FROM HOBBITS TO ELVES:
THE COSTUMES AND MAKEUP
"On a project of this size and scope you have to design what you believe in, and on this film there wasn't a day in the 274 days of shooting that the costumes didn't look and feel real." Ngila Dickson, costume designer
Los Angeles, 2001 At the heart of every culture are its clothing and physical appearance, and Middle-earth is no different. In order to clothe an entire universe of beings, costume designer Ngila Dickson faced the challenge of her life. Although she has been creating imaginative, ancient costumes for Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules on television, Tolkien's universe presented a challenge unlike any other: clothing not just hundreds of characters, but nine physically and expressively different cultures! Working with a team of 50 tailors, embroiderers, cobblers, and jewelers, Dickson attempted to make each costume lifelike, functional, and reflective of each character.
The volume of costumes alone was staggering an average of 150 costumes for each of the different cultures! Adding to the sheer numbers was the fact that many individual character costumes had to be made in two sizes: one for the actor and the other for the smaller or larger "scale double" used in filming.
Creating the hobbit costumes was always a priority and a sticky challenge. "When you have little fellows running around in frock coats and short trousers, you have to work hard to make that believable," notes Dickson. "But Peter was quite clear that he wanted them to look as real as possible."
Dickson achieved this by highlighting their pastoral nature. She used very natural fabrics and strong weaves, influenced by ancient European cultures. They wear waistcoats in harvest colors greens, yellows, and browns with brass buttons. But she also reinforced the playfulness of their stature and way of life. "I added a lot of quirks, things to jar the eye," she points out. "Their trouser legs and sleeves are too short, their buttons are too big, and their collars are out of proportion. I even made their pockets higher than usual for example, so when they put their hands in their pockets it has a very distinctive, funny look to us."
For the elves, Dickson went for sheer elegance, mossy greens, tree-bark browns, autumn scarlets, an androgynous quality, and a touch of antiquity. "They invoke their environment," she notes, "and they're very light on the earth, so we searched for very, very fine layers of fabrics for them." Their costumes were forged from Indian silk brocade, which Dickson washed, bleached, dyed, and sandpapered to give the costumes a shimmering metallic gleam that looks organic, not glitzy or cute.
The elves also wear silk-velvet acid-etched with Art Nouveau leaf designs. Even their sleeves are made in leaf shapes, coiling around the actors' arms. On their feet are knee-high leather boots that add to their willowy appearance.
Another challenging costume was that of Gandalf the Wizard. Dickson toiled for weeks designing his hat, the ultimate wizard icon. "I wanted something impressive, ancient, and magical but not too overwhelming," says the designer. "Our first sketches were like great ships on Ian McKellen's head, but we finally came to something that was perfect functional and mysterious."
For the film's female characters, Dickson went for a new ethereal esthetic. For the film's two elven leading ladies, Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler, Dickson took their ethereal qualities to create an alluring race who are "the angels of the story," as Dickson puts it.
Dickson continues, "The elves are tall, slender, and elegant. They have a floating image to their costumes, using colors and fabrics that are light and semi-shimmery."
Once Dickson created her costumes, she then had to "ruin" them. That is, she had to age and soil and tear them to make them look like they had gone through the adventures the creatures of Middle-earth experience. The hobbits, for example, start out with clean white shirts at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring, but soon find them muddied and bloodied in battle.
In the case of Aragorn's rugged, mud-splattered costume, Viggo Mortensen did the aging himself. "He took his outfit home with him because he wanted to literally grow into it. He sweated in it, lived in it, even repaired it himself, as Aragorn would have. That's the best you can hope for in making costumes: that the actors will participate and make them their own, a part of their character."
