Our anime-insider has brought us this exclusive report from the Warner Bros. panel at Annecy in France that presented an exciting “first look” at The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
Be warned: depending on your knowledge of the Helm Hammerhand story and what you’ve been reading of our coverage so far, there may be spoilers below!
Kenji Kamiyama – Japanese director
Philippa Boyens – writer/producer (Philippa shared shoutouts from Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Andy Serkis.)
Joseph Chou – producer and owner of Sola Studios
Jason DeMarco – studio creative exec with WB. (Described as being “made in a lab to make this movie” because he’s an anime and Lord of the Rings nerd.)
Making of the film:
WB raised the idea of an animated film. Philippa felt the question was “Do we want to see familiar characters from the live action films animated?” Her kids love anime, which is her connection to the medium.
She talked about the need for a level of realism, to bridge the gap between live action and animation.
They wanted to tell a complete story that was separate from either of the trilogies, and a story without the direct influence of the Ring or the shadow of Sauron.
Wanted to find a story in Middle-earth that “fit with anime, culturally.”
Kenji Kamiyama is also a writer, so Philippa found it was an easy collaboration — he’s really good at keeping the story together, understanding place and scale, and keeping Philippa on track when she went down rabbit holes.
The writing process began with Will Matthews and Jeffrey Addiss [Editor’s note: they recently won an Emmy for their Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance] who have comedy chops but were not versed in the lore of Middle-earth. And Philippa didn’t want to write it: “I felt too old, honestly.” So she brought in her daughter Phoebe and her partner Arty Papageorgiou. Phoebe literally grew up on the sets and most importantly, she understands the rhythm of Tolkien’s language. Kenji was so excited to have a young female writer onboard.
They collaborated with many people from the live action film. We saw concept art from John Howe, Alan Lee, Richard Taylor, and Mark Wilshire were also involved. They also worked with WETA closely, and literally used their models of Edoras. It fully takes place in the world of the film trilogies and many of the images will look very familiar to fans!
When Kenji was approached with this idea, he thought it was “impossible”.
Adapting the world to animation was a struggle. They worked with Daniel Falkner (sp? Editor’s note: Dan Falconer, I think!) who was an art director on the live action films and “knew where the bodies were buried” — [he] could help them find old assets and consult about the history. They talked about the number of horses — so many! — and how hard horses are to animate. But that’s a huge part of the story. Kenji said they needed to use all their tricks to pull this off. They sent the animation crew to horse barns to film, ride, and “be scared”.
Animation process: they used detailed CG models of the characters and layouts, some from WETA, and assembled a layout in Unreal. They would choose shots and cuts from this and assemble a rough cut. This served as a base for the mocap director who would film actors. Then it all went to the animators, who used that to do the animation. Kenji stressed that this is NOT ROTOSCOPE — it’s an interpretation/translation.
Kenji said that usually, a character animator will take a lot of time to learn a character. They really need to understand them. But this movie had a tight timeline, hence the motion capture.
I don’t think Howard Shore is composing the music, but they are using his score — so cool to hear it!
Philippa said it’s been “a joy” to work on an animated project. She also talked about working with Jason DeMarco, and how he made sure to get some “monster vs. monster” moments in the film.
I talked with Philippa later and she wanted me to share a detail: in Carpenter’s Tolkien biography, when Tolkien first had a room in college he decorated it with Japanese prints. She found that really cool to now be doing this distinctly Japanese take on animation.
While they mostly seem done, Kenji and Joseph have a lot more to do, they’re still deep in the production process. Kenji seemed stressed! “Probably the biggest film he’s ever worked on”. Kenji kept talking about the challenge of it, and was clearly still thinking deeply about “how he’s gonna finish this film.”
Joseph described it as “a huge privilege” to work on this. They want to do Japanese animation proud, and they are very aware of all the fans who are watching and want this to be done right. Also this is the first time he and Kenji met Philippa in person! This was started during Covid.
Joseph jokes about how the crew is going to have to work nights and weekends to finish this movie, which really bummed me out. Can we not normalize the brutal working hours in animation? I expect better tbh.
They ended with saying that they are currently recruiting talent for the film. Presumably in Japan. (Editor’s note: I wonder if that means additional animators … or Japanese voice talent?)
Finally, the movie will be out 4/12/24 in theaters only!
Spoilers below – you have been warned!
There may be “a character or two we recognize” from the live action films. (Editor’s note: Saruman, Saruman, Saruman and Saruman.)
It’s about the failure of Helm Hammerhand, the war that results from it, and the characters who stepped up in the wreckage. Edoras is destroyed at the end of act 1 — we saw some beautiful art of a burned Meduseld — and the rest of the movie as about “the wreckage of war”.
Discussion of the Rohirrim culture as being based by JRRT on the Mercians — a warrior culture with a code. Family-based power structures and struggles, with honor and loyalty being more important than wealth and riches.
