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Production of The Lord of the Rings film series

The Lord of the Rings film series consists of three epic fantasy adventure films directed by Peter Jackson and based on the eponymous novel written by J. R. R. Tolkien. The films are subtitled The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003). The trilogy was a joint New Zealand-American venture, produced and distributed by New Line Cinema with the co-production of WingNut Films.

The Lord of the Rings
Logo of the series
Directed byPeter Jackson
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based onThe Lord of the Rings
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Music byHoward Shore
CinematographyAndrew Lesnie
Edited by
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • New Zealand
  • United States
BudgetTotal (3 films):
$281 million[1][2]

Development of the films began in August 1997. All three films were shot simultaneously and entirely in Jackson's native New Zealand from October 1999 until December 2000, with pick-up shots done from 2001 to 2004.

The Fellowship of the Ring was released on 19 December 2001, The Two Towers was released on 18 December 2002 and The Return of the King was released on 17 December 2003, each to enormous commercial success and critical acclaim.


Director Peter Jackson first came into contact with The Lord of the Rings when he saw Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film The Lord of the Rings. Jackson "enjoyed the film and wanted to know more."[3] Afterwards, he read a tie-in edition of the book[4] during a twelve-hour train journey from Wellington to Auckland when he was seventeen.[5]

In 1995, Jackson was finishing The Frighteners and considered The Lord of the Rings as a new project, wondering "why nobody else seemed to be doing anything about it".[5] With the new developments in computer-generated imagery following 1993's Jurassic Park, Jackson set about planning a fantasy film that would be relatively serious and feel real. By October, he and his partner Fran Walsh teamed up with Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein to negotiate with Saul Zaentz, who had held the rights to the book since the early 1970s. Jackson and Walsh pitched an adaptation of The Hobbit and two films based on The Lord of the Rings. Negotiations then stalled when Universal Studios offered Jackson a remake of King Kong (1933).[6] Weinstein was furious, and further problems arose when it turned out Zaentz did not have distribution rights to The Hobbit; United Artists, which was in the market, did. By April 1996, the rights question was still not resolved.[6]

Jackson decided to move ahead with King Kong before filming The Lord of the Rings, prompting Universal to enter a deal with Miramax to receive foreign earnings from The Lord of the Rings while Miramax received foreign earnings from King Kong.[6] It was also revealed that Jackson originally wanted to finish King Kong before The Lord of the Rings began. But due to location problems, he decided to start with The Lord of the Rings franchise instead.

Peter Jackson in 2003, at the premiere of The Return of the King in Wellington

When Universal cancelled King Kong in 1997,[7] Jackson and Walsh immediately received support from Weinstein and began a six-week process of sorting out the rights. Jackson and Walsh asked Costa Botes to write a synopsis of the novel and they began to re-read it. Two to three months later, they had written their treatment.[8] The first film would have dealt with what would become The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and the beginning of The Return of the King, ending with Saruman's death, and Gandalf and Pippin going to Minas Tirith. In this treatment, Gwaihir and Gandalf visit Edoras after escaping Saruman, Gollum attacks Frodo when the Fellowship is still united, and Farmer Maggot, Glorfindel, Radagast, Elladan and Elrohir are present; Bilbo attends the Council of Elrond, Sam looks into Galadriel's mirror, Saruman is redeemed before he dies and the Nazgûl just make it into Mount Doom before they fall.[8] They presented their treatment to Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the latter of whom they focused on impressing with their screenwriting, as he had not read the book. They agreed upon two films and a total budget of $75 million.[8]


During mid-1997,[9] Jackson and Walsh began writing with Stephen Sinclair.[8] Sinclair's partner, Philippa Boyens, was a major fan of the book and joined the writing team after reading their treatment.[9] It took 13 to 14 months to write the two film scripts,[9] which were 147 and 144 pages respectively. Sinclair left the project due to theatrical obligations. Amongst their revisions, Sam is caught eavesdropping and forced to go along with Frodo, as occurs in the original novel. In the final treatment, Sam, Merry and Pippin infer the existence of the One Ring and voluntarily go along after confronting Frodo about it. Gandalf's account of his time at Orthanc was pulled out of flashback and Lothlórien was cut, with Galadriel doing what she does in the story at Rivendell. Denethor attends the Council of Elrond with his son. Other changes included having Arwen rescue Frodo, and the action sequence involving the cave troll. The writers also considered having Arwen absorb Éowyn's role entirely by having her kill the Witch-king.[8]

Trouble struck when Marty Katz was sent to New Zealand. Spending four months there, he told Miramax that the films were more likely to cost $150 million; with Miramax unable to finance this, and with $15 million already spent, they decided to merge the two films into one. On 17 June 1998, Bob Weinstein presented a treatment of a single two-hour film version of the book. He suggested cutting Bree and the Battle of Helm's Deep, "losing or using" Saruman, merging Rohan and Gondor with Éowyn as Boromir's sister, shortening Rivendell and Moria as well as having Ents prevent the Uruk-hai from kidnapping Merry and Pippin.[8] Upset by the idea of "cutting out half the good stuff",[9] Jackson balked, and Miramax declared that any script or work completed by Weta Workshop was theirs.[8] Jackson went around Hollywood for four weeks,[9] showing a thirty-five-minute video of their work, before meeting with New Line Cinema's Mark Ordesky.[10] At New Line Cinema, Robert Shaye viewed the video, and then asked why they were making two films when the book was published as three volumes (this was later corrected: New Line only made this choice out of economical reasons);[11] he wanted to make a film trilogy. Now Jackson, Walsh and Boyens had to write three new scripts.[9]

