After presenting their work-in-progress on The War of the Rohirrim at Annecy last week, Kenji Kamiyama, Philippa Boyens and Joseph Chou also stopped off to give a 15-minute sit-down interview with one of the festival’s staffers.
They talk about their approach, the challenge and the reception from the Annecy audience. Thanks to Lasswen on our Discord for the find.
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Annecy interview transcript
Note: I have lightly edited the transcript to remove some of the more redundant speech without, I hope, affecting the fundamental meaning.
[0:05] Interviewer There was once an age without Annecy Animation Film Festival. There was also an age before J.R.R. Tolkien. But lucky for us, we live today. And we have both. With us today we have Mr. Chou, producer of the film, Kenji Kamiyama, Director, and Philippa Boyens producer, also… known for screenwriting a lot with Peter Jackson. So you might be the most experienced of us on the Middle-earth and…
[0:44] Philippa Boyens For Middle-earth. Not for anime. But for Middle-earth. Yes.
[0:49] Interviewer Well, you’re just behind. You’re just after, sorry, a behind-the-scenes presentation with Annecy audience. How did it go? Can you give us your impression for each of you?
[1:04] Philippa Boyens
I mean, I could feel the energy in the room. And I think it was amazing. I think the crowds here are really knowledgeable, which is great. And I respect that. And actually, the biggest cheer was when Joseph asked some of the guys who are actual animators who we’re attempting to kill with the amount of work they’ve got to get done, to stand up. And the audience went wild. And that was amazing to see. It was such a good thing to do. Yeah.
[1:38] Interviewer How did you feel the moments you two?
[1:42] Kenji Kamiyama [Answers in Japanese]
[2:04] Joseph Chou Translating for KK: It’s the second time for him being in Annecy and… but just, just a warm welcome from the audience, and it’s just wonderful for him. And he really is very appreciative of, you know, them just being being so supportive in the moment. And just to see them, you know, in their direction. It’s very good for him. Yeah.
[2:26] Interviewer And for you?
[2:27] Joseph Chou Oh, yeah. I mean, I guess. I mean, they already said it. But I think just being in Annecy, you just, it just feels so nice, because of the warm welcome. I mean, I think the community of animation is a little different from, you know, other artistic communities. But, but, you know, we come here, we do feel like we’re at home and just just being — just seeing the reaction, though, from the, you know, the fans and then in life, actually, you know, just to see their live reaction. It’s something that we don’t get to see when we’re working. So it was wonderful. And it really did give us a huge, huge encouragement, just because we’re not done with the film yet, you know.
[2:34] Interviewer It’s quite amazing because we are in an in an animation film festival, and you are coming today to present a lot of work, but which is not animated yet. So it has this interesting equation in which you present a non-animated work. And this is Annecy’s audience with its reaction that tells you what’s going to be animated or not. Is it a part…
[3:38] Philippa Boyens Of being able to feel what they’re responding to? You mean? Yeah, you definitely got that. I think I could feel the murmur when Helm walked into the room. He’s played, voiced, by Brian Cox. And I think they just they were just swept into it, you could kind of feel it, which was, which was great. So I don’t know whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.
[4:04] Joseph Chou [Translates Philippa’s words into Japanese for KK, who nods and smiles.]
[4:09] Interviewer Philippa, you’ve been following the Lord of the Rings, since its rebirth with Peter Jackson. It’s been an unexpected journey if I may say…
[4:20] Philippa Boyens I like it. Nice. Very good.
[4:22] Interviewer What’s the following part of the journey? Because it seems there was the first part and now it’s the beginning of the second…
[4:29] Philippa Boyens Yeah, this has been such a good way back into the world. I’ve don’t think any of us could have faced jumping into a huge, massive epic trilogy, which was going to take seven years. But it wasn’t — it’s not just about this being, you know, maybe a little smaller in terms of the scale, but it’s still a big film. But it’s been a joy because it’s fresh, and it’s different. And everything that anime is bringing to the story is working really, really well with Professor Tolkien’s world.
Actually, I tell you something that not many people know. And that is that when — I’m not sure I’ve told you guys this — when…
Professor Tolkien, he loved to draw; he was an artist as well. And he was very poor. And he got a scholarship to Oxford University. And that was the first time he had a little bit of money to spend. So he went to his what they called digs in Oxford, his room in Oxford. Guess what one of the first things he bought was? Some Japanese prints, some Japanese woodcuts, to put on his wall.
So I think that it’s, you know, he obviously loved that visual style. And I think weirdly, that sort of must have influenced him in some way. And it’s definitely working. It’s working beautifully.