Alluded to a “ghost story” and a “surreal story” within this movie — all suited to the medium of animation.
We saw concept art images of Oliphants and orcs (I think — maybe they were wildmen) surrounding Edoras. We saw a rider with long yellow hair and a horn riding in front of an Oliphant. The art style reminds me of some 90s anime. We saw art of Isengard on its own, and surrounded by tents and wildfires. We saw a lot of background art of Meduseld — really beautiful translation in my opinion, and so familiar.
Lots of consultation with experts to figure out what Middle-earth would look like 260 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings.
The movie begins with a voiceover from Éowyn — Mirando Otto herself! She talks about Héra, how she is a rebellious child and how she is not named in the old tales. We got to see a rough cut of this beginning, with a combination of CG models and hand drawn animation. Héra rides across the plains, rides to the top of a bluff, and tosses a huge hunk of meat into the air, where it’s snatched by a giant eagle. She almost touches the eagle — but it flies away before she can.
We saw another scene in Meduseld, where a herald talks to Fréalaf about heraldry, and then Héra comes in to explain the shieldmaiden herald and what it means. She and Fréalaf are cousins i think? Reminiscent of Éomer and Éowyn. Helm comes in, commanding the attention at the room, and sits at the throne.
We saw a still image of Helm frozen in front of the Edoras gates, knee deep in enemies. Again I’m not sure if they’re orcs or Wildmen or both. (Editor’s note: maybe the concept art below? Which is more likely to be the gates of the Hornburg (then called Súthburg), not Edoras)
Héra(VA: Gaia Wise) – female main character. Not named by Tolkien, but Helm’s daughter is mentioned and she was the character they wanted to explore. Wanted to explore a female POV in Middle-earth, but she’s not a warrior princess per-se — she doesn’t become king. For her character, they they drew on the historical figure of Æthelflæd — the Lady of the Mercians, who defended her people.
We saw expression sheets and designs for Hera. She reads very 90s anime girl — kind of reminds me of the Rankin Bass Éowyn. She has red hair in a messy braid, leather armor, and a sword. We also see designs of her in formal dress. They describe her as “vulnerable and wild”, a tomboy type character. She has a growth in the film — maybe tied to needing to lead her people in a time of chaos. Philippa loves that her hair is never perfect.
Wulf(VA: Luke Pasqualino) – the other main character, the main antagonist. I think he’s from the Wildmen? He’s a big muscly dude with long hair, scruffy, an axe and furs and a ragged cloak. A scar over one eye. They solicited “lots of ideas from the female staff” in the studio. The note they got was “he does bad things, so make him beautiful”. And he is.
Helm Hammerhand (VA: Brian Cox) – daddy vibes. he’s got a big beard and a crown, we saw an expression sheet and a polished design. Red and blue clothing with beautiful intricate gold details.
Freca(VA: Shaun Dooley) – He’s the leader of the Wildmen, and he offers his son’s hand in marriage to Héra. That’s the inciting incident of the movie and leads to “Helm’s big mistake”. He’s wide with leather armor, a cloak, and some kind of bearpaw maul on a chain. He has facial tattoos. “Helm doesn’t take him seriously.” He’s trying to take over Rohan with this marriage. He’s strong and tragic, but also a comedic figure. Philippa quoted a line from the movie: “fat and prosperous is when men are at their most dangerous”.
Fréalaf (VA: Laurence Ubong Williams) – I think he’s Héra’s cousin, he “wins everything in the end” and becomes king.
Thank-you WB and Philippa Boyens for all your kindness and generosity. We look forward to seeing The War of the Rohirrim next April.
Worried about what to get your favorite Tolkien fan for the holidays? Worry not! TheOneRing.net staff is here with suggestions for every fan of every age and every budget.
From all of us at TheOneRing.net, have a safe and peaceful holiday season.
*Please note prices are listed in US dollars and may change after publication*
deej recommends: Shelob ring from Badali Jewelry; $71 (sign up for their mailing list and get 10% off; plus they have Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales going on right now!). Order here.
“I have several pieces from this company, and can’t wait to add this one to my collection! If you’re an arachnophobe, fear not – Badali Jewelry has a whole line of officially licensed, hand-crafted Middle-earth jewelry. Plus you’ll be supporting a great independent business.”
Funko Pop! Rides: Gandalf on Gwaihir; $30. Order here.
“I know not everyone is a fan of Funko Pops, but this one is pretty darn cute.”
TheLord of the Rings: Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended & Theatrical)(4K Ultra HD + Digital) and TheHobbit: Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended & Theatrical)(4K Ultra HD + Digital); $89.99 each. Order here and here.
“Who doesn’t need another set of these amazing films? And in 4k Ultra HD, they are going to look and sound better than ever! Now I just need to purchase a new 4K television so I can watch the Middle-earth saga the way it was meant to be seen.”