The expansion to three films allowed much more creative freedom, although Jackson, Walsh and Boyens had to restructure their script accordingly. The three films do not correspond exactly to the trilogy's three volumes, but rather represent a three-part adaptation. Jackson takes a more chronological approach to the story than did Tolkien. Frodo's quest is the main focus, and Aragorn is the main sub-plot;[12] many sequences (such as Tom Bombadil) that do not contribute directly to those two plots were left out. Much effort was put into creating satisfactory conclusions and making sure exposition did not bog down the pacing. Along with new sequences, there are also expansions on elements Tolkien kept ambiguous, such as the battles and the creatures. During shooting, the screenplays continued to evolve, in part due to contributions from cast members looking to further explore their characters.[9] Most notable amongst these rewrites was the character Arwen, who was originally planned as a warrior princess but was later reverted to her book counterpart, who remains physically inactive in the story (though she sends moral and military support).[13]

Production designEdit

The Lord of the Rings film series began production design in August 1997. Peter Jackson required complete realism and plausibility in his vision of Middle-earth, and hired Weta Workshop to create the various pieces of armour, weapons, prosthetics and creatures seen in the trilogy, as well as aged costumes and historically influenced sets.


Jackson began storyboarding the trilogy with Christian Rivers in August 1997,[14] effectively creating a rough black and white 2-D version of the film. Jackson showed excerpts of the "animated" storyboards (filmed images with voices and a temporary soundtrack) to allow potential cast a view of the film's style.

To plan his visual effects sequences, Jackson also utilized a lipstick camera for the models of sets and computer animatics (learned from Industrial Light & Magic), planning the battle sequences like a real general and giving a sense of direction. This often allowed room for him to improvise action sequences, such as the Moria staircase collapse (which was never in any script draft).[9] He also bought 40,000 toy soldiers to play with.[13] Pre-visualisation would continue throughout production, such as the late addition of the Ents attacking Isengard,[13] and the siege of Minas Tirith in February 2003.[15]

Art designEdit

Helmet and vambrace of Rohan with interlace, spiral, and horse-motif decoration, Lord of the Rings costume and props exhibit, 2003

The design of the trilogy began in August 1997 during storyboarding. In November 1997,[9] famed Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe joined the project. Up until then, concept artists had primarily been influenced by Dungeons & Dragons in their designs. Jackson himself wanted a gritty realism and historical regard for the fantasy. Some of their famous images of Bag End, Orthanc, Helm's Deep, the Black Gate, and John Howe's Gandalf and the Balrog made it into the film. The last one inspired the opening sequence of The Two Towers. Jackson sometimes replicated some shots from famous Tolkien illustrations as a nod to fans.[16]

Lee worked on designs for architecture, the first being Helm's Deep,[13] as well as the Elven realms, Moria, Edoras, and Minas Tirith, and although Howe primarily designed armour and the forces of evil (see below), he contributed to the design of Bag End, Minas Morgul, Cirith Ungol and Barad-dûr. Lee also applied a personal touch by painted imagery in Rivendell, such as the one of Isildur removing the One Ring from Sauron, as well as tapestries in Edoras. There are many real-life influences on the Middle-earth seen in the films: Rivendell is "a cross between a Japanese Temple and Frank Lloyd Wright",[17] and Minas Tirith takes influence from Mont Saint-Michel and the Palatine Chapel in Aachen. The City of the Dead takes stylistic inspiration from Petra, Jordan, and the Grey Havens were inspired by the paintings of J. M. W. Turner.[15]

Grant Major was charged with the task of converting Lee and Howe's designs into architecture, creating models of the sets, whilst Dan Hennah worked as art director, scouting locations and organizing the building of sets. The army often helped out, too, building Hobbiton almost a year before filming[18] to give the impression of real growth and age, and moved 5,000 cubic metres (180,000 cu ft) of earth and created roads to the Edoras location during six months of building, although there was some controversy over their pay.[19] Sometimes sets would be reshaped: the caverns of Isengard became Shelob's Lair, and Helm's Deep became a Minas Tirith backlot.[15] Sets would also occasionally employ forced perspective to save budget. Despite a large amount of safety involved, there were still fires on a Rohirrim village location[13] and the Morgul Road set,[15] and Alan Lee fell off a Lothlórien miniature.[20] During Bilbo's birthday party speech, the polystyrene birthday cake with 111 (not confirmed if there really were 111) candles was actually on fire, but everyone kept acting while some of the crew tried to put it out. A similar instance of things occurring that were not in the script was Ian McKellen knocking his head painfully on a beam inside Bag End, but he kept acting through it.

The Art Department was careful to respect nature, considering its importance to Tolkien, such as taking plants from the Edoras location into a nursery. They would sometimes mould shapes from real rocks and bark, too, and take branches into a steel structure with polystyrene for more convincing prop trees. Brian Massey led the Greens Department, and even wrote a booklet on tree growth when he complained of the props "being too coney" for Lothlórien when the time came to film Fangorn Forest.[13] The numerous props within the trilogy were all originally designed at different scales, and many craftsmen were hired, most notably Jens Hansen Gold & Silversmith to create 15 replicas of The One Ring.

Contemporary jeweller Jasmine Watson created other significant pieces of jewelry, including the Evenstar worn by Arwen, and Nenya, the ring worn by Galadriel. Statues were sculpted out of polystyrene, although some thrones seen in the trilogy are in fact crafted out of marble, stone and wood. A former bank worker named Daniel Reeve was hired to write the numerous books, spines, documents, maps, diagrams and even Orc graffiti that appear in the trilogy.[20]

Weta WorkshopEdit

Frodo (Elijah Wood) holding Sting. Sting is depicted as vaguely leaf-shaped, with gentle curving edges. Engraved on the blade and cross-guard are letters in Sindarin that read "Sting is my name, I am the spider's bane". Sting is 23 inches long and 3 inches wide at the hilt.[21]

Jackson hired longtime collaborator Richard Taylor to lead Weta Workshop on five major design elements: armour, weapons, prosthetics/make-up, creatures and miniatures. Notable among the concept artists were Daniel Falconer and Warren Mahy, who enjoyed creating the forces of good and evil respectively. Jamie Beswarick and Mike Asquith also helped with the maquettes, as well as Ben Wooten with his extensive zoology knowledge and many others.

