Creating the Locations of The Fellowship of the Ring –

by Jul 3, 2001Lord of the Rings (Movies)

Book publisher Houghton Mifflin and author Brian Sibley (There and Back Again: The Map of the Hobbit, C.S. Lewis Through the Shadowlands) have been given the task of producing the official movie guide for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Short, ten-page samples of this 120-page compendium have been distributed by HarperCollins UK.

Here are some exceprts appearing in FilmForce.

Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Upon Seeing the Shire Set

“What an introduction to working on the film this has turned out to be,” says Sir Ian. “This is a most magical place! An enchanting little gaggle of hobbit children with furry feet scampering about in an idyllic landscape that might be Oxfordshire – but which is not Oxfordshire – with rolling hills, dotted with the hobbit’s [sic] charming little hobbit-hole homes that look as real as the trees, grass, flowers and moss that surround them. It’s most thrilling!”

For Peter Jackson it was essential that Hobbiton looked [sic] as authentic as possible: “One of the things I hate in movies is seeing a natural landscape like a garden or lawn or a hedge where it is clear that the film’s art department has gone there the day before and planted some things in pots in the ground – it just never looks real. I wanted Hobbiton to look like hobbits have lived there for hundreds of years.”

A large, empty field usually grazed by sheep and, in places, pretty swampy, it was not easy to see how it could become the Hobbiton described in Tolkien’s books. Nevertheless, as Jackson walked around the farm with Conceptual artists Alan Lee and John Howe, ideas of how the area might be modified began to take shape. “Sitting there with sketch-pads,” recalls Jackson, “Alan and John started drawing the landscape, adding little hobbit-holes and cabbage-patches and washing-lines and hedges, literally bringing Hobbiton to life on paper. So, at that point we decided that we [had] found the ideal location.”

The swamp was dammed, a lake was created and the rest of the land was drained and cleared. Major earthworks, necessitating the shifting of some five thousand kilolitres of soil, were involved in the creation of the rolling hills that Sir Ian McKellen would later admire. Fields were ploughed to look as if they were hobbit farmland and five hundred metres of hedges were planted on the ten-acre site.

At the Sign of the Prancing Pony

The aim of the film’s Art Department, says [art director] Dan Hennah, was to create an unsettling atmosphere in Bree: “The people of Bree are just normal people. But they are all much bigger than the hobbits so they feel a bit threatening. We worked on making everything tall, thin and slightly out of true line, so the buildings feel as though they are looming in over you just as all the humans are leaning over the hobbits as they walk through the streets.” The fact that those streets were built on a slope and covered with mud added to the characters’ difficulties.

In Imladris It Dwells

In contrast to Bree, Rivendell – home of the elven lord, Elrond – is a place of peace and beauty and, for Frodo and his companions, a sanctuary from the terror of the Black Riders who have been pursuing them since their departure from Hobbiton. “I think Rivendell is a good example of somewhere that feels rea but is also totally unlike anywhere anyone had ever been before”: Conceptual Artist Alan Lee reflecting on the challenge of creating the refuge of the Last Homely House in the West….

“From an architectural point of view,” says Dan Hennah, “the Rivendell set is a mass of detail: all the surfaces, the pillars, the roofs, the lanterns have flowing Elvish designs. Rivendell is filled with a flowing fantasy beauty.”

Preparations for building Rivendell began eighteen months before the start of filming, with the planting of plants and vines that would eventually be incorporated into a landscape that includes glades of trees and artificially-constructed waterfalls. Waterfalls need rocks and, unlikely though it sounds, those in Rivendell are made from foam. A variety of set materials was employed in set-building: wood, concrete, plaster, fibreglass – and polyurethane foam.

For the cast, walking onto the Rivendell set for the first time, with peacocks strutting to and fro, was a revelation. Sir Ian McKellen describes it as “an amazingly beautiful and enchanting place to walk around: a sylvan landscape with wonderful art decorating the buildings, all of which are open to the woodland in which they are set.”

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