As September 2nd draws ever closer, we’re seeing more and more glimpses of what is in store in Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Most fans will already have seen the amazing images, and read the interviews, from the latest edition of EMPIRE magazine – including artist John Howe’s incredible snow troll sketch, which features on the cover of the special subscriber’s edition.
Back in early May, when staffers Justin and greendragon were invited by Amazon to join a group in London, to see footage from The Rings of Power and to talk with showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay, John Howe was also part of the gathering. There were gasps of delight from many in the audience when he was introduced; all were thrilled to have a chance to talk with such a legend. It was also reassuring to hear, from his own mouth, that Howe is actively involved in the design and creation of this new Middle-earth adaptation.
That same day, Prime Video also treated us to a closer look at three costumes from the show. Stay tuned for more from greendragon on what we saw and heard that day; we’ll also share posts from other sites, YouTubers, tiktokers and fans who were there. To start us off, here are Justin’s reflections:
[Continuing the high levels of secrecy around this show, there were no phones or recording devices allowed; therefore all quotations are paraphrased from notes & recollections.]
As the lights came up from the very first sneak peek at The Rings of Power footage (some of which we expect in the first proper trailer releasing at SDCC) the nervousness in the air was thick; not only from the thirty or so fans assembled, but also from showrunners Payne and McKay. Will we like them? Are they two of us?
“We were with you all refreshing TheOneRing.net every day for the latest news on Peter Jackson’s films!” McKay told us. These lifelong fans, Ivy League Yale educated, committed to their church, might be closer in disposition to JRR Tolkien than any filmmaker that has come before. They study every book, revision, note, letter, and interview Tolkien ever shared, to understand his motivations and inspirations. It is this thorough knowledge of the context of Tolkien that has inspired confidence from so many Tolkien influencers.
As the showrunners wrapped up the open-ended Q&A, the biggest surprise of the London trip occurred – artist John Howe walked out with a sketchbook in hand. He explained how he got involved, how much work has been put toward The Rings of Power, and took questions from an awestruck group of scholars, fans and podcasters.
“They just kept asking me to sketch things they were considering. There are 40 sketchbooks full of drawings for this show.” Howe then opened up his sketchbook to the original drawing of the ice troll. I find it very curious that our very first leak from the ROP set were photos of an icy mountain set, then leaks of a snow troll (instead of a cave troll), which carried through to the Super Bowl teaser featuring the troll, and now John Howe’s sketch. Did Amazon leak the icy set pics in the first place, as part of a long marketing game? Or is Prime Video responding to uncontrollable leaks and only revealing what’s already been hinted at? Howe did not turn the page to show any more drawings.
When asked how he keeps this new work separate from the award winning (and trademark protected) work with Peter Jackson, John Howe responded with incredible awareness and insight. “We are all professionals here in the room. You all understand running your business. Whether I’m designing for movies, or book covers, or a streaming show, there are creative briefs to respond to. But the people in charge also know what they are getting from all my previous work.” Howe went on to explain that the true creative separation from Jackson’s films is actually INSPIRATION in the new locations this show visits. “We’ve never seen the oceanic areas of Middle-earth, and it is incredibly exciting for me to discover the great seas and areas that haven’t been explored. That is the true departure from what has come before.”
While John Howe had a plane to catch, showrunners Payne and McKay hung around with fans for some social conversations in the lobby, where three actual costumes were on display. The two guys held their own in deep lore conversations with several Ph.D.s, such as ‘The Tolkien Professor’ Corey Olsen and Dr. Una McCormack. At any fan event full of world-leading-expert-podcasters, there is a tendency to weed out inauthentic creators with deep lore questions. Again, Payne and McKay held their own. There is a reason the reaction a few weeks ago was unanimously supportive of the showrunners: they know their Tolkien, and they know the lore.
The Rings of Power showrunner Patrick McKay suddenly confronted me in the lobby, as his conversation circle moved to catch up. Matt (Nerd of the Rings) was shocked at some of the things we talked about – secret things I’m still hesitant to reveal. McKay wanted to know how I felt about the footage. He was extremely interested in my honest opinion. He cares what we think, what our response is to the hard-earned work over the last three years, if we feel he’s doing right by Tolkien and by fans. My direct response was the footage “looked like it should”, as I wrote a few weeks ago. It wasn’t the overwhelming enthusiasm I think he wanted, but that’s the legacy this entire show is up against: the most awarded films in entertainment history make for a high bar set by New Line Cinema.
