An Unexpected Journey: Quint on the set of The Hobbit Part 4 – A Palaver of Istari
Welcome, welcome to the fourth set report from the set of The Hobbit and the very first from a brand spankin’ new location!
We started in Matamata (Hobbiton) and the plan was to work our way down the North Island of New Zealand, zig-zagging south until we hit Wellington again where the 450 strong main unit would board planes and ferries bound for the South Island and the bulk of location photography.
Upon departing Hobbiton I made my way to a small town called Te Kuiti. This lovely little farm town is famous for being home to (Colin Meads), one of the most revered All Blacks of all time. The dude is so famous that my place was on Meads St.
This new location was on remote lands, so the production had to house the sizeable cast and crew in the small towns surrounding the location. There weren’t many hotels or motels, so the vast majority of us were put into houses. And not just rental houses, either. People graciously gave up their homes to the cast and crew. I felt a little like a Civil War soldier requisitioning someone’s home as my regiment was on the move.
At first I thought there might be a mistake. The house was an old two story place with a swimming pool to the side, stretches of green farmland populated with cows and sheep to the rear and a private drive leading up.
I’m still convinced that I was accidentally thrown into one of the dwarves’ place by mistake and they felt too bad to move me out.
Our location was Mangaotaki Rocks, a popular rock-climbing spot because of the distinctive bluffs, owned by the Denize family.
You know where on Earth that spot is now, but where on Middle Earth is it? This was to represent Trollshaw, where Bilbo and the Dwarves run into the Stone Trolls. That scene has already been shot on stage, but they needed some real, beautiful jungle for a few scenes afterwards.
Not only that, but there’s an abandoned and rundown farmhouse the talented crew erected about 70 feet from the edge of the forest for another shot entirely. So, one location, two places in Middle Earth.
First up was Trollshaw as 13 dwarves, a wizard and a hobbit search for the troll’s stash of rich stuff in a beautiful, misty forest. Here’s a pic of me out in it with my fancy new outdoorsy hat:
Some of that was natural mist and dust kicked up by the production trucks driving up the dirt roads to the set (which I was told were actually cut into the hills by the production in order to get the shooting equipment to the location, with the consent of the Denize family of course) and some of it was manmade in a quite clever manner.
Tall Paul (Paul Randall, who is well over 7’ tall) stands in for Sir Ian McKellen so the dwarves are the correct height in the shot. More on him later.
Sir Ian is there and is delivering some lines for this wide shot, giving Tall Paul his cues to wave an arm or shoot a look back over his shoulder to the dwarves and giving the other actors in the scene the real Gandalf to react to.
Gandalf (affectionately referred to as “Gandy” by the crew) is essentially shouting orders to the dwarves to search the area, in a way acting like a parent chaperoning a school field trip, trying to keep everybody on task. Sir Ian came in for the next set up, which was closer. With the incline of the slope and various dips and valleys to the landscape they were able to get Sir Ian and the dwarves into the same shot without using doubles.
It is Bilbo who finds the entrance to the troll cave, which was a giant rock set out at a sharp angle over the forest floor. A set had been constructed a good 100 feet away, but Peter didn’t like it, so they used this natural spot for the mouth of the cave. There was talk that there might be a new interior set constructed back in Wellington for reverse shots.
As you’d expect, this cave had some good stuff in it. Chests, swords (including a rusty Rohirrim sword) and some dead dudes, like this unfortunate gentleman:
Tolkein fans know that this marks a big moment as a rather important weapon is introduced to the Baggins family.
Amongst the stash of treasure and weapons taken from poor dwarves, elves, orcs and men captured and eaten by these trolls is a tiny elvish blade, barely bigger than a dagger for a regular man, but just the right size for a Hobbit.
Unless I’m misremembering Fellowship, Peter Jackson filmed Gandalf handing Sting over to Bilbo to mirror Bilbo giving Frodo the sword in LOTR. In other words, he makes a moment out of it. With the beautiful green forest in the background (cave entrance), Martin reluctantly receives the sword, pulling it slowly out of its sheath.
Thorin gets Orcrist here as well, which you can see him wield in his promo picture by the way. Orcrist is a long, flat blade and they filmed a scene of Richard Armitage swinging it down in a wide arc striking down a leaping evil thing to be added in digitally before all is said and done.
