Earlier this year, I fulfilled a dream: I visited Middle Earth (also known as New Zealand). As a huge fan of Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. While on set with a few other online reporters, we got to watch a few scenes get filmed, interview almost the entire cast and most of the crew, and we saw firsthand how much love is being put into making The Hobbit trilogy as amazing as the LOTR trilogy. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
With the first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, opening December 14, WB has lifted part of the embargo and after the jump you can check out my list of 65 things to know about the film plus links to a number of on set interviews.
The first thing to know is when I visited the set, the plan was to release two Hobbit films. However, since that time, Peter Jackson and WB have decided to release The Hobbit as a trilogy, with the following release dates:
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (December 14, 2012)
- The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (December 13, 2013)
- The Hobbit: There and Back Again (July 18, 2014)
While I’m incredibly excited to get even more of The Hobbit on movie screens, the change to a trilogy does present one big problem: everything I saw on set is now in the second film and it’s still under embargo.
What that means is, while I’d like to tell you about ____ fighting ____, or talk about how incredible to was to watch Peter Jackson direct ____, for now you’ll just have to trust me when I say The Hobbit trilogy is going to be everything you hope it would be and more.
In addition, while I’m still under embargo from talking about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, in about a year, you can expect a massive in depth write up about everything I saw and even more on set interviews.
70 Things to Know About The Hobbit:
During my group interviews with the cast and crew I learned a lot of cool little facts about the films. I’m going to assume everyone reading this is familiar with the cast, knows the films were shot in 3D/48fps (frames per second), and has been paying attention over the last two years as we’ve covered these films in detail.
- There are two film units shooting all the time. Peter Jackson directs the first unit and Andy Serkis is directing second unit.
- Peter Jackson is once again pushing film technology forward with something called “SLAVE MOTION CONTROL.” This technology allows characters of different sizes to do scenes together at the same time. What happens is one camera is “on” and on camera is slave to the other one, so actors will be on two different soundstages but filming the same scene. This was used when Ian McKellen (Gandolf) filmed his scenes with the dwarfs and Bilbo in Bag End as he was in another stage acting with all of them. While it’s complicated technology, it allows for more movie magic to be done in camera.
- The Hobbit takes place 60 years before the event of Lord of the Rings
- The shoot is scheduled for 254 days.
- The Hobbit is has a fairy tale quality to it as the group is chasing gold and there is a dragon.
Here’s some more highlights broken down by who said them.
- Jackson explains the difference between Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Rings is “good and evil, black and white”—the world is at stake. The Hobbit has more of a fairy tale quality, “slaying dragons and going for gold.”
- In Tolkien’s book, Bilbo doesn’t feel the negative effects when he puts on the ring because he added those effects two decades later for the Rings trilogy. The effects of the ring will gradually build up over the course of the Hobbit movies. Jackson says, “So the first time he puts it on it’s simply a magic ring, but each time he puts it on the effect of it gets to him a bit more.”
- They turned to Tolkien’s appendices for more backstory on why Gandalf chose Bilbo for this task. Gandalf remembers Bilbo as a young child who loves adventure and danger, and is disappointed to find that Bilbo has become stuffy and conservative 18 years later.
- Jackson was reluctant to take the director’s chair even after Guillermo del Toro left because the ensemble of thirteen dwarves “terrified” him. But he’s done a complete turnaround, and now calls the dwarf ensemble the “great joy of the movie.”
- They didn’t redesign Gollum, but using the advances in technology over the last decade they were able to make him behave more natural and realistic.
- 48fps forced the visual effects team to do twice as much work in terms of processing and calculation, but the people at WETA say the change from 2D to 3D was more impactful from a creative standpoint.
- The visual effects team didn’t reuse any backgrounds or digital elements from The Lord of the Rings because their approaches had been developed over the past decade. In fact, advances in the visual effects realm moved so quickly that they had to digitally rebuild Gollum from Two Towers to Return of the King.