To close, here’s one exclusive comment I will share today: McKay was adamant that this sword (below) is NOT Narsil, despite our early spy reports from people who have laid eyes on scenes featuring this sword. We will find out what’s true September 2nd; but I can’t help but remember how adamant JJ Abrams was that Cumberbatch was NOT Kahn. The only job these showrunners had in Hollywood was working for JJ Abrams, before landing this dream gig in Middle-earth…
Maybe it’s the time zones, but I really thought that John Howe’s interview with Empire about The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was coming out tomorrow. Instead, if you’re keen (and an Apple News subscriber), you can read it right now over on Apple News.
The interview expands on the teaser Empire provided the other day, that “this is not the Middle-earth you remember”. Instead, it’s a story of a different time (the Second Age), when Middle-earth was visually and politically a different place.
Howe can’t elaborate on what that tale may be, but does hint that it takes place against a backdrop of “Sauron’s rise to power, the forging of the Rings of Power and the epic tale of [human city] Númenor” — all events with important repercussions for Middle-earth.
“I was convinced the Hobbit trilogy would be the last we’d see of Middle-earth on film,” Howe admits, explaining that it took an exciting new approach to Lord Of The Rings lore to unlock a story worth telling.
Empire’s forthcoming “Summer Preview” issue is set to include an interview with John Howe about his role as concept artist for Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power TV series.
They’ve posted an enticing preview snippet of Howe sharing his thoughts about we ought to expect from the series in which he empahsises just how different Second Age Middle-earth is from the Third Age world that many are more familiar with.
“This isn’t the Middle-earth you remember,” he says.
“This is a world that’s very vibrant. The elves are not hidden away in Mirkwood or lingering in Rivendell. They’re busy constructing kingdoms. The dwarven kingdom of Moria is not an abandoned mine and the Grey Havens is not yet an abandoned city. I loved having the opportunity to explore that unseen history.”
He also talks about how this story is also taking to the seas.
“We’re finally sailing on the oceans of Middle-earth,” teases Howe, promising a set of sea-faring elves. “They’re daunting and enterprising and are almost colonising the world. They were a lot of fun to imagine. It’s something neither Lord Of The Rings nor Hobbit movies went anywhere near.”
Have you ever wanted to listen to the sounds of Mirkwood? Hear the flow of the Brandywine River? Or perhaps stand in the midst of whistling winds on Caradhras? Soon, you will be able to – thanks to the extraordinary concept and creativity of Jordan Rannells.
Jordan is a composer and sound engineer, with many years experience in the business. His work will be familiar to some Middle-earth fans: he’s an editor for the Prancing Pony podcast. He also has his own podcast – Music of Middle-earth – and, as if that wasn’t enough, he worked with renowned Tolkien artist John Howe on his audiobook Ultimate Fantasy Art Academy.
But Jordan has a dream and a vision – or perhaps one should say, a ‘hearing’! He has long felt that audio books are lacking something. In computer gaming, the artificial realm is brought to life with music, sound effects and ambient sound; the same has long been true of radio plays. And yet, when we listen to books record by brilliant readers such as Stephen Fry and – most recently in Middle-earth – Andy Serkis, we generally only hear their voices delivering the text.
Jordan has a plan to change that. He’s creating (to quote his own words) ‘an audio soundscape to accompany your journey through Middle-earth while you read J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings’. He tells us:
This is something that has never been done before. It is on a scale far above any of our wildest Tolkien fan dreams. I will have CHAPTER SPECIFIC audio.
I will be writing an entire score. Each piece will run alongside the length of an entire chapter of the book.
I will be using advanced 3D immersive audio equipment to record the natural world. These recordings will be inserted into the Soundscape to make you feel like you are walking alongside the Fellowship.
I will be designing and mixing sound FX for creatures like the Balrog, Ringwraiths, and many more to appear along your journey through the story.
All of these layers will be presented separately and together to have a multitude of listening experiences for your adventures in this world. They will be composed and mixed for the purpose of listening while you read, but these files will also be excellent for relaxing, D&D nights, immersing into other fantasy worlds, and more!
Jordan recently shared with TORn some insight into HOW exactly he will create this incredible soundscape. Thanks to the latest technology (such as 3D microphones), he can capture locational sound, which will surround the listener. He intends to record specific, different sound environments for all the realms of Middle-earth (no two forests will be the same!); and to have continuous, through-composed audio, with no looping. He also plans to create different speed versions of the soundscape – with one timed perfectly to be played as background whilst you listen along to Andy Serkis’ recording of The Lord of the Rings!
All of this is a huge undertaking, of course! We’re looking forward to hearing how Jordan’s journey to create this audio feast progresses; we hope to connect with him in the coming months, as he conjures and explores his soundscape for Tolkien’s world. Meanwhile, if you’re as excited by this project as we are, you’ll definitely want to know more – and see how you can get involved, and perhaps even lend your voice to the work! Click here to read all the details about this amazing undertaking. We wish Jordan the best of luck – can’t wait to hear the finished product!