John Howe was the supervisor on armour, having studied and worn it. Stu Johnson and Warren Green made 48,000 pieces of armour[20] from the numerous moulds of plate steel. A small group of crew members spent three years linking plastic chain mail, eventually wearing their thumbprints away. Peter Lyon also forged swords, each taking from three to six days, creating spring steel "hero" swords for close-ups, aluminum fight swords and rubber versions, too. Weta also created 10,000 real arrows and 500 bows. Howe even created a less crude type of crossbow for the Uruk-hai (the first army-approved), based on a 16th-century manuscript.[13]

Weta created numerous pieces of prosthetics and continually monitored them on set. They created 1,800 Orc body suits to go with 10,000 Orc heads, lasting six days and one day respectively. Weta also spent a year creating hobbit feet that would look like large, furry feet yet act as shoes for the actors. In total, 1,800 pairs were used by the four lead hobbit actors during production. Actors would also go in for face casts to create pointed ears and false noses. Most extensive was John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, whose Dwarven prosthetics required four-and-a-half hours to apply in the morning.[9] Gino Acevedo worked on creating realistic skin tones for the actors, such as Bernard Hill's possessed Théoden and a younger Bilbo. Peter King and Peter Owen also led the make-up department in making numerous wigs and creating general dirt on the actors. As well as applying make-up, at the end of the day there was an hour of carefully removing the make-up and prosthetics. Numerous corpses of actors and horses were also made.

Weta's first completed creature was the cave troll. Production designers originally wanted to make the Orcs totally animalistic before the switch to prosthetics. They gave specific designs to the Moria Orcs, Uruk-hai and Mordor Orcs so as to give variety to the characters.[17] They also spent time making creatures biologically believable, rooting them sometimes in real creatures: Shelob's body is based on that of a funnel web spider, and the Wargs are a bear/hyena/wolf hybrid. Howe lent himself for Beswarick to study when shaping Gollum; Beswarick also took inspiration from Iggy Pop due to his skin-muscle ratio.[13] Whilst most creatures were destined to exist in the computer, Weta did create a 14-foot-tall (4.3 m) Treebeard puppet (which needed five people to operate it), a single dead mûmak and, later on, a "Phoney Pony" for close-up shots of riding actors. Designing continued throughout production, such as Gollum's redesign in May 2001 and the Great Beasts in early 2003.

The backstories of several of the cultures depicted in the films had to be shown through only subliminal glimpses on screen, as are the miniatures, and for the Elves and Gondorians, fictional histories had to be presented within the changes of armour. The Elves have an Art Nouveau influence that involves leaves and flowers, while the Dwarves have a preoccupation with geometry that was intended to remind the audience of their digging nature.[9] The Hobbits hark back to 18th-century England, the Rohirrim feature numerous horse and sun motifs and draw visual inspiration from Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon artifacts found in the Sutton Hoo burial ship, and the Gondorians reflect 16th-century German and Italian armour as well as tree motifs. The evil Haradrim Men take influence from Aztecs and Kiribati after bad feedback from Phillipa Boyens over looking African. Most of the Orc armour is sharp, reflecting secateurs, and has runes written on it to reflect a worship of Sauron.[15]

Several liberties were taken in adapting Tolkien's weaponry and armour to the screen. While plate armour is used in the films, it is unmentioned in any of the author's writings (except for vambraces), where scale and especially mail predominate. Some swords, like the broken royal sword Narsil, are also interpreted as two-handed longswords. These design choices help evoke the Late Medieval and Renaissance periods, whereas Tolkien's original atmosphere is generally more akin to the Early Medieval period. In a private letter, Tolkien compared Middle-earth clothing and war gear to that of Dark Age Europe and the Bayeux Tapestry.[22][23] Weta also invented Elvish inscriptions for weapons like the spear Aeglos and the swords Sting and Narsil. In some cases, Tolkien writes about runes on sword blades but does not give them in detail. The Elves in the film series use curved swords, whereas the author mostly assigns such swords to Orcs and enemy Men (he mentions one Elf in particular bearing a curved sword in very early writings).[24] The designers went so far as to invent new weapons, such as the Elvish sword Hadhafang, used by Arwen; while the design is original, the name is derived from Tolkien's "Etymologies" in The Lost Road.[25]

To develop fight and sword choreography for the series, the filmmakers employed Hollywood sword-master Bob Anderson. Anderson worked directly with the talent, including Viggo Mortensen and Karl Urban, to develop the film's many sword fights and stunts.[26] Anderson's role in The Lord of the Rings series is highlighted in the 2009 film Reclaiming the Blade. This documentary on sword martial arts also featured Weta Workshop and interviews with Mortensen, Urban, Richard Taylor, and John Howe. All discussed their roles and work on the series as related to the sword.[27]


Detail of embroidery on the sleeve of Arwen's "mourning dress", 2003 costume and props exhibit

Ngila Dickson was hired on 1 April 1999[20] to handle the numerous costumes. She and 40 seamstresses worked on over 19,000 costumes for the film series. Due to the large shooting schedule, 10 versions of each costume were made, with 30 more for stunt, scale and other doubles, all in all meaning each design had 40 versions.