- Freeman paid attention to Ian Holm’s performance of an older Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings films, but didn’t worry too much about basing his own performance off of his predecessor.
- Freeman’s first day on set was filming the cave scene with Gollum (Andy Serkis).
- Due to differences in height, Freeman, as Bilbo, and the company of Dwarves shot their scenes separately from Gandalf (Ian McKellen), even though they will all appear on screen together in a given scene.
- According to Freeman, Peter Jackson falls somewhere between a minimal amount of takes (like Clint Eastwood) and an exhaustive amount (like David Fincher), shooting an average of six takes, normally for technical reasons.
Sir Ian McKellen:
- At first, McKellen had to act on a separate green screen set from his dwarf co-stars to make Gandalf look taller. McKellen says this made him “miserable,” so Jackson found a way to cut down on this style of shooting going forward.
- Gandalf will at times be more light-hearted in The Hobbit than Lord of the Rings, but there is added intensity in his relationship with Thorin.
- McKellen would like to see a TV miniseries that adapts the full detail of the book in about thirteen hour-long episodes.
- McKellen says he doesn’t make much connection between Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White, and that he never warmed to the White. Grey is “full of all sorts of life.”
- McKellen thinks the script makes Gandalf a bit less bossy than he is in the book.
- Richard Armitage grew his own beard, rather than donning a fake one, in order to play Thorin.
- At 6’2”, Armitage never expected to be playing a dwarf; Thorin comes in at 5’2” which is very tall for a dwarf.
- Thorin’s father and grandfather were touched by the “dragon sickness,” a deadly obsession and attraction to gold.
- Dwarf kingdoms are designed in a way that overcompensates for their short statures.
- The first shot for all of the Dwarves was the scene at Bag End, including the song heard in the trailer.
- There is an antagonistic relationship and power struggle between Thorin and Gandalf throughout the films.
- Armitage used the devastation at Hiroshima as a reference for his Smaug’s destruction of his people’s homeland.
- Most of the script was edited or changed in some way to reflect the voice of the characters, as portrayed by their respective actors, over the course of filming.
- Armitage smashed his own shield into his mouth during one scene and continued onto a second take with a broken lip and bloody mouth.
- Vast improvements were made in makeup since Lord of the Rings, so the new type of silicone used on the dwarves doesn’t require constant maintenance as the one for Gimli did. It’s easier to apply and paint and it’s virtually heat-proof, water-proof, and fire-proof.
- Gimil’s makeup took three-and-a-half hours, but the face application for Thorin is only an hour.
- The longest makeup of the dwarves is Bombur, and he takes an hour and 45 minutes to apply. The shortest makeup is Kili who takes 30 minutes or less because he just has a nose prosthetic.
- They had to do a lot of camera tests for 48fps, because when you put an actor with a face prosthetic in front of the RED Epic at 48fps, the prosthetic came up yellow and you could see exactly where it was. To overcompensate, they had to apply more red to the makeup.
- The one makeup technology that’s been kept exactly the same since LOTR is the Elf ears, for which they use gelatin.
- They used foam latex feet that were glued on for LOTR, but for The Hobbit they’ve created “slip-ons” that are much, much easier to apply and can come on and off during the day. The new Hobbit feet are also able to make the toes move.
- The dwarves wear prosthetic arms and hands so that the proportions add up after they’ve done the scale effects work.
- Dwalin’s arm tattoos are painted on his slip-on prosthetic arms, but his head tattoos are done in makeup using a stamp.
- They use an expert wig-maker for the film, and some of the wigs cost $10,000.
- Galadriel, Legolas, and Frodo’s wigs in The Hobbit are the same ones that were used in LOTR.
- Thorin was the most difficult dwarf design to get right. He had the most wig changes and prosthetic changes throughout the design process.
Visual Effects and Makeup:
- Weta Workshop created about 500 primary illustrations for conceptual designs; the same team churned out over 8,000 digital paintings for The Hobbit trilogy.
