Richard Taylor, a tall, instantly recognisable man with a comforting, country-grown
New Zealand accent and a disarmingly open manner, is something of a modern-day Leonardo da
Vinci – with an army. He and his Weta Workshop partner Tania Rodger (founded 15 years
ago in partnership with Peter Jackson) commanded the great New Zealand army of artisans
and craftsmen who designed and produced just about every single item you see on screen in
The Fellowship of the Ring, from the clothes to the swords, to the prosthetics you
don’t even recognise, to the hairy hobbits’ feet.
Taylor’s practicality and creativity extend to his eloquent manner when talking
about Weta’s work. "We began 15 years (‘yahrs’) ago to create not just
a workshop but an industry…" And sure enough, down the back of Wellington’s
unassuming Miramar suburb, Weta and its sister Camperdown Studios stands as a tribute to
the can-do inventiveness of a team that swells from a handful to over 2,000 when required.
And when the foam latex (Weta was the world’s largest user during filming)
can’t do the trick, Weta Digital can. Almost anything is possible, and Taylor revels
in making it so. "It has taken to the end of the 20th century to bring
Tolkien’s imagining to the screen," he says, "but it’s not the
technology but the artistry that drives technology." See what I mean about him and da
"With Gollum [the creature corrupted by the Ring who makes his proper debut in the
second film in the trilogy] for example, we wanted to generate a certain level of
emotional response. Gollum is an icon of fantasy and so we did extensive preparatory work.
We created over 100 sculptures, for example, and wrote brand new computer code [to bring
Gollum to life]."
For Taylor, the fantasy had to be driven by the author: "the creation process was
grounded in reality but always controlled by the artist, not the computer boffin.
When Elijah Wood confronts Gollum in a hillside fight, Wood has to do it all on his
own; Gollum is a computer generated character, and the fisticuffs are imaginary. A chap
can look silly doing that. "But that’s easy," says Wood, "compared to
having to roll down the hill with him and pretend he is there…I have to leave room
under my body for his."
Wood, sporting a thin, "pathetic" beard line at the premiere, is as
enthusiastic as a hobbit – not only about the film and its impact, but about working
with his fellow fellows in the fellowship. "It’s been a real life adventure. It
was different, and special, and a prpfound experience," he says. And he’s no
newcomer to the filmmaking experience, having made over 20 feature films before embarking
on The Lord of the Rings.
Wood, Billy Boyd (Pippin) and Dominic Monaghan (Merry) are sitting at one end of the
table (Sean Astin,who plays Sam, is back in England with a pregnant wife) exuding an air
of benign mischief and enjoying each other’s company. That’s something of a
miracle, surely, after a year of shooting under difficult circumstances, but they do seem
genuinely ‘bonded’ as a team. This was even more accentuated at Cannes this
year, where trhey made their first foray into the public relations maelstrom, positively
crawling over each other in the joy of being reunited. This time, in Wellington, they are
more focused. "We became a very close group," Wood explains.
Arduous and demanding, the enormity of the shoot was offset by their admiration for
Peter Jackson: "He’s so collaborative it’s inspirational," Wood
Hugo Weaving much prefers being on location to a sound stage, "but this was
really good," he says with surprise. "They were amazing studio sets – a lot
of it you don’t even see in the film, but there was a whole forest in there with
waterfalls, all inside the studio. And I had an exquisite sword with an inscription on
Producer Barrie Osborne rang Hugo Weaving one day, "we’d worked together on
The Matrix, and asked me if I’d be interested. I said, yes, of course, I’d love
to play an elf lord!"
After that, he tried to read the book, The Lord of the Rings, "but was stumped by
it. Fantasy is not really my thing, but the sheer strength of this film is that it feels
real. Peter Jackson’s done the most wonderful job. He managed to focus on the Ring
and the power it has on people."
For preparation, Hugo Weaving spent days talking to the writers "to get a handle
on the material. There were endless re-writes and re-writes of re-writes. This was often
quite frusttrating. There’s a natural tension for actors preparing for scenes and
having to change it at the last minute did become frustrating."
But he was fascinated by Peter Jackson. "He’s highly intelligent, and always
thinking. There’s not a lot of eye contact. He thinks back to see forward….and
he has a lovely sense of humour, with his dog-eared, shuffly style, But he’s a
perfectionist. And he is not manipulative."
BARRIE M. OSBORNE
When Barrie M. Osborne met Peter Jackson for the first time, Peter was barefoot,
wearing shorts. They had breakfast. "I remember his sense of humour," recalls
Osborne, a tall man with a short greying beard and a likeable face. His American accent is
alien amongst the others on the crew, but he’s quick to point out that his home is in
Wellington now. He’s a ‘resident’.
Like so many of the cast, Osborne has fallen in love with New Zealand. He also enjoyed
being at some distance from ‘the suits’ in the US, although like Peter Jackson,
he is complimentary of New Line’s support and vision. Right down to the fact that New
Line "eventually supported" Jackson’s cut of the film. Admittedly, that was
after it was cut from four and a half hours to three.
Other than repeat the "announced budget" of US$270 million, Osborne refuses
to be drawn on the subject of the film’s budget. He does, however, confirm that most
of it was spent in New Zealand, creating enormous benefits, from the direct to the
indirect. Even the digital work was mostly done in New Zealand; "of the 500 or more
CG shots, we only farmed out about 50 or 60," he says.
With his special interest in the use of music, Osborne was deeply involved in the
soundtrack. "When they started using temp music [during assembly and rough cut
stages] a lot of it was from Howard Shore scores, so when it came to choosing a composer,
he was pretty well it. Howard ended up very close friends with Peter and Fran. Then when
we decided that we should have some choral work, Enya’s name came up. And we
approached her, but we wanted her on the condition that she doesn’t use any
synthesisers nor any multi-layer vocals."
As for the DVD, Osborne promises it will be released just before the second film is
released theatrically, and it will have on it the longer cut. And at some point, he
admits, the 9-hour version of the trilogy – all three films, end to end - is also a
Published January 3, 2002