Due to Jackson's requirement of realism, the costumers took great pains to make costumes look "lived in", wearing away colour, stuffing pockets and dirtying costumes for the likes of Gandalf and Aragorn due to their terrain-crossing nature. As with armour, there was also acid etching and some overdyeing of colours. Dickson decided to give the Hobbits shorts due to their bare feet, and specifically worked on long sleeves for the Elves for a gliding impression.[9] Dickson also took great pains to distinguish the colors worn by the Gondorians (silver and black) and the Rohirrim (brown and green).[15]


Principal photography for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was conducted concurrently in New Zealand for 438 days from 11 October 1999 through 22 December 2000. Pick-up shoots were conducted annually from 2001 to 2004. The trilogy was shot at over 150 different locations,[20] with seven different units shooting, as well as at soundstages around Wellington and Queenstown. Jackson directed the whole production, while other unit directors included Alun Bollinger, John Mahaffie, Geoff Murphy, Fran Walsh, Barrie Osborne and Rick Porras. Jackson monitored these units with live satellite feeds, and with the added pressure of constant script re-writes and the multiple units handling his vision, he only got around four hours of sleep a night.[13]

Jackson described the production as the world's largest home movie, due to the independence and sense of family.[15] Producer Barrie Osborne saw it as a travelling circus.[13] Fran Walsh described writing the script for the production as laying the track down in front of a moving train. Jackson also described shooting as like organizing an army, with 2,400 people involved at the height of production. Due to the remoteness of some of New Zealand's untamed landscapes, the crew carried survival kits in case helicopters could not reach the locations to bring them home in time.[9]

Late 1999Edit

October 11, 1999 – the first scene filmed for the trilogy was the scene in which the Hobbits hide from a Ringwraith

The first scene filmed was the "Wooded Road" sequence in The Fellowship of the Ring, where the Hobbits hide beneath a tree from a mounted Ringwraith. The focus was generally on The Fellowship of the Ring when the Hobbits try to reach Rivendell, such as a single night in Bree exteriors; this was done with the hopes that the four actors playing the hobbits would bond. Second units also shot the Ford of Bruinen chase and the deforestation of Isengard. Liv Tyler generally came to New Zealand for stunts, and spent five days on a barrel for Bruinen while riding double Jane Abbott got to ride on horseback.[9]

During the first month of filming, Stuart Townsend was deemed too young to play Aragorn, and within three days Viggo Mortensen became his replacement, just in time to film the Weathertop sequence. Mortensen, who decided to take the role in part because his own son was a fan of the series, became a hit on set, going fishing, always taking his "hero" sword around and applying dirt to his costume to improve costume designer Ngila Dickson's makeshift look.[9] He also headbutted the stunt team as a sign of friendship,[13] and bought himself his horse, Uraeus, as well as another horse for Abbott.[15]

"What is amazing when you look at the finished scene in Return of the King, is to think that every time we cut to and from between Frodo and Sam we are actually jumping back and forth across a year-long gap." – Peter Jackson[28]

The Cirith Ungol stair ledge was built as a wet weather set on a squash court in a hotel in Queenstown. On 24 November 1999, Sean Astin's close-ups on the Cirith Ungol set were shot in what became the first shots to be filmed for The Return of the King. Andy Serkis (Gollum) had not yet been cast.[15] The set remained standing on the squash court and it was not until a year later, on 30 November 2000, that Elijah Wood's first close-ups were shot on the same ledge. This would become a general failsafe measure if the weather disrupted the shooting schedule. On Wood and the second Cirith Ungol shoot, Peter Jackson stated, "A year later, we were back in the squash court, and this time the heat was on Elijah. He had to get his head back into a scene that had been half-filmed so long ago. He knew that he had to deliver a performance that matched the emotion of Sean's takes, and that he did to perfection".[13]

After this scene, when the flood ended, it was during this time that shooting became focused on the battle of Amon Hen. Sean Bean began filming in November for most of his scenes.[9]


A Christmas break and Millennium celebrations followed, and filming resumed on 17 January. Ian McKellen, fresh from filming X-Men, arrived to film scenes in Hobbiton and the Grey Havens. McKellen did not become that close to the lead Hobbit actors, as he generally worked with their scale doubles, but when Christopher Lee arrived in February, they became very friendly.[9] Shooting the fight sequence in the Orthanc interiors, without air conditioning (for atmosphere) but with heavy wigs and robes, was described by the actors as "murder".[20] The Grey Havens sequence, which takes place at the end of The Return of the King, was shot three times due to Sean Astin forgetting his vest after lunch and, then, an out-of-focus camera.[15]

While the Hobbit leads had scenes in Hobbiton interiors and Rivendell exteriors in Kaitoke Park with new arrival Ian Holm, Mortensen, Orlando Bloom and John Rhys-Davies filmed scenes involving the Rohirrim countryside. Mortensen broke his toe kicking an Orc helmet on camera, Bloom fell off his horse and broke a rib, and Rhys-Davies' scale double Brett Beattie dislocated his knee. They spent two days injured during the "orc hunting" sequence seen in the second film. Soon after, they spent a month of day shoots at Helm's Deep and another three months of night shoots handled by Mahaffie, in Dry Creek Quarry outside of Wellington, during which Mortensen's tooth was knocked out and Bernard Hill was hit on the ear with the flat of a sword. The extras insulted each other in Māori and improvised stunts, partially because those dressed in Uruk-hai prosthetics got extremely cold.[13]

The production then got larger, with Wood and Astin shooting scenes in Mount Ruapehu for Emyn Muil and Mount Doom. On 13 April 2000, Andy Serkis joined the cast. During this shoot, cross coverage was used for a pivotal scene in The Return of the King. In the meantime, prologue scenes[20] and the Battle of the Black Gate were shot, during which Sala Baker wore the Sauron armour. The Black Gate scene was filmed at a former mine field in the Rangipo Desert, and soldiers served as extras.[15] With the return of Sean Bean, the Fellowship reunited and proceeded to shoot the Moria sequence[29] and the Rivendell interiors, including five days of coverage for the Council of Elrond.