Kili uses a bow and arrow and the rest of the team have their own different weapons, like Graham McTavish’s Dwalin wields two axes and William Kircher’s Bifur more often than not uses stabbing weapons like spears. There’s also single axes, clubs and even cooking spoons as in the case of the fattest of the dwarves, Bombur (Stephen Hunter), who I’m convinced was modeled after Harry.
Check out Stephen chilling out between takes and tell me Harry didn’t play a part in the inspiration for the design of the character!
Not only did this location play host to the giving of Sting, it also featured a palaver of Istari.
That’s right, Gandalf and Radagast share a scene as well. Sylvester McCoy plays Radagast the Brown, a somewhat kooky wizard who is more at home with animals, insects and flora than he is with people.
Based on what I’ve seen over the last few weeks I think it’s going to be a toss up between Bombur and Radagast on who will steal the movie. Bombur is just so loveable and funny and Radagast is ridiculously endearing, an absent-minded St. Francis of Assisi.
Radagast comes with a word of warning that foreshadows some trouble our group will run into later. The words “Mirkwood,” “webs,” “Ungoliant” and “Dol Guldur” are mentioned.
The production avoided being rained out of Hobbiton, but there was some wetness in this location. Luckily the rain was inconsistent, very rarely heavy and the scenes within the wooded area had an extra level of protection due to the canopy, so we never had to move to wet weather cover shooting. If you’re not sure what that is, I’ll give you a brief explanation.
When shooting on location, especially in a place like New Zealand where the weather is quite often unpredictable and uncooperative, production has a Plan B in case of weather stopping the planned filming for the day. This shooting is usually moved inside and is fairly simple moments that could easily be done on a stage.
For instance, the wet weather cover for The Hobbit as it tours around New Zealand involves greenscreen shots of Gandalf and Bilbo being carried by the eagles. These shots are needed, but not something taxing for the actors to have prepared in their back pockets at a moment’s notice. It’s also easy to set up and doesn’t need a whole lot of built sets and props on hand.
From what I gather from the crew, it’d take a Terry Gilliam-level catastrophe to stop Jackson from shooting on location. It’s rare he buckles down and moves to wet weather cover.
As I said before, it was lucky that we were shooting in the wooded area because even though it looked like this at tent city 20 steps away:
It could still look like this in the trees:
Due to the complexity of shooting a group of different sized races they had to do an effects shot in this location. As Radagast arrives and talks with Gandalf the dwarves look on, distrusting this newly arrived individual. Bilbo is there as well and is obviously taken aback by this weird man (even once pulling an Office and looking at the camera with wide eyes, head slightly shaking… how cool is that?).
The wizards are taller than the hobbit and dwarves, naturally, and Peter wanted to get a wide shot of the entire team. Shooting in 3D makes it difficult to pull the same forced perspective tricks he used on Rings, so getting this shot will require some digital tinkering.
There’s a motion control process being used on this project that is quite spectacular and I’ll go into in a later article, but they did a simple version of it here for this wide shot.
They locked off the camera on a platform looking down on the action and had Sir Ian and Sylvester do their scene with two greenscreen flats set up in the background that just barely outlined both wizards. After Peter got what he wanted in terms of performance for this static shot they removed the greenscreens and wizards entirely and brought in the dwarves and Bilbo.
Sir Ian and Sylvester remained off camera to give their dialogue so the dwarves could react correctly.
Since it’s a locked off camera Weta Digital’s team should be able to pull out the normal sized wizards and enlargen them before replacing them into the shot with the dwarves, making the scale work. Even in this simplified version it’s a complex shot, making sure the wizards, Bilbo and the dwarves are all their correct heights.
Like I mentioned before there’s a much more technical process to get this effect that is really quite remarkable, but I’m saving that for a future report.
That about wraps things up on this one. The next report stays in Mangaotaki with more dwarf action and will be up rather quickly, so keep an eye out.
Let’s look at our featured crew member, then. With all the talk of Tall Paul, I figured it was about time to spend some time with Paul Randall.
Many LOTR fans should recognize Paul from the appendices on the Rings DVDs. This Kiwi native stands over seven feet tall and has been crucial in the success of selling the size differences between the races in Middle Earth.