[6:01] Interviewer And, actually, I’m not sure, as you say, that a lot of [people] know that Tolkien might have been influenced by the Japan way of…
[6:13] Philippa Boyens No! I remembered it, and I went and checked it. It’s a reference that was made in his biography [ed: by Humphrey Carpenter]. And I thought, yeah, that makes sense. It makes, it makes sense, right? And I gave Kamiyama a book of his artwork, that Professor Tolkien actually drew, as a present…
[6:40] Interviewer And it’s, it’s really interesting, because as a very young reader of Tolkien, and I remember that there was those drawings, always. It’s, it was not a novel, but it was a novel with hints of imagination.
[6:56] Philippa Boyens For The Hobbit, yes. Yes. [It was] his work. Absolutely. Yes.
[7:00] Interviewer And now that The Lord of the Rings is coming back to, to the drawings, to animation, there is a lot to explore, actually. A new Middle-earth to draw…
[7:13] Philippa Boyens There is. And, also, we need to remember that Professor Tolkien would only have conceived of any kind of film being animated, that he would have had no conception really have it any other way. And, actually, the very first Lord of the Rings films that ever existed, were both animation, you know. So it feels, it feels right. And I know that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh were, you know, hugely supportive of this project. Because they, they knew that this was, you know, a good direction to go. And instead of retreating old paths to do something exciting like this. So yeah, it’s really, it’s been great so far. So far.
[8:00] Interviewer You are mentioning the previous animated version of The Lord of the Rings. I can think of Ralph Bakshi in 1978…
[8:10] Philippa Boyens and the Rankin Bass [film].
[8:12] Interviewer And is this a huge influence on what you are doing today with The Lord of the Rings?
[8:20] Kenji Kamiyama [Answers in Japanese]
[8:36] Joseph Chou Translating for KK: So, not particularly in terms of style, but, but really just trying to render the world in animation. I mean, [that] you’ve got to render it into drawings and the challenge of it. And so maybe that … is something that influenced him. Well, it is a huge challenge, and that there are all these things that you’ve got to learn — there is a lot to do. And it’s a huge challenge. And that’s something he took away from those titles.
[9:04] Interviewer When you give birth to new parts of a legend, how do you manage to write the new chapters? We know that there are a few books in Tolkien’s work. And one, one title is tickling me. It’s Unfinished Tales. How do you get to finish the tale actually with authority says okay, that’s the good end. Is there a Christopher working with you?
[9:36] Philippa Boyens [Christopher] was very responsible, I think, for preserving — not just the integrity of his father’s work — but also I think he was responsible for pulling together the threads of his father’s unfinished work. And he put out some beautiful… So, after Professor Tolkien’s death, Christopher was able to take all those papers, take all those writings and give us more, which was to everybody’s benefit. The world’s benefit, I think.
But, for us, I think we… you have a responsibility, obviously, to the source material. But you also have a responsibility to the film. And we have a responsibility to the studio too — they put a lot of money into this. So, you know, that’s always been a bit of a conflict there. But, you know, we’ve got to somehow make that … story work on film. First and foremost, it needs to work on film. With this story and why it works so well, I think, is because we only have about three or four paragraphs that are really, really relevant to the story. We know a bit about the characters. We know about Helm, we know that he had two sons, we know that that he was challenged by one of his nobles called Freca who suggested Wulf marry his daughter.
And here’s the interesting thing. We know there’s a daughter, but we don’t know her name. We know nothing else about her, which was actually a gift for us. Because we could then take her, take what we knew from the way Professor Tolkien wrote other female characters like Éowyn, and draw upon some history that was very relevant to the Rohirrim and create her and tell her story. So, hopefully, it’s a mix of being as faithful as we possibly can to his original works.
But there was a quote that Professor Tolkien himself said, and he wrote it in one of his letters (to, I think it was a fan) that he hoped other lines would come to this mythology he had created, wielding music and drama, and art, which is perfect. So I think he was open to that idea. Because if you’re going to keep a story alive, if you’re going to keep a mythology — because he didn’t just write stories, he wrote a vast world of imagination — then you need to, you need to let other people in. And, nothing we do can take away from the magnificence of what he’s done. All we can do is share our interpretation. It’s just like Shakespeare can be reimagined a million times.
And, you know, it doesn’t take anything away from him. So hopefully, our little morsel that we’re dropping into — he called story “a pot of soup”. So we’re checking in our morsel into the pot of of soup of story.