In June they began shooting scenes on soundstages with Cate Blanchett for Lothlórien,[30] as well as a week of exterior shooting for the Lothlórien farewell sequence.[9] Other scenes shot in June were the Paths of the Dead across various locations, including Pinnacles. In July the crew shot some Shelob scenes, while another unit shot in July to August and during September time was spent on the scenes in Fangorn Forest and Isengard. Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd tried numerous takes of their entrance, stressing the word "weed" as they smoked pipe-weed. Christopher Lee spent his part of his scene mostly alone, though McKellen and Hill arrived on the first day for a few lines to help.[29]

Edoras exteriors were shot in October. The Ride of the Rohirrim, where Théoden leads the charge into the Orc army, was filmed in Twizel with 250 extras on horseback. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields has more extensive use of computer-generated imagery, in contrast to the more extensive use of live action for the Battle of Helm's Deep in the second film. Also filmed were scenes in Osgiliath, including attempts by Faramir to retake the city. At this point production was very hectic, with Jackson moving around ten units per day, and production finally wrapped on the Minas Tirith sets, as well as second units shooting parts of the siege.

2001–2004: Pick-upsEdit

Pick-up shoots were conducted from 2001 to 2003 for six weeks every year to refine each film's edit. For the first two films, the cast and crew often returned to sets; for the third, they had to shoot around the clock in a car park full of set parts. Pick-ups provided a chance for cast and crew to meet in person again, and during The Two Towers pick-ups, Sean Astin directed a short film entitled The Long and Short of It.

Notable scenes filmed in the pick-ups include the flashback with Boromir featured in The Two Towers Extended Edition, as well as the re-shot Witch-king scenes with his new helmet design, the improved Orc designs and the new character of Gothmog, and a re-shoot of Aragorn and Arwen kissing at the coronation scene, all for The Return of the King. Théoden's last scene was re-shot just after Bernard Hill finished his scenes; Hill was still in New Zealand. Andy Serkis also had to re-shoot a Mount Doom scene in Jackson's house during post-production.

The final and only pick-up in 2004 was a series of shots of falling skulls in The Return of the King as part of an extended Paths of the Dead scene. Jackson joked that "it's nice to win an Oscar before you've even finished the film".[15]

Environmental impactEdit

The filming was not without some level of concern over the environmental impact on the many film locations within national parks and conservation areas managed by New Zealand's Department of Conservation. Wingnut Films Limited required and were granted a permit or "concession" from the Department of Conservation to film within these areas. The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand and the Tongariro/Taupo Conservation Board considered the concession questionably processed by the Department of Conservation. The concession permit incorrectly allowed activities, such as fantasy filming and vehicles off-roads at Tongariro National Park, that were not consistent with park management plans. The ecological significance of an internationally important wetland was also ignored. The process was rushed through without public involvement in spite of expressions of concern from the Tongariro/Taupo Conservation Board. Considerations of effects and their mitigation were not rigorous. The process facilitated access to public conservation lands for a large-scale operation that ultimately had nothing to do with the conservation purposes that the Department of Conservation is required to promote.[31]

The filming of parts of Lord of the Rings in Tongariro National Park caused enough disturbance to some areas of the park, including one known locally as "Orc Road", that contractors had to be hired to restore the areas later. In December 2005, a contractor won an award from the Department of Conservation for their restoration work.[32]


Each film had the benefit of a full year of post-production time before its respective December release, often finishing in October or November, with the crew immediately going to work on the next film. In this period's later part, Jackson would move to London to supervise the scoring and to continue editing, while having a computer feed for discussions to The Dorchester Hotel, and a "fat pipe" of Internet connections from Pinewood Studios to look at the special effects. He had a video link and 5.1 surround sound to organize meetings and listen to new music and sound effects generally wherever he was. The extended editions also had a tight schedule at the start of each year to complete special effects and music.[33]


To avoid pressure, Jackson hired a different editor for each film. John Gilbert worked on the first film, Michael J. Horton and Jabez Olssen on the second and long-time Jackson collaborator Jamie Selkirk and Annie Collins on the third. Daily rushes would often last up to four hours, with scenes being done throughout 1999 to 2002 for the rough (4½-hour) assemblies of the films.[9] In total, 1,828 kilometres (5,997,000 ft) of film[20] was edited down to the 686 minutes (11 hours and 26 minutes) of extended edition running time. This was the final area of shaping of the films, when Jackson realized that sometimes the best scripting could be redundant on screen, as he picked apart scenes every day from multiple takes.

The first film's editing was relatively easygoing, with Jackson coming up with the concept of an extended edition later on, although after a screening to New Line they had to re-edit the beginning for a prologue. The Two Towers was always acknowledged by the crew as the most difficult film to make, as "it had no beginning or end", and had the additional problem of inter-cutting storylines appropriately. Jackson even continued editing the film when that part of the schedule officially ended, resulting in some scenes, including the reforging of Andúril, Gollum's backstory, and Saruman's demise, being moved to The Return of the King. Later, Saruman's demise was cut from the theatrical edition (but included in the extended edition) when Jackson felt it was not starting the third film effectively enough.[34] As with all parts of the third film's post-production, editing was very chaotic. The first time Jackson actually saw the completed film was at the Wellington premiere.

