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An Unexpected Journey: Quint on the set of The Hobbit Part 5 – Thorin's Dilemma

Welcome back to Middle Earth! One more report from Denize Bluffs (aka Mangaotaki Rocks) before we move on to the next (and pretty awesome, I might add) location.

This day was fairly unique as far as location shooting goes. Typically you go out in the wild to get big establishing shots, which is why a whole lot of the footage I’ve seen so far involves running. With the quickly changing light, fast moving clouds, uncooperative weather getting anything but quick bits is often difficult and will make even the most adventurous director long for the controlled confines of a studio.

However having a real meaty dramatic scene shot amongst this kind of backdrop gives even the most fantastic movie a sense of grounded reality that a stage simply can’t replicate. Not 100% anyway. Look at Jaws, a movie about a pissed off, maneating shark. It is all the location work (and the headaches that came with it) that made that movie believable.

So it was a great pleasure to see one of the location days on The Hobbit that wasn’t an action beat. I mean, most of the Bag End stuff wasn’t actiony either, but for the most part it was bits and pieces.

The scene shot this day was a hefty bit of character work as Thorin and Gandalf’s friendly consultation turns heated.

I knew I was in for something different when they were getting close ups, the background barely edging into frame because the focus was now on the drama, not the scenery.

The introduction to the scene was a good LOTR style shot, though, so don’t you worry. There’s still a lot of New Zealand on display as all 13 dwarves, Bilbo and Tall Paul ride their horses and ponies through some rocks to the hill where the derelict farmhouse sits, or what’s left of it.

Two giant Technocranes were set up to catch this action, one pointed at the group as they ride up and the other catching them as they pass then panning and rising to see where they’re headed. Seeing these monsters out in the wild was quite fun, I must say.


In-between takes the hardworking crew had to run in and literally rake the grass to hide the horseprints. See?



It’s late in the day and the idea is that this is a suitable place to make camp, but Gandalf wants to push on and seek Elrond’s council at Rivendell.

This scene is all about Thorin and my first real chance at seeing Richard Armitage craft a layered performance with the character. Thorin’s a stubborn dwarf, very much a leader, but is smart enough to heed the council of Gandalf.

He is a man torn in this scene. His deep resentment at the elves (he believes they have betrayed his ancestors by not stepping in when they needed their help) pulls him one way, but his respect for Gandalf pulls him the other.

Sir Ian had to be here for this moment since a full performance was required from both men, so he spent the day as he does most days on this movie: standing on a platform a good 2-3 feet off the ground. Peter was getting mostly medium shots and over the shoulders (or beside the shoulder for the shots from Gandalf to Thorin if you want to be anal about it) so there shouldn’t be any need for digital augmentation here.

Armitage does a great job with Thorin’s inner struggle. The look on his face isn’t someone locked into a decision. Gandalf urges him to seek Elrond’s help, for the good of the quest. Instead of playing it like a stone-faced general, Armitage does weigh his options and mostly in reaction to Gandalf’s words, not in his own dialogue.

In other words he conveys the struggle with his face, giving Thorin a depth I was anticipating. I’m sure the inclination would be for Armitage to play it stubborn and he does, but he layers it with some real emotion.

I was wondering how they were going to handle Gandalf’s disappearances, which in the book always happened at the worst possible times with the wizard pretty much just saying “Alright guys, good luck. Gotta run!” That wouldn’t fly too much in the movie, I don’t think, even though we are getting more glimpses into just where Gandalf is zapping off to.

In this instance Gandalf’s departure is an emotionally driven one. The dwarves and Bilbo stay behind, Bilbo especially concerned about losing their Wizard. Will he come back? Nobody knows.

This location served as Peter’s Birthday spot. The man came to work on his birthday without much fanfare until the dwarves surprised him with their present… a calendar that featured each dwarf in some inappropriate position. Think of it as a Hunky Firemen calendar but instead of hunky firemen it was all hunky dwarves in the most ridiculous romance book cover positions imaginable.

I know of some fans on Twitter that would kill to have a look at that calendar. There’s a mighty large Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner contingent on social media sites I’ve recently discovered.

