NYCC 2014: Weta Panel

Hanna Lafferty ’16/ Emertainment Monthly Books Editor
Conceptual artists Paul Tobin and Nick Keller from the New Zealand-based Weta Workshop shared their experiences working on films like The Hobbit trilogy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Avatar this Saturday at NYCC. The artists discussed the challenges of designing the concepts for the dwarves and the elves from The Hobbit trilogy.
The biggest challenge for the dwarves’ designs, said Tobin, were the prosthetics. “The prosthetics for the Lord of the Rings trilogy took hours and hours to apply. To apply them to thirteen dwarves in the company, we’d only get two hours of shooting a day!” In order to have as much shooting-time as possible and for the actors to be able to emote, Weta was given restrictions on the amount of prosthetics that the team could use. “Really, we gave them baldcaps with ears attached and not much else,” said Tobin. Keller showed off an arm prosthetics that showed the difference between an actor’s arm and the work that went into creating the shape for Dwalin.
Keller and Tobin showed the audience a hair and beard “cheat sheet”, titled “How to Tell Your Bwalin from Your Dwalin”. Keller explained that silhouette is one of the most important features of a character, using a modified Gandalf design as an example. In order to fast track the process, Weta put together over 600 beard and hair designs in two weeks and used Photoshop to test whether or not the designs would fit the actors. Weta created “three stages of dwarfism” to “see how far you can style a dwarf before they become a caricature”, and had a lot of fun with the designs. “The first stage is the handsome dwarf,” said Tobin, “and the third stage is actually all wrong.” In order to give the dwarves a more grizzled look, their wigs were designed with yak hair, since human hair “made them look like they were in a Pantene hair commercial”. One example they used to differentiate the younger and older dwarves was the exaggeration of their features. “A lot of how we thought the dwarves would evolve was that the proportions would be much more human when they are younger…but just like the way human noses and ears don’t stop growing, we wanted to exaggerate those features in older dwarves,” explained Tobin.
Director Peter Jackson also asked the team to do some extreme designs for background characters who didn’t necessarily get a ton of screentime. This came through in Nori’s outlandish design, whose three-pronged mohawk was dubbed “The Starfish”. “If the director wants you to push the envelope, you’ve got to put your reservations to the side,” said Tobin.
For the elves of Mirkwood, Weta wanted to portray them as more “dangerous” than the established designs of the Rivendell elves. “We didn’t want you to feel safe with them (the Mirkwood elves),” said Tobin, “while in Rivendell you want to go and give everyone a big hug.” The team looked at different elements in nature, such as thorns, to inspire their designs. The elves went through several different redesigns, with one of the most difficult challenges streamlining the armor so that the elves remained lithe and slender. The team focused on the original design for Legolas in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as their example.
Overall, the panel was fantastic look into the magic behind the movies.

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