As you can see in the picture above he’s mostly being used as Gandalf’s stand in and it’s pretty eerie just how much he looks like Sir Ian when in full Gandalf getup. There are some shots from the side where all you can see is beard, hat and nose and that’s enough to make your brain register Gandalf, even in person.
Paul has worked closely with Sir Ian to make sure his Gandalf moves in much the same way as Sir Ian’s.
Before playing Wizards, Tall Paul was, believe it or not, a cop. Can you imagine being pulled over by that guy!
He’d be intimidating if he wasn’t such a nice guy. Always quick with a joke and an easy-going attitude Paul is one of the guys that makes spending 12 hours a day on the set a blast.
So, hats off to Tall Paul!
Next up is a small report about a big dialogue scene. Richard Armitage fans will be interested in the next one, I guarantee it. See you then!
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Nov. 24, 2011, 9:42 a.m. CST
Thankyou, I love getting to see behind the scenes.
Nov. 24, 2011, 9:52 a.m. CST
by Skyway Moaters
Sneak peeks and Bombur and Radagast?
Nov. 24, 2011, 10:20 a.m. CST
And I don't see any reason not to get one's hopes up about this film. Looks fantastic.
Nov. 24, 2011, 10:34 a.m. CST
Great set report Quint and I can't wait to see the finished movie. In that final photo of Tall Paul, looks like the aint it cool logo is graffitti on the wall!
Nov. 24, 2011, 10:36 a.m. CST
Nov. 24, 2011, 10:57 a.m. CST
Nov. 24, 2011, 11:51 a.m. CST
I completely agree. These set reports are why this site was invented. Great, great stuff. I truly am envious of you, Quint! Keep up the great work!
Nov. 24, 2011, 12:11 p.m. CST
This Tolkien fanboy is pleased. Wonder what context Ungoliant is mentioned in... She's from the 1st/2nd age (as I recall).
Nov. 24, 2011, 12:20 p.m. CST
by Matthew Rice
Safer communities together. Quint, I hope you get a chance to hit Milford Sound while down in the South Island. Be warned though, with all those high jagged cliffs it is certain cougar country...and some of those plump farmers wives do not know the meaning of no. My jealousy cup overfloweth my friend but I'm still happy to live vicariously through you :-)
Nov. 24, 2011, 12:47 p.m. CST
And that shot of Harr.... ahem...Bombur is one of the best things I've ever seen. And I download a lot of porn, so that's saying something.
Nov. 24, 2011, 1:51 p.m. CST
by golden tribw
I am unbelievably jealous that I am not doing something -- anything! -- on that set.
Nov. 24, 2011, 2:39 p.m. CST
Nov. 24, 2011, 2:51 p.m. CST
Bet he gets all the dwarf hunnies! (It's the beard).
Nov. 24, 2011, 2:53 p.m. CST
by Anthony Torchia
but I hate you less with each article so keep writing them! Tony
Nov. 24, 2011, 3:04 p.m. CST
I don't need to see Bilbo looking straight into the camera and shaking his head. Unless it's a POV shot, which I hope is the case.
Nov. 24, 2011, 3:42 p.m. CST
Fourth wall? But that new Special Edition bit in JEDI when Sy Snootles looks straight into camera and then that big mouth singer opens his big mouth straight into camera was so cool! Oh wait. As a lover of LOTR trilogy, the only bit - THE ONLY BIT - in the film that I don't like and feel is cheap, is just a couple of seconds when a Warg breaks the fourth wall and comes at the cameraman. I'm hoping that the fourth wall breaking remains on the editing room floor.
Nov. 24, 2011, 3:44 p.m. CST
Nov. 24, 2011, 5:18 p.m. CST
Great read that harkens back to the old days of aintitcool. That being said though, I'm back to the gary oldman talkback. Call me old fashioned, but that's still my favorite hangout place.