Wow, that was a short one this time out.

Let’s see who my featured crew member is this report. Why it’s Weta Digital’s Eric Saindon!



I knew early on that I’d feature Eric because he figures into my daily set routine at least a dozen times. I’m not used to there being other Erics around, so when somebody says my name I automatically assume they’re addressing me.

Many times a day Eric, the visual effects supervisor on set, is called to action and every goddamn time I turn around like an idiot thinking someone’s calling me. In fact Peter Jackson just recently called out for Saindon during a rehearsal by going “Is Eric here? Where’s Eric?” He looked at me and I raised my eyebrows in a “Me?” way and he said, “Not that bloody Eric. Where’s Eric Saindon?”

Eric has been part of the family since Fellowship and has been kind enough to invite me in to cop a squat in the VFX tent on location, which gives me a clear view of the monitors, protection from the wind/rain/harsh sun and some great conversation.

He started his career with (admittedly) one of the worst Star Trek movies (Insurrection), but got pulled into the Weta Digital family on LOTR and stayed after for Kong, Avatar and now The Hobbit films.

So, what’s Eric doing in that picture above? That’s the inside of an abandoned farmhouse which will feature in the next report and what Saindon and his super hip team (comprised of Seb Abante, Kevin Sherwood, Brian McMillin and Adam Harriman) do is essentially get as much detail and info about a location/set/prop as possible.

Above, Eric is taking photos of the entire set, piece by piece, area by area, so he can build a digital replica of the environment if he needs to. Sometimes he knows he has to recreate a prop or section of a wall or rock or whatever, sometimes he doesn’t, but wants to keep the info anyway.

It’s usually Eric, Seb or Adam doing this work with Brian manning a 3D scanning device called a Leica. When you see those little orange strips of tape on a greenscreen or on a rock it’s for this scanning device.

Brian or Adam typically use these strips as tracking markers, noting their location in the Leica and doing a full scan of the set. What they end up with is a ton of data, 1s and 0s that represent a detailed 3-D representation of the entire scanning area.

Eric told me that he can take these high res photos he takes and basically lay them over this framework and have a near photoreal recreation of the shooting area, which makes it easier to roll with digital additions, subtractions and CGI creatures (like Wargs, for instance).

That also helps him digitally recreate props to be as close to the physical prop should he be required to.

Since most of the Weta Digital team on the ground at main unit is American we’ve kind of turned the VFX tent into the American Embassy on the set, with discussions of how we’re going to celebrate Thanksgiving and how we miss simple things, like 24 hour stores, free refills, actual Mexican food, unlimited internet and other such American topics.

So, I’m going to cheat a little bit and also include a couple shots of the guys so while this is really Eric’s feature I’m gonna throw some love on his team, a group of awesome guys. I’ve only left out Brian but that’s because I have a good shot of him sharing a helicopter ride with me in a future report.

Here’s Adam (left), Eric and Seb (right) along side the Leica looking concerned about whether or not there’s enough tracking markers put up in a shot.



Next report takes us away from the Mangaotaki Rocks and on to some sacred Maori land. Here’s a sneak peek:



See you folks for that one very soon!

Click Here to Read An Unexpected Journey Part 1 – Concerning Hobbiton

Click Here to Read An Unexpected Journey Part 2 – They Call Me Mr. Chubb

Click Here to Read An Unexpected Journey Part 3 – Beginnings and Endings

Click Here to Read An Unexpected Journey Part 4 – A Palaver of Istari

-Eric Vespe
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Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 27, 2011, 11:38 p.m. CST


    by josh hubanks

    loving this series.

  • Nov. 27, 2011, 11:54 p.m. CST


    by Brandon Creek

    Why do people still "First" post on here? I thought that died like two years ago. I can understand an article now and then, but it seems as if it's every article on AICN has one (and sometimes two). Is there some sort of running gag that I'm not aware of?