- The design team not only had to overcome the challenge of making each of the individual Dwarves unique and recognizable, but also to adjust their head-to-body ratios through padding and prostheses to achieve the proper look.
- None of the Dwarves have facial prostheses below the nose line or past the crow’s feet in order to save application time and keep the actors’ mouths free from restriction.
- On the Dwarves’ character traits: Ori is a mama’s boy and still sports purple bows she tied into his hair before leaving, Dwalin is a war-hardened soldier and wears his battle scars proudly, Gloin controls the money during the voyage and is also fond of grooming his hair in an elaborate fashion, Bifur has an Orc axe embedded in his skull which causes a nervous tic and some mental impairment, Bombur is the most massive and the strongest of the Dwarves who also uses his beard as a garrote to draw enemies in against his stomach to dispatch them, Gloin exhibits shades of The Lord of the Rings’ Gimli, and Nori has the most dramatic silhouette, Balin has no mustache, Thorin gave the team the toughest challenge as he goes through a series of prosthetic and costume changes.
- Jed Brophy (Nori) also played numerous characters in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
- Nearly 800 individual weapons were made for the 13 Dwarves, accounting for the principal actors, scale doubles, stunt doubles, picture doubles and sometimes a riding double.
- One of the weapons is a sort of stirrup spear the team calls a “pig-sticker” which allows the wielder to stand resolute against a charging board.
- Many of the props are now made using 3D printing, complemented by hands-on fabrications. The technology is limited only by the size of the printer and the design software used for it. Theoretically, 3D printers could be used to create large-scale props and, eventually, even full sets.
- Swords, for example, have 3D-milled blades that are hand-tooled by swordsmiths, while the grip and cross-guard is 3D printed; a much more efficient process than making them all by hand.
- All of the Dwarves wore enlarged prosthetic hands. The design team even improved upon the prosthetic feet by developing silicone leg boots and integrating running toe-shoes into the design.
- The shoot averaged between 36 and 48 prostheses needed every day.
- Due to increased definition of current filming practices, it’s become harder to fool the eye and blur the line between prosthetic and actor. The design team uses extremely thin acrylic and silicone-layered applications that are even impregnated with corpuscle (free floating cells, i.e. blood cells) that scatter and reflect light similarly to skin.
- Facial prostheses, which can be as thin as 0.1 mm, are made using molds with a material called syntactic dough.
- Somewhere between 600-800 Elven ears were produced for the films.
- Film captures the moisture in the air between the lens and the actor, blurring the lines between prostheses and skin. Digital camera technology has challenged the effects team because it has the ability to see through this moisture barrier.
- They amped up the color in the costume department to keep with The Hobbit’s lighter tone in relation to The Lord of the Rings.
- Gandalf’s costume is the same as in the trilogy except he now has an Elven scarf.
- In crafting the look and costumes of Bilbo, Peter Jackson wanted to emulate Tolkien himself since both are “country gentlemen.”
- They created six stages of Bilbo’s costume to reflect the things that happen to him throughout the course of the movie.
- Pretty much every thing you see in the film, costume-wise, was made from scratch, including the buttons.
- Shooting at 48 fps “oomphs” up the color and picks up more detail, so the costume department had to be conscious of this when crafting the costumes.
- The dwarf costumes were made slightly larger so it looks like they were made by people with fat fingers, and also so they would still look realistic when they’re scaled down.
- In the book, the dwarves are distinguished by hoods of different colors. They didn’t want to be that literal in the film, so the colors have been pulled into other aspects of their respective costumes.
- For the dwarves’ shoes, they had the bigger actors wear size 22 shoes and the smaller actors wear size 18. In order to keep them from falling off, they actually had a smaller shoe built inside the large shoe.
- Since Gloin is related to Gimili from LOTR, they wanted to keep a connection with the costumes of the two characters.