Nov. 24, 2011, 5:26 p.m. CST
Ungoliant, was the first huge spider in Tolkien's myth(or whatever the hell you want to call it). Bilbo and the dwarves encounter some big spiders in Mirkwood. So Radagast probably refer's to those spiders as ungoliants children or something. Because Ungoliant is like the Eve of all big spiders. Also I don't remember Radagast being in the Hobbit, while I do remember him being in Lord of the rings. But he wasn't in that film series. But I don't care, I'm getting fucking psyched for this film! It feels like the Phantom Menace all over again. Only this time I'm pretty confident we won't be disappointed!
Nov. 24, 2011, 5:47 p.m. CST
I believe in Peter to pull this off but am worried that 48 fps is going to look like an HD daytime soap opera.
On network TV. I don't necessarily want to feel like I could step into the screen itself. Just show the wonders of Middle Earth from afar. That should be enough. It worked for the trilogy dammit! Stupid Cameron messed it up for every big time director with this flash in a pan 3D fad.
Nov. 24, 2011, 7:10 p.m. CST
Sylvester McCoy was quite possibly one of the quirkiest actors to ever play Doctor Who on tv. I'm sure he will be brilliant in these movies.
Nov. 24, 2011, 9:04 p.m. CST
Was a one-off... gag-reel type stuff. Not for the film.
Nov. 24, 2011, 10:03 p.m. CST
This is the best thing on this site since the first Sly Q&A. Nice job Quint!!
Nov. 25, 2011, 12:09 a.m. CST
Been a while since I've read THE HOBBIT, but I believe the scene/location where Bilbo gets Sting and Thorin gets Orcrist is also the location where Gandalf gets his sword, Glamdring - am I wrong? Maybe this was a memory from the old Rankin Bass cartoon and not officially Tolkien cannon?
Nov. 25, 2011, 1:52 a.m. CST
by Horace Cox
Who cares if it is an anachronism? He would look bad ass. Never mention them or how he came to have them. Just have him running around cleaving goblins and orcs looking like a fat ginger Morpheus. Of course it will never happen, but that would kick soooo much ass. Fucking pimp.
Nov. 25, 2011, 3:35 a.m. CST
Please, please, please Mr Jackson.... Give me some Melkor and Ungoliant fuckin action. Both Hobbit films are worth it for even a thirty second montage of those fuckers eating the trees of light and Melkor setting his Balrogs on a turncoat(and very hungry) Ungoliant. PLEASE GOD(Mr Jackson).... Let it be so!
Nov. 25, 2011, 3:37 a.m. CST
that would literally make me squeal like a little girl. The last film to get that outta me was the appearance of the hoverboard in BTTF II.
Nov. 25, 2011, 4:46 a.m. CST
POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOR THOSE UNFAMILIAR WITH LOTR and Tolkien's saga -- fair warning... In Fellowship (the movie and the book), Bilbo presents Sting to Frodo while they are at Rivendell, just prior to Frodo leaving with the Fellowship. At this time, he also gives Frodo his coat of Mithril. As for the Hobbit...I don't remember Gandalf "presenting" Bilbo with Sting. I think that this is artistic license by Peter Jackson, perhaps to make it more "meaningful". I am pretty sure Bilbo finds and takes Sting all by himself, within the Troll cave. And in reply to another talkbacker, Radagast was definitely not in the Hobbit. In fact, the only mention of the true nature of Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast and the other "Istari" is only provided in the appendix in the Return of the King. They are cited as "Istari" in the Appendices, and their purpose (having been sent to Middle Earth in the middle of the 3rd Age) is to rally the Free peoples of ME against Sauron and his minions. They are not allowed to directly oppose Sauron, but rather to warn, inspire and motivate the Free peoples in their coming confrontation with Sauron. It is also implied that Gandalf (being the true "White Wizard"), is to bear witness to Sauron's overthrow, and help Aragorn establish his reign, which ushers in the Fourth Age (Age of Men)...upon which he is to depart to the West with the Elves and the Ringbearers. Tolkien also establishes that the Istari (either in the Appendices to ROTK, or in the Silmarillion) are in fact "angelic beings", which in Tolkien's Legendarium are the Maiar.
Nov. 25, 2011, 5:14 a.m. CST
by Mr Gorilla
Nov. 25, 2011, 5:14 a.m. CST
by Mr Gorilla
Nov. 25, 2011, 6:40 a.m. CST
SYLVESTER MCCOY! We can but dream. Then they can cast him in the Dr.Who movie which should continue immediately after the end of 'Survival' (f*ck the movie and subsequent series).