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 12:06 a.m. CST

    by m0reta

    Really loving this set reports, Quint. Thanks for the time you spend writing them.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 12:06 a.m. CST


    by Nachokoolaid

    To me, Richard Armitage has the hardest job. Thorin is so iconic, and so ingrained, and they skewed SO young with the casting. He's go an uphill battle. Imagine if they had cast, I don't know, Viggo Mortenson for Gandalf instead of McKellan. Or if they how stuck with Townsend for Aragorn, perhaps. That's what this Thorin casting feels like. So it sounds good that he seems to be doing well. But again, to me he has the most to prove.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 12:08 a.m. CST

    These are a great read! Please keep them coming!

    by lotor666

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 2:41 a.m. CST

    Love these!

    by raspberrychocolate

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 4:26 a.m. CST

    Your set reports are like a hot toddy by a roaring fire

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter

    Nice and cozy :)

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 5:06 a.m. CST

    It's a laser scanner, not a Leica

    by DrSurvey

    Yes, the company is called a Leica, but the device he used is a Laser Scanner. Phenomenal bits of equipment and made my job very easy until I changed industries. Leica are more known for their camera lenses though, they make some of the best. So, not Leica, Laser Scanner as Trimble would get very upset if they became known as Leicas. Oh, also if anyone is wondering how it is pronounced, it is Lie-ka. Superb devices though. I know Rockstar used them for GTA, a lot of Games Companies are using them too.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 5:34 a.m. CST

    RIP Ken Russell

    by Lao_Che_Air_Freight

    One of the finest directors who ever lived.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 6:03 a.m. CST

    You sure it's not a LIDAR scanner?

    by white_vader

    Commonly used in movies to take 3d data of large areas? I mean anything's possible, but LIDAR is what I'm familiar with.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 6:23 a.m. CST

    Dineze Nutz

    by Klytus_I.m_Bored

    Great reporting, you lucky bastard.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 7:38 a.m. CST

    Great report, even if short...

    by Pete K.

    The bit about the SFX was really interesting. The Leica you're referring to, is this the same Leica that makes the really expensive photo cameras?

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 7:39 a.m. CST

    Leica or not Leica....

    by Pete K.

    I already was wondering what the rather conservative company like Leica would do with 3D scanning. :)

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 7:54 a.m. CST

    I certainly hope he don't pull a Lucas.

    by Pete K.


  • Nov. 28, 2011, 8 a.m. CST

    These reports are like potato chips.

    by Ingeld

    As soon as I am done with one, I want another.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 8:32 a.m. CST

    The best - sorry, only - reporter on the site gets sent to New Zealand...

    by Joaquin_Ondamoon

    .....thank goodness! Too bad the rest of the site suffers for it. Awesome job, Eric! (as usual)

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 11:03 a.m. CST

    pinkpeach's dilemma

    by Pink

    So ready to swoon over picture of Thorin. Denied! Dammit!

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 12:16 p.m. CST

    Are we gonna see any performance under the prosthetics and wigs???

    by performingmonkey

    Every time I see pics of the Dwarves all you get is the huge costumes, prosthetics, hair and the stupid red makeup they're having to use to compensate for how 3D truly DOES suck oliphaunt ass. How are we meant to get believable characters underneath all that crap? They just got away with it with Gimli because John Rhys-Davies was such a presence. I hope the current Dwarf actors can cut through in a similar way.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 2:06 p.m. CST

    Looks like the laser scanner is a Leica ScanStation C10

    by tritium

    Here is a link to the product page, for those interested in this technology. These devices are used a lot in civil engineering and architectural services. They also are being utilized in archeological applications, such as providing 3-D scanned digital models of dig sites, tombs, ancient dwellings and fortifications, etc. PBS/NOVA had a recent episode on the great Gothic Cathedrals, and one of these devices was used to capture a high resolution 3-D map of the interior supporting columns and flying butresses. In one particular case, the data obtained was used as a diagnostic tool, in order to determine a structural design defect and predict a failure mode, and consequent solution to repair/strengthen the buckling member. Very cool stuff.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 5:04 p.m. CST


    by Mike

    I think that's why they chose to keep Armitage's prosthesis to a minimum, so that he can show emotion and rage a lot better.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 6:21 p.m. CST

    must have a look at that calendar

    by LegoKenobi

    my kingdom for it! :D

  • I realize that is a strange statement to make when we all know it is being shot on location. However to see still photos of the landscape and sets, makes me appreciate all the more just how spectacular this movie will be. I can not wait for it.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 7:53 p.m. CST

    I still say these articles...

    by Sean1701

    are the best thing on right now....