And we’ll see if people want to drink it!
[12:57] Interviewer Thank you very much for Thank you. Mirror of the meeting. We are really glad to have you here in Annecy and we cannot wait for you coming back with the rest of the work.
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.
The Annecy Film Festival “first look” at The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim has just concluded and reactions are starting to trickle out. While we wait for fuller reports from our own Crebain, here’s a selection of thoughts from the internet.
(It does seem quite positive and I am personally very excited by that.)
Just finished the work in progress talk for the new #LotR film #WaroftheRohirrim, and I have to say that the marriage between Lord of the Rings and #anime never looked so good! The world and characters looked very authentic. I can’t wait to see this in theaters next year.
Art-books, chara-design and extracts enriched this exclusive presentation of the future “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” in the company of his team, including Kenji Kamiyama (director) and Philippa Boyens (screenwriter of the LOTR saga ).
LordOfTheRings War of the Rohirrim is already shooting to the top of my most anticipated movies of 2024. The (very short and unfinished) footage shown at #Annecy2023 looks fantastic. This is 100% in line with the original trilogy while also very much an anime. Can’t wait.
I’m drying my wet eyes, I’m cleaning up all these pages of notes and I’m telling you, but #WarOfTheRohirrim is in very good hands.
This is beautiful 2D from new drawings by John Howe and Alan Lee. It’s full Rohan and the story, based on three paragraphs, is led by a young woman, Hera, the daughter of Helm Hammerhead [sic. i think that should be “Hammerhand”.]
Two scenes were shown (one of them, the opening, not finished) and the producers commented on the importance of trying to unite the world of Lord of the Rings movies with anime ones. And it really was an interesting combination. It reminded me a bit of Castlevania.
Castlevania! That’s interesting. I’ve not watched it (Netflix jail something something), but I understand it’s well-regarded. Two scenes is also interesting, and accords more or less with my expectations of what they’d reveal.
For #WaroftheRohirrim, a lot of Unreal and motion capture is being used to help figure out the shots. But no rotoscope is being used, it is only for reference. Then it is all getting the traditional anime treatment for the final look. It looks amazing! #LotR #AnnecyFestival
It is only for reference: right now, I’m interpreting that as meaning for fight scenes pending further clarification. I do think they are trying to not scare/alienate people who’ve seen Bakshi’s rotoscoped LOTR treatment with that clarification.
I saw the first images of the (Japanese) anime “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” To be honest, not particularly convinced for the moment, I was hoping for something else BUT we really find the style of PJ’s films and the sets seem successful.
The first fence-sitter! And more for the adherence to PJ-style than anything else? Interesting.
There was a really early layout of what looked Ike [sic] the opening sequence: starting from a map fly through to a sequence with Hera on a horse with some great eagles. Then a talk scene in I assume Edoras with Hera talking about the shield Maidens. #LofR #WaroftheRohirrim
A little bit more detailed information about the scenes that were shown.
This animated prequel set 260 years before the cult trilogy is inspired by the Appendices provided by JRR Tolkien at the end of The Return of the King (Appendix A, Chapter II: The House of Eorl).
This is a curious one since earlier publicity material has stated events occur 183 years before the events chronicled in the original trilogy of films. Even factoring in the canonical delay between Bilbo’s party and Frodo setting out for Rivendell, something still seems wrong. It’s also … well… trivial, so I’ll return to this weirdness when I have time.
The film features a female character Hera, “neither a princess in distress nor a warrior” , the daughter of King Helm whose hand is coveted by Wulf, himself the son of Freca the leader of the clan of wild men.
I really like the neither/nor. It feels more complex and open to a nuanced presentation. By-the-by it also accords with the vibe I got from my discussion with Philippa Boyens last year.
“The attraction of this film was to tell a film that follows neither the story of the Ring nor that of Sauron” summarizes the New Zealand producer, who also hinted that some characters well known to fans of the trilogy could appear in this film.
The Helm story is a very human one, and on the face of it, remarkably unmagical. No elves, no dwarves, no wizards. Except Saruman at the very end. They really want to say Saruman, but they’re only willing to tease it.
To explore Tolkien’s universe using anime codes, several different animation techniques were employed, ranging from CGI to more traditional 2D animation as well as the employment of performance-capture techniques . For the sake of realism, the animators of the film were asked to study horses and practice horseback riding.