Many filmed scenes remained unused, even in the extended editions. Promotional material for The Fellowship of the Ring contained an attack by Orcs from Moria on Lothlórien after the Fellowship leaves Moria, replaced with a more suspenseful entrance for the Fellowship. Also cut were scenes from the book, including Frodo seeing more of Middle-earth at Parth Galen, an extended Council of Elrond[9] and new scenes with an attack upon Frodo and Sam at the river Anduin by an Uruk-hai.[9]

A major cut from The Two Towers featured Arwen and Elrond visiting Galadriel at Lothlórien, with Arwen then leading the Elven reinforcements to Helm's Deep.[13] This scene, and a flashback to Arwen and Aragorn's first meeting, was cut during a revision of the film's plot; the Elves' appearance was explained with a telepathic communication between Elrond and Galadriel.[13] Éowyn was to have a greater role in defending the refugees in the Glittering Caves from Uruk-hai intruders,[35] while in Osgiliath, Faramir was to have a vision of Frodo becoming like Gollum,[13] with Frodo and Sam having an extended fight sequence.[36]

Filmed for The Return of the King were two scenes present in the book: Sam using the Phial of Galadriel to pass the Watchers at Cirith Ungol, and further epilogue footage, with endings for Legolas and Gimli, Éowyn and Faramir's wedding and Aragorn's death and funeral.[37] Sauron was to fight Aragorn at the Black Gate, but with Jackson deciding the scene was inappropriate, a computer-generated troll was used instead.[15] To give context for Wormtongue killing Saruman, and Legolas in turn killing Wormtongue, it was to be revealed that Wormtongue poisoned Théodred.[38] The final scene cut was Aragorn having his armour fitted for the Battle of the Black Gate by the trilogy's armourers, which was the final scene filmed during principal photography.[15] Peter Jackson has stated that he would like to include some of these unused scenes in a future "Ultimate Edition" home video release, also including outtakes.[39]


Howard Shore composed, orchestrated, conducted and produced the trilogy's music

Canadian composer Howard Shore composed, orchestrated, conducted and produced the trilogy's music. He was hired in August 2000[40] and visited the set, and then watched the assembly cuts of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King. In the music, Shore included many (85 to 110) leitmotifs to represent various characters, cultures, and places – the largest catalogue of leitmotifs in the history of cinema, surpassing that of the entire Star Wars film series. For example, there are multiple leitmotifs just for the hobbits and the Shire. Although the first film had some of its score recorded in Wellington,[9] virtually all of the trilogy's score was recorded in Watford Town Hall and mixed at Abbey Road Studios. Jackson planned to advise the score for six weeks each year in London, though for The Two Towers he stayed for twelve. As a Beatles fan, Jackson had a photo tribute done there on the zebra crossing.[13]

The score is primarily played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (ranging from 93 to 120 players throughout the recording), London Voices, and London Oratory School Schola boy choir; many other artists, such as Ben Del Maestro, Enya, Renée Fleming, James Galway, Annie Lennox and Emilíana Torrini, contributed. Even actors Billy Boyd, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Miranda Otto (extended cuts only for the latter two) and Peter Jackson (for a single gong sound in the second film) contributed to the score. Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens served as librettists, writing lyrics to various music and songs, which David Salo translated into Tolkien's languages. The third film's end song, "Into the West", was a tribute to a young filmmaker Jackson and Walsh befriended named Cameron Duncan, who died of cancer in 2003.[15]

Shore composed a main theme for The Fellowship of the Ring rather than many different character themes, and its strengths and weaknesses in volume are depicted at different points in the series. On top of that, individual themes were composed to represent different cultures. Infamously, the amount of music Shore had to write every day for the third film increased dramatically to around seven minutes.[15] The music for the series turned out to be a success and has been voted best movie soundtrack of all time for the six years running, passing Schindler's List (1993), Gladiator (2000), Star Wars (1977), and Out of Africa (1985) respectively.[41]


Sound technicians spent the early part of each year trying to find the right sounds. Some, such as animal sounds like those of tigers and walruses, were bought. Human voices were also used. Fran Walsh contributed to the Nazgûl scream and David Farmer the Warg howls. Other sounds were unexpected: the fell beast's screech is taken from that of a donkey, and the mûmakil's bellow comes from the beginning and end of a lion's roar. In addition, ADR was used for most of the dialogue.

The technicians worked with New Zealand locals to get many of the sounds. They re-recorded sounds in abandoned tunnels for an echo-like effect in the Moria sequence. 20,000 New Zealand cricket fans provided the sound of the Uruk-hai army in The Two Towers, with Jackson acting as conductor during the innings break of a one-day international cricket match between England and New Zealand at Westpac Stadium.[13] They spent time recording sounds in a graveyard at night, and also had construction workers drop stone blocks for the sounds of boulders firing and landing in The Return of the King. Mixing took place between August and November at "The Film Mix", before Jackson commissioned the building of a new studio in 2003. The building, however, had not yet been fully completed when they started mixing for The Return of the King.[15]

Special effectsEdit

The Lord of the Rings film series used many groundbreaking practical and digital visual effects that were unheard of in the film industry. Ranging from prosthetics and props to creatures almost entirely made through computer graphics, the process of making the film series has been praised as having forged a breakthrough in the world of cinematic visual effects. Weta Workshop was the major stylistic force behind the films, working on concepts, sets and digital effects years before the first scenes were even shot. The series was also briefly aided by Digital Domain in the first movie. Props, sets, prosthetics and locations were given the utmost concentration and detail to achieve a look that was as realistic as possible.[42] More than 48,000 items were created for this trilogy alone, including completely specialized weapons, intricate miniature sets, and extremely lifelike prosthetic body parts. Two hundred and sixty visual effects artists started out on the trilogy; the number had more than doubled by the series' end. Led by acclaimed veterans and talented amateurs alike, the crews within each division would work overnight to produce special effects within short spaces of time to accommodate Jackson's active imagination.


