t want to get into a fight with your core market. We had to feed them!” Gordon Paddison acknowledging the fourth estate of filmmaking – the fan community.

Gandalf’s shadow, sent secretly by Ian Mckellen, generated one of the first legal notices the studio sent to TheOneRing.net

Jed Brophy, in addition to playing many orc characters, was a horse rangler on the film and is actually in the teaser trailer as one of the nazgul nine. “It is a pretty incredible thing to see something you’ve done, which is just another day at work.”

Executive Producer Mark Ordesky was fully supportive of Peter & Gordon’s efforts releasing this teaser. “The best way is tell your own story before someone else tells it. What was genius about the trailer is Peter basically showed how he’s going to do things that you can’t possible imagine.”

“Think with hope, not with fear. I have come with answers.”

One of the fun tidbits revealed was that the ringer verse voice over was performed by Nick Tate, who has done everything from Jurassic Park to Spongebob. The Tolkienist was the first to reshare the discovery with fans!

Michael Pellerin expands on the Roy Disney story, confirming that LORD OF THE RINGS was indeed a Disney film at its inception because of the Miramax deal. Miramax was a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios, and to this day Harvey Weinstein is credited as Executive Producer on LOTR.

“In April of 2000, I was in NYC in an audio recording session with Roy Disney, for a project I was finishing up with him. I had been counting down the days until the first LOTR online preview was to be released and it just happened to occur while we were in the studio. I tried to be as surreptitious as I could, waiting for the preview to drop on my laptop. But Roy could see I was obviously up to something — probably not having to do with our show. So he asked me what I was doing, and I fessed up to him that the first LOTR preview was about to appear online, and I couldn’t miss it. Instead of reprimanding me, Roy said we should all take a break from the session and watch it together — which we did. 

When it was over, Roy turned to me and was duly impressed. He said he thought Peter and New Line were really going to pull off what many felt was impossible — a motion picture of The Lord of the Rings – and that the project had found the right home, after all, with a director who was clearly a visionary. This was an amazing comment by a man whose progenitors founded the Walt Disney Company, and who himself was one of its chairmen. Especially in light of the fact that  Disney that was the parent company of Miramax, the studio that was originally producing Peter Jackson’s film version of LOTR, before it went into turnaround and ended up as a trilogy of films for New Line Cinema. Technically speaking, Peter Jackson’s LOTR was originally a Disney film, in its inception. So hearing Roy Disney express the same hope and feeling of excitement we all had watching that preview, felt like a sense of closure to a long journey that began in 1997, and was soon to make cinematic history.”

TheOneRing.net wants to thank all the participants for engaging with the fans from those early days to now, 20 years later, in such a respectful and candid nature. THANK YOU Gordon Paddison, Richard Taylor, Jed Brophy, Mark Ordesky, Michael Pellerin, & Rick Porras for making the time to celebrate this record setting trailer release.

Watch the entire conversation as it streamed live here:

As widely reported on March 31, Andrew Jack, the supervising dialect coach for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has passed from complications related to COVID-19. Reactions across film industry and fandom were immediately filled with shock and sadness, bringing home the importance of safety during this pandemic.

Andrew Jack was one of the most respected dialect coaches in Hollywood having worked on hundreds of films & shows including Star Wars, James Bond, MARVEL cinematic universe, and Batman. His crowning achievement may well be Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS in his capacity as senior supervising dialect coach, as he aligned all the various actors’ speech patterns into the cohesive dialects of Middle-earth.

Newspaper clipping from 2000 era.

Accents and dialects were a top concern of Ringer fans as LOTR began production in the year 2000, with online debates spilling into newspapers on whether the four hobbits – cast with actors from 3 different countries – would even sound the same. As we all know J.R.R. Tolkien himself was a philologist who made a career of language, and many fans have adopted his passion for linguistics. New Line Cinema realized how critically important the dialects would be to these films, they hired Hollywood’s expert dialect coach in Andrew Jack.

Ian Mckellen said at the time, in 2000, “Andrew Jack is following carefully Tolkien’s own instructions in his appendices to the novels.” When asked about pronouncing Saruman’s name, “We call him SAH – ru- mahn. I ran this answer past our pronunciation adviser Andrew Jack who adds: “It depends on who is saying it!”

Karl Urban (Eomer) was currently working with Andrew Jack for the second time on his Amazon series THE BOYS writing, “Andrew was such a gentle giant and a man who possessed such great generosity of spirit. He was extraordinarily talented, professional and an absolute joy to work with.”

Elijah Wood (Frodo), Sean Astin (Samwise) and Billy Boyd (Pippin) immediately tweeted, “[Andrew Jack] lead all of us through the many accents of Middle-Earth.”

Katie Jackson, one of the youngest actors on LOTR and Peter’s daughter, reinforces the coronavirus warning, “I beg you please stay at home. By doing so you will save lives. Rest In Peace Andrew.”

Kiran Shah (Frodo) who probably worked with Andrew Jack on more films than anyways through LOTR and Star Wars says, “A good friend. Will miss him.”

Henry Mortensen (Viggo’s son) and many other LOTR adjacent folks and fans retweeted and shared news clippings of the passing.

Rest in peace Andrew Jack, may your passage into the west be greeted by all the dialects of history.