Tolkien 2021 Official Calendar; price tbd. Order here.
“To coincide with the new edition of ‘Unfinished Tales’, you can also have a beautiful 2021 wall calendar with illustrations by John Howe, Alan Lee, and Ted Nasmith.”
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Legend of Frodo Garnet Ceo Scarf – This gorgeous burgundy scarf features flowing ecru Sindarin script reading “Even the smallest person can change the course of history”, while the central band of text reads the name of this design “The Legend of Frodo.”; from $51.39. Order here.
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Map of Middle Earth Messenger Bag -This organic cotton tote bag is designed with the length and breadth of Middle Earth, from Mordor to The Lonely Mountain and beyond, based on the classic illustrations by J. R. R Tolkien himself; from $17. Order here.
HMH publications: “What could be better for a Tolkien lover, than writings from the Professor himself? This Fall, a number of new editions were published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. There’s a gorgeous new collector’s edition of HoME, an illustrated Unfinished Tales, and a new paperback three-volume LotR set for any youngsters you might like to introduce to the wonders of Middle-earth! Plus, perfect for the holidays – there’s a Centenary edition of Tolkien’s ‘Letters from Father Christmas’. My personal favourite is the brand new ‘Hobbit Sketchbook’ from Alan Lee; full of wondrous art to inspire and delight. I’d love to find that under my tree!”
THE HOBBIT SKETCHBOOK by Alan Lee; $30. Order here.
THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH Box Set (also available as individual volumes)by Christopher Tolkien and J.R.R. Tolkien; $225. Order here.
UNFINISHED TALES, ILLUSTRATED EDITION by J.R.R. Tolkien, illustrated by Alan Lee, John Howe, and Ted Nasmith; $30. Order here.
Volante DesignsLord of the Rings Collection; prices vary. “Wow these coats and jackets are amazing. Want to roam around like a ranger from Gondor? Or skulk in the shadows like a Wraith? TORn’s friends at Volante Design have made amazing outerwear which enables you to do just that! This independent business based in Massachusetts added two, officially licensed Middle-earth designs to their amazing collection; and they’ll ship at the end of November, so just in time for the holidays!”; order here.
Madeye Gamgeerecommends: “Another independent artisan worth supporting: Cave Geek Art. I met the CaveGeek, Kfir Mendel, at DragonCon 2016, where his original map of Middle-earth created a stir among the Tolkien fandom (and a dent in my wallet). The CaveGeek specializes in pyrography, burning his designs with 3-D effect into tanned buckskin, and then painting them with primitive pigments using a deer bone as his brush. He specializes in maps across a number of geekdoms. For Tolkien lovers, in addition to Middle-earth, his offerings include Thror’s map of the Lonely Mountain, and his most recent edition anticipating the new Amazon series: Númenor. You can find his prints and original leather pieces by clicking here. Plus he takes commissions!”
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garfeimaorecommends: Legolas and Gimli at Amon Hen 1:6 scale Limited Edition statue by Weta Workshop; $699. Pre-order here.
“The Fall of Gondolin,” — the third part of the J.R.R. Tolkien great trilogy of tales of the Elder Days — is now available in bookstores.
This simple sentence should be a great delight to Tolkien readers the world over. Newly published Tolkien material in 2018, from The Professor, who died in September, 1972, is astounding. Adding to the astonishing treasure is that son Christopher Tolkien, wrote just a year ago in “Beren and Luthien” that:
“In my ninety-third year this is (presumptively) my last book in the long series of editions of my father’s writings.”
Readers and fans may feel gratitude that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote enough and kept enough notes to continue to supply content close to fifty years after his death and that his son continues to have the will and ability in his elder years to collect, prepare and produce further content.
I wish I could thank him in person. We are living in the decade when Tolkien’s writings are more prolific, available and recognized than ever before.
It was published simultaneously in several languages by numerous Tolkien publishers worldwide, in the U.S. by long-time Tolkien publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“The Fall of Gondolin” takes readers back in Middle-earth’s history considerably before the most commonly known events in “The Lord of the Rings,” and “The Hobbit,” to an era when Sauron wasn’t the great power of evil in the world; his predecessor Morgoth and his fortress of Angband were.
Opposing him is Ulmo, a heavyweight Valar, the group who shaped and ruled the earth. Ulmo secretly supported the Elves.
Gondolin, the city of Noldorin Elves, was magnificent and undiscoverable by Morgoth’s forces and therefore untouchable by him. It isn’t a spoiler to say that the “Fall of Gondolin” is about the betrayal and discovery of the city and the war from Morgoth’s armies in Middle-earth’s First Age.
The content isn’t completely new. There are chapters about these events in “The Book of Lost Tales Part Two” as part of the History of Middle-earth books and parts titled “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin” in “The Silmarillion.”