Production was complicated by the use of scale doubles and forced perspective on a level never seen before in the film industry. In the Middle-earth storyverse, Hobbits are 3 ft 6 in (107 cm) tall, Dwarves are slightly taller at about 4 ft 6 in (137 cm), and Men and Elves are average human height, about 5 to 6 ft (150 to 180 cm). However, the films used two scale sets instead of three by casting taller than average actors to play Dwarves, then combining Dwarves and Hobbits into one size scale. Elijah Wood is 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) tall in real life, but his character, Frodo Baggins, is only 3 ft 6 in (1.07 m) in height. John Rhys-Davies, who played the Dwarf Gimli, is taller than Wood. Thus in the ending shot of the Council of Elrond scene, when all nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring are standing together, Rhys-Davies and the four Hobbit actors were filmed first. The human-sized characters (Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir and Legolas) were filmed in a second take, and the two shots were composited at different scales to make one image, making the initial Dwarf/Hobbit character shot seem smaller.[43] An unintended advantage of not creating a third scale for Dwarves is that in a scene in which only Dwarves and Hobbits interact, no scale doubles are needed.

Large and small scale doubles were used in many other scenes, while entire duplicates of certain sets (including Bag End in Hobbiton) were built at two different scales so that the characters would appear to be the appropriate sizes. At one point in the film, Frodo runs along a corridor in Bag End, followed by Gandalf (played by Ian McKellen). Wood and McKellen were filmed in separate versions of the same corridor, built at two different scales; these two separate shots were then combined to create a shot of both actors appearing to be in the same corridor.

Forced perspective was also employed, so that it would look as though the short hobbits were interacting with taller Men and Elves. Surprising the makers of the film, the simple act of kneeling down was used to great effect. Some actors also wore oversized costumes to make average-sized actors look small, and there were numerous scale doubles who were disguised with costumes (and even latex faces for the hobbit doubles) and an avoidance of close-ups and numerous back shots.

An early composite of actor Ian McKellen in the miniature of Isengard for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Weta coined the term "bigature" for the 72 large miniatures produced for the film, in reference to their extreme size.[44] Out of around six of the shooting crews, there was one specifically devoted to filming on the miniatures, working continuously for years until the end of The Return of the King.[42] Such miniatures include the 1:4 scale for Helm's Deep, which alongside Khazad-dûm and Osgiliath, was one of the first built.[45] Most sets were constructed to allow compositing with the models and matte paintings, and also built in sections to make them easier to travel with, as the miniatures were not built in the studio where they would later be shot. Each of these "bigatures" were required to have an extreme amount of detail, as the cameras were filming within inches of the masterpieces in hopes of using cinematography to make the sets look as realistic as possible.[42] Notable examples include the Argonath, Minas Tirith, the tower and caverns of Isengard, Barad-dûr, the trees of Lothlórien and Fangorn Forest and the Black Gate. Alex Funke led the motion control camera rigs, and John Baster and Mary Maclahlan led the building of the miniatures. The miniatures unit worked more than any other special effects crew, labouring for over 1,000 days.

Animation and computer graphics effectsEdit

Creatures such as trolls, the Watcher-in-the-Water, the Balrog, the Ents, the fell beasts, the Wargs, the mûmakil and Shelob were created entirely with computer-generated imagery. Creatures would spend months of creation and variation as sketches before approved designs were sculpted into five-foot maquettes and scanned into a computer. Animators would then rig skeletons and muscles before animation and final detailed colouring scanned from painted maquettes. Treebeard had a digital face composited upon the original animatronic, which was scanned for the digital model of his longshots.[46]

Along with the creatures, Weta also created highly realistic digital doubles for many miniature longshots, as well as numerous stunts, most notably Legolas. These doubles were scanned from having actors perform movements in a motion-capture suit, and with additional details created using ZBrush. There are even morphs between the doubles and actors at times.[47] Horses also performed with mo-cap points on them, although deaths are keyframe animation.[46]

Weta began animating Gollum in late 1998, using a generic human muscle system, to convince New Line Cinema they could achieve it.[43] Andy Serkis played Gollum by providing his voice and movements on set, as well as performing within the motion capture suit. His scenes were filmed twice, with and without him. Originally Gollum was set to solely be a CG character, but Jackson was so impressed by Andy Serkis' audition tape that they used him on set as well. A team led by Randy Cook performed the animation using both motion capture data and manual recreation of Serkis' facial reference.[48] Gollum's CG model was also redesigned during 2001, now using a subdivision surface model instead of the NURBS model for Fellowship (a similar rebuild was also done for the digital doubles of the lead actors), when Serkis was cast as Sméagol, Gollum's form before he is cursed by the One Ring, so as to give the impression that Serkis as Sméagol transforms into the CG Gollum. The original model can still be glimpsed briefly in the first film. Over Christmas 2001, the crew proceeded to reanimate all the previous shots accordingly within two months. Another problem was that the crew realized that the cast performed better in the versions of the film with Serkis. In the end, the CG Gollum was often animated on top of these scenes and Serkis would be painted out. Due to Gollum's not being human, shots such as him crawling down a sheer cliff were shot with no live reference. Serkis also did motion-capture for the character which would drive the body of the model, whilst animators did all fingers and facial animation. Gino Acevedo supervised realistic skin tones, which for the first time used subsurface scattering shader, taking four hours per frame to render. Render time refers to the amount of time it took the computer to process the image into a usable format; it does not include the amount of time it took the texture artists to "draw" the frame.[48] The hair dynamics of CG Gollum in The Two Towers were generated using Maya Cloth. Because of its technical limitations, Weta subsequently moved to the Syflex system for The Return of the King.