Nov. 25, 2011, 7:29 a.m. CST
Now, if creepythinmanlives is posting a FACT on AICN on his telephone, he will never in a trillion years experience the website.
Nov. 25, 2011, 7:29 a.m. CST
Nov. 25, 2011, 7:29 a.m. CST
It's ah, such a sadness that creepythinmanlives thinks he's posted a FACT on his fucking telephone! Get real!
Nov. 25, 2011, 8:09 a.m. CST
Nov. 25, 2011, 8:13 a.m. CST
Nov. 25, 2011, 8:38 a.m. CST
I know you're doing this, but you had better be savoring every moment of this, for you will look back on it fondly for the rest of your life! In the meantime, thanks for the updates and exhaustive journalistic endeavors. This is the kind of stuff that not only we enjoy reading, but will get you noticed. It's the rarest kind of work you'll get, the kind that you enjoy immensely and work your ass off for because of it.
Nov. 25, 2011, 11 a.m. CST
Keep 'em coming!
Nov. 25, 2011, 12:11 p.m. CST
Interesting to see how the Hobbit's coming along.
Nov. 25, 2011, 12:12 p.m. CST
Like the awful dwarf tossing scenes which ruined Helms Deep. Even if the Hobbit's supposed to be lighter in tone.
Nov. 25, 2011, 12:19 p.m. CST
..however, can we call plant when you review the finished product? ;) Seriously though - some great writing and interesting topics covered - I eagerly await your next report.
Nov. 25, 2011, 12:42 p.m. CST
Do you remember AICN Mr. Darth Kong? It'll be spring soon. The Choppah will review another movie. And Asimovlives will be Jar Jar Abrams bashing.
Nov. 25, 2011, 12:42 p.m. CST
And LV_426 will be making up alternate universe stories. And GEEKS will be posting in the TalkBacks. Do you remember posting in the TalkBacks?
Nov. 25, 2011, 12:43 p.m. CST
No creepythinmanlives. I can't recall posting in the TalkBacks. Nor the sound of a PC booting up. Nor the touch of a keyboard. I'm naked in the dark.
Nov. 25, 2011, 12:43 p.m. CST
There's, there's nothing. No veil between me and the BAN-HAMMER of FIRE. I can see HARRY! With my waking eyes!
Nov. 25, 2011, 12:43 p.m. CST
Then let us be rid of it. Once and for all. Come on Mr. Darth Kong. I can't carry it for you. BUT I CAN CARRY YOU! COME ON!
Nov. 25, 2011, 3:39 p.m. CST
Thanks, Quint, for mentioning "Dol Guldur!" Or telling us it was mentioned on set, I guess. After reading on wiki what transpires there, holy shit am I excited to see what Peter Jackson does with that story, especially with Gandalf and poor Thrain. That should be pretty dramatic. Add in The Necromancer's dark manifestations, the building of Dol Guldur on the hill, Saruman's earliest treachery, and three of The Nine's maintenance of it... can't wait to see it played out.
Nov. 25, 2011, 6:33 p.m. CST
In "Fellowship" he accidentally helps Saruman capture Gandalf. And then later, sends Gwaihir the eagle lord to Gandalfs rescue. In the movie, I always imagined the moth at the top of Orthanc reporting back to Radagast - who then sends Gwaihir. The giant eagles appear in The Hobbit too, so maybe they'll give us some set up with Radagast and Gwaihir to enrichen FOTR even more.
Nov. 25, 2011, 10:03 p.m. CST
by Lucifer Haywood
Nov. 25, 2011, 10:31 p.m. CST
Out of the wheelchair and kickin' it in New Zealand. Good for you!
Nov. 25, 2011, 11:37 p.m. CST
Ungoliant would make Shelob look like a gnat. And I hope that we can do more than just see Ungoliant, but that we can get to know her - she's a disturbing character. I know this is The Hobbit, and not The Silmarilion, but I'm dubious about whether or not The Silmarilion could be adapted for the screen (maybe in parts), so this might be the best chance.
