The Blades of Middle Earth - An EXCLUSIVE Interview with Kit Rae, Artistic Director of United Cutlery
Elbren It's obvious from your Kit Rae designs that you are a fantasy fan; what inspires you to design the swords, daggers, and fang weapons? Are there specific books/authors/artists that prompt these designs? Kit Rae: I don't know where my inspiration comes from. Lack of sleep maybe? I read Tolkien and Frank Herbert's Dune books when I was young. They were my bibles. Both works were heavy into knife and swordplay so that's probably what started it. I also loved the fantasy book covers by Frank Frazetta, Boris, Michael Whelan, and a host of others. I guess all of that filtered through my mind over the years and it had to get back out! Strangely, to get inspired I have to do something that has nothing to do with any of that, to clear my mind. That's when the ideas come. Elbren How does a weapon get from your mind's eye to the catalog/showroom? Do you draw them first with paper and pencil? Can you outline the basic steps of creation; or, does it differ each time? Kit Rae: Sometimes a complete design will just jump out of my head and it's done and sometimes I will play around with a design for years. I think up these characters or stories that influence why a design is a certain way, what it is for, who used it. I do hundreds a little sketches and pick out the good ones to show to the product development team at United and we decide which ones to make. From there I flesh out the design in a series of highly detailed drawings, looking at it from every angle. Then I make all of the individual part drawings and the internal design. Sculpts or carvings are made from which to make tooling from, then when I have actual parts we experiment with different metal finishes. It can take up to a year before the product actually gets to the market. Elbren There are A LOT of forgeries out there of your work and the Lord of the Rings swords. Can you tell us how you are working to battle this situation and what weapon collectors can do to help and, ultimately, protect themselves? Kit Rae: It is very frustrating. There are so many of the companies making cheap copies in Pakistan, India, and China that it is getting ridiculous. Copies are out within months of our releases now. The real LOTR products are marked with the LOTR logo and copyright info on the blade and the quality is much higher, obviously. My KR blades are also marked with my logo and copyright. If it does not have those or does not come in high quality packaging with the brand graphics and logos, it is a fake. All of those products come with a certificate of authenticity too. If you buy by mail order catalog or on the web, simply ask "is this the real licensed product manufactured by UC". If they have the guts to lie and say it is they are breaking more laws than just copyrights and patents! We are pursuing legal action against everyone we find doing it. If you have been stung by a counterfeiter and want to report them you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Beyond that, just remember if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Elbren Regarding the Lord of the Rings swords, just HOW popular are they? Was United Cutlery surprised at the public's reaction or did you expect them to sell like hotcakes? Kit Rae: It was a huge risk in dollars to take it on, the largest for us, but we have been taking movie risks since our first movie license for the Rambo knives. Sometimes movies do good, like Indiana Jones, and sometimes they flop, like Wing Commander. After David Hall, our product development director, and I went to visit New Line and saw the sword designs and what the film looked like we both had the feeling that this was going to be big, the film and the sword line. We were not sure how the public would accept more than one sword, but they are all doing very well. It has turned out to be one of the most successful movie projects in our history. Elbren As a weapons collector, I get the impression that United Cutlery is working day and night to keep up with the demand for the LOTR swords. Is this true and do you see it continuing through the release of the Return of the King and beyond? Kit Rae: Yes and yes. I think people will be financially tapped out after the ROTK swords hit the stores, but I think the line will continue to sell for many years after. It will be one hell of a collection! We are trying to do a good mix of swords from the films so there should be something for everyone, from Ringwraith lovers to fans of Elven blades. Elbren Your license is for swords only; any chance that license will be expanded? If so, what would you like to see UC produce in addition to the swords? Kit Rae: We have our hands full doing swords and that is what we specialize in so we will stick to that. If our license expands it will be adding more swords! I think our license is up to 13 swords for all three films. If the demand keeps going strong New Line may let us make even more than that. I would have loved the opportunity to make Gimli's axe, but that license had already been given to Noble Collection. Maybe Sauron's mace. Elbren How much is UC listening to the Tolkien fans? I know that you frequent fan message boards and even have asked what we would like to collect. Do our comments/requests really come into play when you decide on what to release? Kit Rae: I consider myself to be the #1 customer, as both a LOTR nut and a sword collector/ designer, but I have always asked for people's opinions on everything. I talk to fans here and several other Tolkien sites and just recently at DragonCon. We listen to our dealer and distributors opinions, and I even ask movie only fans, who have never read Tolkien, which swords they liked. They have influenced the decision to make Aragorn's Ranger Sword and the upcoming Elven Warrior Sword. Collector feedback is very important. Elbren What is the most popular LOTR sword right now? Do you have any estimated figures of how many LOTR swords have been sold? Projected sales? Kit Rae: Sting is the most popular sword but the others are very close. I think most people want the whole collection and buy more than one. I know some people who have bought all of them. Narsil is going strong for a sword that was only seen briefly in the prologue. That sword means more to those of us that have read the book. I don't have the exact sales figures but I know we met our guarantee with New Line within months of the film's release. Usually that takes about a year. People were buying these before the film even came out. I think that is a testament to just how popular Tolkien's work really is, and of the care the designers took to make them as good as they possibly could be. Elbren The LOTR swords are replicas of the movie swords. Some of these were designed by John Howe; did you have any hand in their design? Do you like the designs or would you have changed any that you've reproduced so far? Kit Rae: The designs were already complete when we came into the picture. It was a real shame because I had been wanting to do an LOTR sword line since I first started in this business. A few years back I wrote the Tolkien estate to try and get the license, but as luck would have it, the Franklin Mint beat us to the punch. As far as the movie designs, I already had my own visions of them in my head for many years so I had to get over that. I thought most of the designs were fantastic and I loved Sting and Glamdring right off, especially that long leaf blade with the deep fuller. Arwen's sword was beautiful. Once I realized what they were going after with the designs, making each unique to the different cultures, making them functional and making them look like they had a "history" behind them, I got it. The swords were such incredible works of art that it inspired me to make absolutely sure that our reproductions were as close to the originals as possible. Certain things were not possible to reproduce, like the way the fuller groove in Glamdring's blade flares out at the hilt or that absolutely beat-to-hell-corroded finish on the Nazgul swords, but all in all I think they came out very accurate. We wanted to add all of the pits, dents, and tarnish spots that the makers put into the props, but that turned out to be more costly than a "new" looking finish. In the end we opted for a finish somewhere in between. Elbren If you could design one LOTR sword, which would it be? (From any of Tolkien's tales) Why? Kit Rae: Narsil, and I have already done it as the Sword of Vaelen in my Swords of the Ancients line. It was always Narsil to me. Since Narsil has now been "officially" done, and I like the film version better than mine, I guess I'll have to pick another one. Probably Gurthang, the black sword of Turin, Tolkien's other reforged sword from the Silmarillion. I'll have to make my version of that one day. Thanks Kit!
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