Because they were turned to wraith-like versions of their former terrible selves, tall, slim actors wearing prosthetics and costumes were used to portray the Nazgûl or "Ringwraiths". Filmed on a studio set, the setting and appearances of the Ringwraiths were later edited to look chaotic and terrible.[42] Though 2D effects were used to create the characters and atmosphere, 3D effects were utilized to create the final scenes we see in the film. Weathertop, the ancient ruin site in which the hobbits first encounter the Ringwraiths face-to-face, was filmed using computer graphics effects, but the action scenes were filmed in a studio. Later on, the scenes were merged using digital effects.

Besides Weathertop, many of the other scenes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy were shot in this way, first by filming the scenery or set miniatures, then the actors on a studio set, and merging the two together. An example of this is in the Mines of Moria, when the Fellowship is fighting the cave troll in Balin's Tomb, and again when the Fellowship is on the Khazad-dûm stairs and bridge. Gandalf has his own particular scene with computer graphics as he grapples with the Balrog as they fall to their deaths.

Christoper Hery (ILM), Ken McGaugh and Joe Letteri (both Weta and previously ILM) received a 2003 Academy Award, Scientific or Technical for implementing the BSSRDF technique used for Gollum's skin in a production environment. Henrik Wann Jensen (Stanford University), Stephen Robert Marschner (Cornell University and previously Stanford University), and Pat Hanrahan (Stanford University) (but not the fourth coauthor Marc Levoy), who developed BSSRDF, won another the same year.


Weta developed MASSIVE, a first-of-its-kind crowd simulation computer program used to create automatic battle sequences rather than individually animate every soldier.[43] Stephen Regelous developed the system in 1996, originally to create the battle scenes for The Lord of the Rings.[47] The system creates a large number of choices for each software agent to pick when inside a digital arena. Catherine Thiel provided the movements of each type of soldier, like the unique fighting styles (designed by Tony Wolf) or fleeing.[46] To add to this, digital environments were also created for the simulations. MASSIVE also features Grunt, a memory-conservative special purpose renderer, which was used for scenes containing as many as 200,000 agents and several million polygons. The Pelennor Fields scene also contains "multi-body agents" in the form of a 5 × 5 grid of Orcs.

While Jackson insisted on generally using miniatures, sometimes shots would get too difficult for that, primarily with the digital characters. Sometimes natural elements like cloud, dust and fire (which was used as the electronic data for the Wraithworld scenes and the Balrog) would be composited,[47] and natural environments were composited to create the Pelennor Fields.[43] To give a "painterly" look to the films, cinematographer Peter Doyle worked on every scene within the computer to strengthen colours and add extra mood and tone to the proceedings. Gold was tinted to Hobbiton, whilst cooler colours were strengthened into Lothlórien, Moria and Helm's Deep.[47] Such a technique took 2–3 weeks to do, and allowed some freedom with the digital source for some extra editing.[49]

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King required the help of the company Next Limit Technologies and their software RealFlow to simulate the lava in Mount Doom. A technical overview of the special effects used in the film series is given by Matt Aitken et al. (2004).[50]

See alsoEdit


FOTR.^ He only worked on The Fellowship of the Ring.
TT.^ He only worked on The Two Towers.
ROTK.^ He only worked on The Return of the King.


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  2. ^ Chitwood, Adam (22 October 2014). "THE HOBBIT Movies Cost $745 Million, But That's Okay Because They've Already Made Nearly $2 Billion". Collider. Archived from the original on 25 October 2014. Retrieved 12 June 2019. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example, cost around $281 million not adjusting for inflation.
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  26. ^ Bob Anderson on IMDb
  27. ^ Reclaiming the Blade on IMDb
  28. ^ 20 Epic Facts About The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by Rebecca Pahle
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  32. ^ "Russell and Trevor Le Quesne, trading as TPP Contracting, are local earthworks contractors who have completed work in a very sensitive and effective manner on Mt Ruapehu over the last five years. Their first job in Tongariro National Park was the restoration of areas such as 'Orc Road' disturbed during the filming of parts of 'Lord of the Rings'."Tongariro/Taupo Conservation Awards 2005, Department Of Conservation Regional Awards, retrieved 1 February 2008.
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  35. ^ The Fellowship of the Ring DVD preview of The Two Towers (2002)
  36. ^ Elijah Wood and Sean Astin on The Two Towers Extended Edition commentary
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  43. ^ a b c d Weta Digital (DVD)|format= requires |url= (help). New Line Cinema. 2004.
  44. ^ Wake, Jenny (2005). The Making of King Kong. Simon and Schuster Ltd. p. 72. ISBN 1-4165-0257-2.
  45. ^ Big-atures (DVD)|format= requires |url= (help). New Line Cinema. 2003.
  46. ^ a b c Weta Digital (DVD)|format= requires |url= (help). New Line Cinema. 2003.
  47. ^ a b c d Weta Digital (DVD)|format= requires |url= (help). New Line Cinema. 2002.
  48. ^ a b The Taming of Sméagol (DVD)|format= requires |url= (help). New Line Cinema. 2003.
  49. ^ Editorial: Refining the Story (DVD)|format= requires |url= (help). New Line Cinema. 2003.
  50. ^ M. Aitken, G. Butler, D. Lemmon, E. Saindon, D. Peters, G. Williams, "The Lord of the Rings: the Visual Effects that Brought Middle Earth to the Screen", ACM SIGGRAPH 2004 Course Notes, No. 11 (2004).