As I wrote yesterday (completely stealing the line from the incredibly smart anime art anaylsts over at Sakuga Blog), “horses populate the nightmares of animators”. It makes a lot of sense — Rohirrim as Tolkien outlined in Letter 144 is a Sindarin name meaning “the host of the Horse-lords”. Kyoto Animation had people on their staff who knew Kyudo (Japanese archery) for their series Tsurune. The results of that practical knowledge applied to their work speaks for itself.
Three non-finalized excerpts were broadcast in exclusive preview during this panel. The opening sequence, introducing the character of Hera, a dialogue scene in King Helm’s throne room, and finally a short teaser announcing the film’s main action scenes.
No Eowyn seemingly? Kinda surprsing, but I’ll take a cookie for guessing Edoras would feature. Hera and Helm suggests to me that the familial relationships will be critical. Hera may end up our viewpoint character. Why? She survives wheras all her close kin — Helm, Haleth and Hama — perish.
Big ups again to Allocine for the summary!
SLASHFILM also has a very nice report up now. Unfortunately, at time of writing, they appear to have confused Charlie Cox for Brian Cox, who is the real voice actor for Helm Hammerhand. we all make typos but hopefully the eds over there can fix that one soon.
ARROBA NERD has an even better and more detailed report. It’s getting late over here in Oz so I’ll leave it to others to break it down, but it has more details about character designs and dialogue that you can read about here.
IMPORTANT (because i know a lot of people will wonder): Producer Jason DeMarco clarified about the status of the footage shown to attendees — “We presented work in progress for attendees of the festival but it won’t be widely released.”
NOTE: I’ll keep updating this as more reactions come in (hopefully with more details), so be sure to check back!
The Annecy first look at The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim is nearly here and I am vibrating with anticipation. So, to save myself from exploding with anticipation as we wait for reports to begin trickling out of France, I thought I might (self-indulgently) revisit some of the interesting highlights from my 45-minute chat with Philippa Boyens around this time last year.
I’ll also try to include a few snippets from our chat that never quite made the final article.
It can be disconcerting when your interviewee tells you that they’ve been reading your thought-bubble waffle. Right now, I still maintain Saruman will appear somewhere near the conclusion of the film in a cameo and take up residence in Isengard. Put it on your bingo card.
Helm, Haleth, Hama … Héra
“Someone suggested another name and I went: ‘Nope, it’s gotta start with “H”, sorry’ And, actually, Fran Walsh named her. I told her we were stuck. It’s actually Héra [ed: pronounced more like hair] that’s why it has the accent. Not, not so much based on the Greek Hera, but a nod to the Anglo-saxon.”
For the record, Boyens told me that Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson have occasionally been serving as unofficial sounding boards for ideas, but are not actually involved with the project.
Héra and the Lady of Mercians
“Where we turn to [for an insight into Héra] … is to Aethelflaed, the lady of the Mercians. Alfred the Great’s daughter. She never ruled as a queen per se; she’s known as the Lady of Mercians. But she seems to step in when her people needed her. So it was a natural leadership role. It was a leadership role that: all the men were slain [so] she stepped up.”
Boyens says that their creation of Héra very much draws from historical sources fit the historical inspiration that Tolkien himself drew on for his stroytelling.
Legitimacy and Dunlending grievances
“One could almost say that Wulf taking Edoras was a legitimate challenge. If it had ended there, perhaps [history] would have been written in a different way. He would’ve been the victor, [and] maybe people would’ve seen that as legitimate. I mean, he did have a claim — a very tenuous claim – through Freca to one of the Kings of the first line of Rohan.”
Anyone who’s read beyond the main text of The Lord of the Rings will get the sense that the Dunlendings of southern Eriador were treated badly by the Dunedain. First Numenoreans denuded southern Eriador in a quest for lumber and drove out or oppressed the Dunlending’s ancestors. Then, later, Gondorians granted the Rohirrim the lands of Calenardhon which effectively pushed the Dunlendings out of the Gap of Rohan. I’d be aggrieved, too, but I also wonder if Wulf may end up using the Dunlendings (and their anger) for his own ends.
“You get to go and visit things that you know [from the books]. Fans of the film will get to see, you know, Edoras besieged. It’s quite a shocking moment. Cause you know, we didn’t see that in [Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings].”
Per book, one of Helm Hammerhand’s sons meets a grim end at Edoras, and I think it’s likely this will prove a pivotal moment for Helm himself. He’s hard man for sure and becomes even harder by the end of his life, but why is he like that? It seems Kamiyama is intent on exploring this.
We like it darker
“There’s a moment in the film, which is incredibly gut-wrenching and powerful where Wulf commits himself to a course of action he cannot turn away from. And once he does that, the story darkens.”