Tuor, is aided by Ulmo, who even appears to him from the sea — a moment that is famously the subject of notable artwork.
It is Tuor and Idril who are some of the few to escape, with a young Eärendel, who eventually had two sons, Elros and the familiar Elrond, giving the tale a tie to “The Lord of the Rings.”
The book is published to fit the look and style of the others in the great trilogy of stories. It is edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee.
it is also worth noting that this is one of the earliest tales J.R.R. Tolkien wrote. He called it, “the first real story of this imaginary world.”
It may be the last published.
The book is $30.00 in hardcover and is available as an e-book.
It’s official…”The Fall of Gondolin” by J.R.R Tolkien, edited by Christoper Tolkien, and illustrated by Alan Lee, is indeed being published. It will be released on August 30, 2018. While rumored, the release still comes as a very welcome surprise given that many expected “Beren and Lúthien” to be Christoper Tolkien’s final release. “The Fall of Gondolin” will be available in hardback, deluxe hardback, large print and e-book worldwide as well as a companion Tolkien Calendar. The Guardian has a wealth of interesting background on the story. Further details as well as reaction can also be found at The Tolkien Society.
From the HarperCollins Press Release:
In the Tale of The Fall of Gondolin are two of the greatest powers in the world. There is Morgoth of the uttermost evil, unseen in this story but ruling over a vast military power from his fortress of Angband. Deeply opposed to Morgoth is Ulmo, second in might only to Manwë, chief of the Valar: he is called the Lord of Waters, of all seas, lakes, and rivers under the sky. But he works in secret in Middle-earth to support the Noldor, the kindred of the Elves among whom were numbered Húrin and Túrin Turambar.
Central to this enmity of the gods is the city of Gondolin, beautiful but undiscoverable. It was built and peopled by Noldorin Elves who, when they dwelt in Valinor, the land of the gods, rebelled against their rule and fled to Middle-earth. Turgon King of Gondolin is hated and feared above all his enemies by Morgoth, who seeks in vain to discover the marvellously hidden city, while the gods in Valinor in heated debate largely refuse to intervene in support of Ulmo’s desires and designs.
Into this world comes Tuor, cousin of Túrin, the instrument of Ulmo’s designs. Guided unseen by him Tuor sets out from the land of his birth on the fearful journey to Gondolin, and in one of the most arresting moments in the history of Middle-earth the sea-god himself appears to him, rising out of the ocean in the midst of a storm. In Gondolin he becomes great; he is wedded to Idril, Turgon’s daughter, and their son is Eärendel, whose birth and profound importance in days to come is foreseen by Ulmo.
At last comes the terrible ending. Morgoth learns through an act of supreme treachery all that he needs to mount a devastating attack on the city, with Balrogs and dragons and numberless Orcs. After a minutely observed account of the fall of Gondolin, the tale ends with the escape of Tuor and Idril, with the child Eärendel, looking back from a cleft in the mountains as they flee southward, at the blazing wreckage of their city. They were journeying into a new story, the Tale of Eärendel, which Tolkien never wrote, but which is sketched out in this book from other sources.
Following his presentation of Beren and Lúthien Christopher Tolkien has used the same ‘history in sequence’ mode in the writing of this edition of The Fall of Gondolin. In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, it was ‘the first real story of this imaginary world’ and, together with Beren and Lúthien and The Children of Húrin, he regarded it as one of the three ‘Great Tales’ of the Elder Days.
Yesterday saw the publication of a new book – but not a new story – by J. R. R. Tolkien. Almost a century after the Professor first conceived his tale of immortal love, Beren and Luthien has been edited by his son Christopher, and illustrated by Alan Lee. It is published in the UK by Harper Collins, in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and in multiple languages by different publishers across the world. Harper Collins tell us:
The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.
Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal Elf. Her father, a great Elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.
In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father’s own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.
The publication comes ten years after the last Middle-earth work of Tolkien’s to come to press, Children of Hurin. You can read more about this new release here. We’d love to read your reviews – share your thoughts in the comments below!
Today we received official word from Tolkien publishers (in the USA) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: ten years on from the last Middle-earth related Tolkien publication, there will be a new book for fans of the Professor to enjoy!
Here’s what HMH say in their official press release:
‘RETURN TO MIDDLE-EARTH FOR HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has acquired the U.S. rights to publish BEREN AND LÚTHIEN by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee, in May 2017.
Christopher Tolkien explains:
‘The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.
‘Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal Elf. Her father, a great Elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.
‘In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father’s own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.’
Published on the tenth anniversary of the last Middle-earth book, the New York Times bestseller The Children of Húrin, this new volume will similarly include drawings and color plates by Alan Lee, who also illustrated The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and went on to win Academy Awards for his work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.’