Nov. 25, 2011, 11:52 p.m. CST
...or at least for a while. AICN started as a cool underground movie blog where we could learn inside scoop about movies, bits of information that even people involved in making the movie didn't even know. I remember seeing Harry on 60 Minutes or one of those shows, being asked, incredulously "HOW did you get that information? Almost nobody but the director knew that!" Things have changed. A lot of what we read here can be read on dozens of other "inside scoop" sites. I mean, yeah, I like to read reviews, but what brought me to this site lo those many years ago was the NEWS, not the REVIEWS. And when I say "news," I mean the kind of news that this place used to have the monopoly on. What happened? Did you burn bridges? Did your agents blow their covers? Did you get distracted? Perhaps there's tighter security around movie sets nowdays. Or perhaps those other sites out there learned your methods, so that you're no longer a standout in what you can provide. But Quint, you're breathing some of the old life back into things. I love what you're providing here, and I love how it brings back a glimmer of the early days. I would love to see more of this kind of reporting. Keep it up!
Nov. 26, 2011, 12:36 a.m. CST
by Dan Halen
Nov. 26, 2011, 2:07 a.m. CST
by Bedknobs and Boomsticks
thinking of the bit on the LOTR extras where they showed Sean Astin having his foot pierced by glass when he stepped in the water.
Nov. 26, 2011, 6:10 a.m. CST
by Col. Tigh-Fighter
More of the same, please. Toot suite!
Nov. 26, 2011, 9:03 a.m. CST
by John Baker
I like PJ. This film looks to be shaping up nicely and I think it is in good hands. However when I first saw that picture of Jackson this was the first thing that popped into my mind. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/90/RWS_Tarot_00_Fool.jpg I'm no whacked out crystal swinging tarot using new age hippy mind you... Just the first thing I thought of. Interesting in a Led Zeppelin kind of a way... Hope it's not an omen... (not that I believe in those...) ... *Crosses Fingers*
Nov. 26, 2011, 9:46 p.m. CST
by Bedknobs and Boomsticks
in the Paths of the Dead.
Nov. 27, 2011, 1:52 a.m. CST
Sure hope he looks like an actual fucking dragon instead of all the crap variations of movie dragons we've all had our eyeballs raped with. Sorry to sound so bitter. But the dragon in Dragonheart looked like a horned toad, and the dragon in Eragon looked like more like a bird than a dragon. Smaug should be red and gold, with metallic scales and a long neck and suitably reptilian. Oh well, at least Bombur looks good...
Nov. 27, 2011, 6:01 a.m. CST
I am enjoying living, albeit vicariously, through the making of this movie. Keep up the good work.
Nov. 27, 2011, 7:19 a.m. CST
When you talk about "one location, two places in Middle Earth", is the scene with Radagast supposed to be set in the second of those places (the one with the farmhouse, I guess), or is the Radagast scene taking place in the trollshaws, with the farmhouse scene to be covered in your next report? I've been arguing with a friend about what you're actually saying here :P Thanks for the amazing reports. Yay, Sylvester McCoy!
Nov. 27, 2011, 9:27 a.m. CST
Nov. 28, 2011, 6:45 p.m. CST
What a nice part to get late in his career. Kudos Peter Jackson.
Nov. 30, 2011, 8:29 p.m. CST
Dec. 1, 2011, 4:35 p.m. CST
by judge dredds fresh undies
Always liked Sylvester McCoy. Rab C Nesbit's brother in the hobbit, awesome!
Dec. 5, 2011, 12:43 p.m. CST
by Dr. Strangelove
...but you're NOT going to actually see Ungoliant in this movie, just like the way you didn't actually see Morgoth when his name was mentioned by Legolas in FOTR. It's just an obscure name-drop that will appeal to the hardcore fans of the books while remaining unnoticed/ignored by the vast majority of the regular film audience. Besides, why would Jackson ruin the reveal of Shelob (one of cinema's greatest monsters) by revealing an even bigger, scarier spider from the first age that has nothing to do with the story of The Hobbit? If you do that, you might as well spoil the impact of Smaug by showing Glaurung too.
June 12, 2012, 9:40 p.m. CST
Excellent photo of Tall Paul--all your photos were great. Your descriptions were wonderful--so detailed. I felt almost like I was there. Thanks again.
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