I … I still can’t think what this moment might be. Bringing in the Corsairs of Umbar? Some underhanded deal with the mysterious Lord Frygt character who we’ve heard (so little) about?
A ghost story
“It begins with these quite large-scale battles, but it actually becomes more intense and more claustrophobic almost. And the nature of the film changes almost into a ghost story.”
This is a purely personal opinion, based partially on what Philippa said and on what I know of the tale. I think Helm is the ghost in question. Both haunted by his inability to protect his land as king, and haunting (terrorising) his enemies with his nightly ventures out from the Hornburg.
The Mumakilat Edoras
“Was it you who wrote the article on TORn about the Mumakil? A lot of your supposition was right in that article from our viewpoint. It was why Gondor was not coming [even though they were Rohan’s] ally. [So], yes, because of the reasons you suppose. The only other, the only other hint, I think, in terms of the Mumakil is the notion that, of course these were in the south. And, also, the notion of mercenaries. I’ll just say that.”
Oh dear. Now I kinda know how it feels to be on the other side of the fence.
About the author: Staffer Demosthenes has been involved with TheOneRing.net since 2001, serving first as an Associate News Editor, then as Chief News Editor during the making of the Hobbit films. Now he focuses on features and analysis.The opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of TheOneRing.net and other staff.
The Annecy Film Festival — which is hosting a “first look” at The War of the Rohirrim on June 13 — has updated its site listing to reveal that the length of Warner Bros. Animation’s (WBA) forthcoming feature anime will be 130 minutes.
That’s actually substantial for an animated film and will place it among the top 50 longest animated films of all time. Length is no indication of quality, but good animation is time and resource intensive. WBA’s committment to a long feature indicates confidence in the story they have to tell.
WOTR’s director, Kenji Kamiyama, has also been busy directing other projects: Ultraman, Blade Runner: Black Lotus, and Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045.
Animation techniques: 2D/3D blending
The other thing of note in Annecy’s overview of the presentation is the animation techniques listed.
Much, of course, has been made that The War of the Rohirrim is being animated in 2D — because everyone panics mightily as soon as the words “3D animation” are even whispered. But 2D/3D blending — typically for effects or backgrounds — has become a staple in even some of themost popularanime, and can look non-intrusive and seamless when executed with skill. Apparently even Hayao Miyazaki’s Mononoke Hime contained a small amount of 3D CG rendering — something I was not aware of until I began looking into just how prevalent the use of CG effects has become in modern anime productions.
Rotoscoping is another surprise, although Staffer Justin tells me TORn Tuesday reported industry talk that that WETA was using the “Avatar mocap technology” for The War of the Rohirrim.
It seems that talk was on the mark.
When I saw that I instantly thought that it might be used for animating horses, because as people who know far more about the art of animating than me point out, “horses populate the nightmares of animators“. And I think it would be foolish to not expect a film about the Rohirrim to not feature a lot of horses.
I can already sense readers who have seen Ralph’s Bakshi’s animated The Lord of the Rings recoiling in terror. Yet it’s important to acknowledge the time- and money-pressures that Bakshi and his crew worked under: effectively filming then animating the same film twice in a two-year period with a budget of approximately $4 million. (That’s a touch over $18.5 million in 2023 dollars — much less than many modern Disney animations.)
By comparison, Kamiyama and his crew have three years for development and production, they won’t be rotoscoping everything, and they have the substantial benefit of digital animation methods. And, one guesses, they have a larger budget.
One of our Discord regulars also smartly suggested that rotoscoping could be employed for battles, and pointed out a rotoscoped fight sequence (warning: this clip is quite gory and not suitable for children) that popped up in a recent episode of the anime Vinland Saga. It’s impressively natural and I could see something like that in a story as grim as that of Helm.
Just to further illustrate that rotoscoping can look great in the right hands given sufficient resources, check this character acting scene from Attack on Titan. Or this stunning piece of sakugafrom Kaguya-sama: Love is War that gained both popular and critical acclaim back in 2019.
Anticipating Annecy: going behind-the-scenes for 75 minutes
Kamiyama will be joined at Annecy by executive producer Philippa Boyens and producer Joseph Chou for a 75-minute behind-the-scenes presentation into their adaptation of the Helm Hammerhand story that is found in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings. The session will be moderated by fellow producer Jason DeMarco.
Right now, WBA is being very quiet about what they’ll be showcasing.
However, here’s a quick bit of speculation/guesswork that you’re free to take with a grain of salt.