One of the continual questions that has come up since the first announcement of The War of the Rohirrim is whether the Kenji Kamiyama-directed effort will be 2D or 3D.
(To say that many anime aficionados have mixed feelings about the use of full 3D would be somewhat of an understatement.)
Last year, WOTR producer (and now Senior Vice President of Anime and Action Series at Warner Bros.) Jason DeMarco answered on his personal twitter that the film would be in 2D. Yesterday he re-confirmed that the feature-length animation would be 2D — there has been no change of direction.
Some of the confusion (and concern) seems to arise from the involvement of Sola Entertainment. Sola Ent. is the parent company of Sola Digital Arts. It was Sola Digital Arts that animated full-3D works such as Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, Ultraman, and Bladerunner: Black Lotus.
But as one of the editors of longtime anime news source Anime News Network points out on their forums: The War of the Rohirrim “may be being made by a different division of Sola Entertainment, or by a studio outsourced from it. Notably, [the] production studio is listed on Sola’s own website as ‘Sola Entertainment/TBC.'”
DeMarco also reinforced that several alumni from the Peter Jackson films are involved in the production:
Do we have Weta on board? YUP Do we have Philippa Boyens on board? YUP Do we have John Howe on board? YUP DO WE HAVE ALAN FUCKING LEE ON BOARD?? HELL YEAH WE DO
The Warner Bros. animated Middle-earth production, The War of the Rohirrim, is set to debut on screen on April 12, 2024.
The feature-length film is set to focus on the story of the Rohirrim king, Helm Hammerhand, as outlined in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings.
Warner Bros. says that it will “explore… the untold story behind the fortress of Helm’s Deep, delving into the life and bloodsoaked times of one of Middle-earth’s most legendary figures; the mighty King of Rohan — Helm Hammerhand.”
Acclaimed filmmaker Kenji Kamiyama (especially known in anime circles for his work on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) is directing, while Philippa Boyens (co-screenwriter for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) is executive producer.
The writing team of Phoebe Gittins and Arty Papageorgiou have penned the screenplay based on a script from Jeffrey Addiss & Will Matthews. The “Lord of the Rings” returning creative team also includes Oscar winner Richard Taylor and Tolkien illustrator John Howe, while animation is being done by Sola Entertainment.
If you don’t know Sola Entertainment, they have previously worked on the 2D-styled Tower of God (for streaming company Crunchyroll), Bladerunner Black Out: 2022, plus 3D efforts Blade Runner: Black Lotus and Ghost in the Shell SAC: 2045.
On the works so far, Executive Producer Philippa Boyens says: “I’m in awe of the creative talent who have come together to bring this epic, heart-pounding story to life, from the mastery of Kenji Kamiyama to a truly stellar cast. I cannot wait to share this adventure with fans of cinema everywhere.”
Warner Bros. also revealed that animation work has been underway since last year at Sola Entertainment, and voice casting will be announced very soon.
It’s probably not well known, but Kamiyama did an interview late last year with Japanese media outlet Akiba-Souken where he touched on his work on The War of the Rohirrim briefly.
TORn has the following translation of relevant pieces from that article and Kamiyama’s comments:
What makes anime an anime?
Kamiyama is busy working on a number of projects, including directing the spin-off anime “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” from the blockbuster movie “The Lord of the Rings.”
The soon-to-be-released “Star Wars: Visions – Ninth Jedi” is based on Kamiyama’s own ideas, he wanted to go back to the original story of a young man travelling the countryside, who gets involved in the battle over the Galactic Empire. Kamiyama was given the official Star Wars history lecture but also freedom to create his own story and setting within that realm.
Kamiyama is currently working on “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.” He says that “First of all, the existence of the live-action version of the “Lord of the Rings” series created by J.R.R. Tolkien’s original work and director Peter Jackson is tremendous. For Hollywood, there is no national policy for the film industry, but it has become a core industry of the region.”
“I feel that the small scale of Japanese animation is good, and that it has a different dimension from ‘true’ (ie live action) movie production,” he says.
“However, working on “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” has the difficulty and fun that makes me realize things like ‘probably Hollywood is making movies like this’.
“It’s completely different to working on other projects. Because we are focusing on making it as ‘entertainment’, it is possible to create works that guarantee a certain level of quality depending on the budget scale and staffing. There is a lot of discussion about the screenplay, the process is similar to building a stadium or a bridge. I think “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” will create a new level of animation production.”