  • I hope the 3D doesn't hinder those majestic shots. Like those helicopter shots in FOTR when the camera follows the Fellowship leaving Rivendell and going into the Misty Mountains.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 10:22 p.m. CST

    Helicopter shots...

    by Mike

    and swooping landscape shots are a staple of Middle-Earth films, I'm sure there will be plenty of them in these movies.

  • Nov. 29, 2011, 1:18 a.m. CST

    More sweeping crane camera shots, just what we need...

    by Bloodhound

    I should have thought Jackson would have learned a lesson from King Kong, but maybe not.

  • Nov. 29, 2011, 8:38 a.m. CST


    by olo

    Right, Leica is a company, famous for their cameras and optics. They developed the first 35 mm camera. Most of their cameras are rangefinders but they also manufacture SLRs as well as digital cameras. I would be silly to call them conservative, they just perfect whatever they make and stick with it without compromise. No bells and whistles, just perfectly working equipment. In the meantime they went digital just like other brands. Their philosophy is perfect engineering, not gadgets. They have been making laser scanning systems, geosurvey equipment and microscopes for ages. If by Lie-Ka you mean pronounced LIE as in telling-a-LIE, then yes, that is how its pronounced.. Man I wish I had saved up enough for a nice M6 or M7.... My Nikon F3 and F4 will have to do... Great articles!

  • Nov. 29, 2011, 10:36 a.m. CST

    PJ in Pic?

    by jimcripps

    Looks like PJ strolling away in the background for the pic of Adam, Eric and Seb. Unless someone is standing in for him...

  • Nov. 29, 2011, 6:49 p.m. CST

    Armitage is capable of great and work and equally poor stuff.


    Sometimes he sleepwalks through a role other times he catches your attention and shines ... Risky but the guy CAN pull it off.

  • Nov. 30, 2011, 8:18 p.m. CST

    I feel your pain

    by Hamish

    They just closed the best mexican place in Wellington. :(

  • Nov. 30, 2011, 8:29 p.m. CST


    by Darth_Kong

  • Nov. 30, 2011, 9:01 p.m. CST

    solar panels?

    by MurderMostFowl

    Are those solar panels there in the background of one shot? If so, what are they used for? ( obviously not enough for everyone's electricity needs )

  • Dec. 2, 2011, 6:11 a.m. CST

    Was looking forward to seeing this before...

    by Chris

    But I get more excited with each of your reports. Keep it up, please.

  • Dec. 3, 2011, 2:23 p.m. CST


    by johnmcclanesshoes

    Truly heartening preview reporting, enjoyable focus on crew members too and all in all is about as objective as you could ever possibly be whilst standing one step away; this and the official production diary are maybe pointing the way for comunally following the making of a movie as its made instead of retrospectively on a blu or dvd somewhere down the line.

  • Dec. 3, 2011, 7:19 p.m. CST

    The grass IS greener on the other side!!

    by The Fuck

    Must be easy on the color graders, you could almost key out the fucking ground haha.

  • Dec. 9, 2011, 9:41 a.m. CST

    by Frenz

    We're not all crazy. Well, I am, but I deal with it. -- a crazy RA fan. Bring on the calendar.

  • Dec. 15, 2011, 12:55 p.m. CST


    by james shine

    Nice blog having nice information. I would like to appreciate writer 's nice effort of posting useful information.

  • June 12, 2012, 9:52 p.m. CST

    Eric? No, Eric!

    by Mary

    I lol'd at there being two Erics. That would be confusing. Thanks for letting us in on Thorin's approach to the scene with Gandalf. It'll be fun to learn more about where Gandalf pops off to during the movies. Too bad none of us will probably ever see PJ's birthday calendar. I'll bet that was a hoot! Thanks once again.