I think the length of the presentation means those attending (not yours truly, sadly) will be treated to a slab of finished animation. I couldn’t see them filling a 75-minute session with just more concept art and character designs.
That animation might be a teaser, or it could be several small segments that the presenters then discuss. I recall that Peter Jackson did this for The Desolation of Smaug and, mostly due to the choice of clips focusing on Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, it was really quite effective at raising anticipation.
I’d expect dialogue and perhaps even music. Stephen Gallagher was revealed as the composer for the score back in February and must have been appointed to the role much earlier.
If it was me, I would choose scenes from places familiar to viewers of Peter Jackson’s films — both fans and casuals — to encourage the mental connection. That suggests Edoras or Helm’s Deep. But the latter might be a bit too far along in the story and reveal too much of the story, so I lean to Edoras. You could show some dramatic scenes with all the key cast — Helm, Wulf, Freca, Héra — that are root to establishing the conflict. The initial concept art that WBA put out showed Edoras being attacked so Kamiyama might tease some of that as well to show how much progress they’ve made.
Since we’re familiar with the location, it’s also possible that we could see Isengard (although, canonically, Freca’s seat of power seems to be another location at the surce of the River Adorn). This could also help set up that there are two sides to the conflict — something that Boyens emphasised was integral to the story they were telling when we spoke this time last year.
This is in addition to more concept art, and, I expect, our first look at some character designs.
Regardless, we’ll very soon know more. It’s been a long wait to get something tangible but it’s nearly over!
About the author: Staffer Demosthenes has been involved with TheOneRing.net since 2001, serving first as an Associate News Editor, then as Chief News Editor during the making of the Hobbit films. Now he focuses on features and analysis.The opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of TheOneRing.net and other staff.
Moviescore, a site dedicated to tracking film music, reports that New Zealand composer and award-winning music editor Stephen Gallagher has been tapped to score the music for Kenji Kamiyama’s The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim.
Gallagher is probably best-known to Tolkien fans for his work on The Hobbit where, as well as working as music editor on all three films, he composed the songs ‘Blunt the Knives’ and ‘The Torture Song’ for An Unexpected Journey.
Perusing IMDB reveals that Gallagher has previously composed music for a range of documentaries and short films, but arguably this is his most prominent compositional role to date.
He also has a decades-long career as music editor spanning big productions like Avatar: The Way of Water, District 9 and Wolf Warrior 2 to niche films such as Amy Berg’s West Of Memphis and Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones. Last year, he won an Emmy Award for his sound work on Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back.
IMDB states that he’s currently based at Park Road Post Production in Wellington — a facility that’s owned by Peter Jackson’s WingNut Films.
The War of the Rohirrim is slated to release on April 12, 2024. Director Kenji Kamiyama is also currently co-directing on the final season of Ultraman with Shinji Aramaki which will debut on Netflix sometime in 2023.
A speculatory post-script.
I was idly chatting with TORn staffer Justin about the leak/confirm and he wondered if the selection of Gallagher could indicate a return to the style of music that was the hallmark of the Rankin Bass animated features. After all, Blunt the Knives in An Unexpected Journey is very much a homage to the sing-along style of the animated Hobbit of 1977.
Personally, I’m inclined to say no.
I feel that both Blunt the Knives and The Torture Song (as sung by Barry Humphries) owe more to a combination of the children’s tale-nature of Tolkien’s novel and the comedic sensibilities of Peter Jackson (Meet the Feebles, anyone?).
On the other hand, the tale of Helm Hammerhand is far grimmer. It’s also a little tempting to add that Kamiyama animes typically play the material straight, but then the quirky Tachikomas (AI spider tanks/mechs) of the Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex animated series are a spectacular outlier. Kamiyama leverages them in multiple ways: surreal comics, action heroes, philosophers, and ultimately as beings capable of self-sacrifice. The “cute” Tachikoma moments don’t devalue the serious ones. In fact, they make them more rounded characters (I dare say, more human — a crucial point to the story Ghost in the Shell explores).
So, if Kamiyama could see a way that a quirky, lyrically focused tune would serve the needs of the Helm story, he absolutely has the chops to pull it off.
Neverthless, I think it’s probably better to calibrate musical expectations more in line with the thoroughly grounded nature of Kamiyama’s acclaimed adapatation of the fantasy story Serei no Moribito. If nothing else, it’s still difficult to get folks to take anime as a serious artform that’s not “just for kids” without hobbling your production with a bunch of cutesy tunes. I’m surer Warner Bros. will be keenly aware of that.