- All the original costumes—like Gandalf’s—from the LOTR trilogy are locked up in storage and preserved, so they can’t be reused.
- The consensus seems to be that the scale of The Hobbit is bigger than The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
- The version of Rivendell in The Hobbit is brighter because the season is midsummer, whereas in LOTR the season was autumn. In Hobbiton, the season is late spring/early summer.
- The film includes flashbacks to the city of Dale, which isn’t elaborately described in the book, so the art department had to create it from scratch. They took their cues from its position in Middle Earth (an alpine city) and the fact that it has a lot of water running through it, so it’s slightly Venetian. They created a “weekend fairground” feeling for Dale.
- The false perspective tricks don’t work as well in 3D, so they’ve had to find different ways to block scenes that feature characters of differing size (ie. Gandalf and the dwarves). They build two scale sets, one small and one big, and actors play out the scene on both sets at the same time.
- Shooting in 48 fps forced the art department to push more detail into the sets and props. Instead of using prop materials like plastics and such, many of the props are now made out of real materials like glass and ceramics.
- The use of the Technocrane—which can put the camera into any area of the set—has also forced the art department to fill out the backgrounds more.
- The biggest physical standing set they built for the first film was Hobbiton.
“It meant that we’re being a little bit more careful about what the finished surfaces are like. How our texture treatments are done, and just by pushing that much more detail into everything. It’s actually enriched the propage and the sets a whole lot more, I think, because we’re quite often using real materials instead of prop making plastics and things. I think it’s better as an interactive thing as well for the actors because they’re interacting with glass instead of plastic and ceramics instead of card.”
“It has made our job more interesting. If you walk into a set and you don’t feel you’re there, it’s not working. It’s that active. Normally you could cheat a bit here and cheat a bit there.”
“Gone were the days where you could say, ‘Aw, that’s just background, we won’t have to worry about that too much.’ “
Makeup Department On the Makeup and 48 fps:
“Yeah, it’s the color. What we learned, because even though I’ve been working with this material for about five years, I’ve never seen it on the Epic, at that rate. And what we found when we made these guys up, to the eye, if I was standing right in front of you and I had a piece on, you wouldn’t be able to tell. In front of the camera, they way it was reading, it was kicking yellow. And so you can actually see where the piece was. It was like the camera was picking up something that the human eye wasn’t seeing, and so they were kicking yellow. So what we had to do was overcompensate for the camera and put more red into them.”
“Yeah. And then when we’re on green screen, we have to kick the reds even more, because the green screen sucks out the reds as well. And that happens just on film as well. But yeah, painting for the invisible eye, we call it. And it’s a fine line, you can go too red and it appears really wacky. But if you go too little, you have this jaundiced guy.”
As you might imagine, getting to spend two days on the set of The Hobbit is something I’ll never forget. I got to see up close the time and energy Peter Jackson and his team are putting in to make sure this trilogy is as good, if not better, than the Lord of the Rings films. From what I saw, I’m beyond confident they will meet their goal.
Finally, as I already mentioned, in about a year, when The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is getting ready to come out, you can expect a much more in depth report. Until then….
Here is more from my Hobbit set visit:
- Peter Jackson Talks Similarities and Differences to Lord of the Rings, Shooting in 3D and 48 fps, His Initial Reluctance to Direct, and More on the Set of The Hobbit
- Ian McKellan Talks Returning to Middle Earth, Differences from the Book, Advances in Technology and Filming in 3D, and More on the Set of The Hobbit
- Martin Freeman Talks the Impact of The Ring on Bilbo, Ian Holm’s Performance, Being a Fan Favorite for the Role, and More on the Set of The Hobbit
- Richard Armitage Talks Dwarf Humor, Script Changes During Production, Parallels Between Thorin and Frodo’s Journeys, and More on the Set of The Hobbit
- Weta Workshop Head Richard Taylor Talks Turning Actors into Dwarves, Developing the Film’s Weapons, and More on the Set of The Hobbit