Working closely with Dickson and Peter Jackson in forging each character's distinctive, detailed look was the makeup and hair design team of Peter King and Peter Owen. One of their main challenges was hair, which in The Fellowship of the Ring ranges from the belly-length beard of Gandalf to the thinning scraggles on the head of the orcs to the flaxen locks of Galadriel. King and Owen had hundreds of wigs made to specifications that make them essentially invisible to the human eyes. In fact some 300 handmade knotted wigs were permed in a giant pressure cooker in WETA's workshops!
The makeup artists also worked closely with the prosthetic artists to coordinate such features as pointy ears with the overall look. They, too, had to "enhance" their work with a variety of dirt, blood, scratches, and gashes collected as the journey went on. In fact, the makeup artists eventually became known on set as "the Mud Men."
No matter the costume, it was essential that every robe, wig, and boot in the film be maximally durable especially given the fact that actors were scrambling over cliffs, slogging through streams, crawling underground, and heaving swords at one another. "We tried to get longevity out of each costume," explains Dickson. "They had to survive a lot."
In the end, Dickson hopes her costumes don't stand out. Instead, she hopes they become part of the astonishingly realistic backdrop for the characters' incredible journey toward friendship and wisdom. "The less people notice the details of the costume, the better job we did, in a sense," she comments, "because that means the costumes have helped to completely absorb you in the story."
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BREAKING DIGITAL GROUND: THE VISUAL EFFECTS
"My same philosophy applied to digital effects as to the overall design. I wanted the monsters to feel real right down to the dirt under the fingernails of a cave troll or the bloodshot, bulging eyes of Gollum." Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson and his team not only created a physical Middle-earth, they also designed an entirely digital universe for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This staggeringly intensive, behind-the-scenes work was carried out by WETA Digital. The New Zealandbased F/X company assembled a crack team of computer artists, key frame animators, modelers, digital paint artists, motion editors, compositors, and software engineers, among others, to devote years of their lives to creating never-before-seen effects.
WETA Digital also invested in a historical first in live-action filmmaking: a massive database that has stored every single frame shot in the making of The Lord of the Rings in a digital library that can instantly access, analyze, and cross-reference any single item appearing in the film. This means that every single element in the trilogy can be subject to digital manipulation, from landscapes to mood lighting to hobbits on horses.
But the real creative power of WETA Digital can best be experienced in some of the most evil and threatening characters appearing in The Fellowship of the Ring. Creatures forged entirely through digital magic include Gollum, Treebeard, Balrog, and the eye of Sauron.
One of the most exciting creatures introduced in The Lord of the Rings is Gollum, who was born a hobbitlike creature named Sméagol but transformed into something far more frightening through his own encounter with the Ring.
"I think that Gollum may be one of the most sophisticated digital creations seen yet," notes WETA's Richard Taylor. "Throw out all your old ideas about what CG looks like, because Gollum defies them."
Gollum was brought into existence through a combination of state-of-the-art computer animation and sophisticated motion-capture technology utilizing "fluid dynamics." Peter Jackson wanted to avoid a "computer-generated look," so instead the painstaking design lends to Gollum realistic joint movement based on actual organic muscle and bone, all seen rippling under his translucent skin. The computer artists even wound up studying anatomy books to create a believable view inside Gollum's skin.
"WETA developed vast amounts of code to create Gollum," notes Peter Jackson. "They developed new modeling codes, new skin codes, new muscle codes. He is amazingly lifelike, and we were able to give him a range of expressions from the evil of Gollum to the sympathy of Sméagol."
The filmmakers also brought in renowned character actor Andy Serkis to give Gollum a range of voices from melancholy to menacing. According to Barrie M. Osborne, "It is imperative that Gollum is a real character. He is brought to screen as an animated character, but we need him to have an emotional range, a character torn between the power of the Ring. Andy Serkis has that range as an actor to do an amazing job, both in his vocal range, in his ability to pantomime Gollum on set, and also on the motion-capture stage so when animated he will become the most realistic animated creature ever on screen." Digital technicians worked closely with Serkis to capture his own uniquely created movement for the bony, lonely creature.
Audiences can look forward to seeing Gollum with the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.