Thursday, 29 May 2014

Wellington Lord of the Rings Tour (Part 1 of 2)

Whilst Tom and I were in Wellington we decided to do another Lord of the Rings tour. Neither of us are die hard fans of the LOTR films and we haven't read the books, but after doing the Hobbiton tour we are suddenly converted! I'm just a click away from buying the books and we are both eager for a LOTR movie marathon!

Our tour guide, Alice, was lovely and knowledgeable. She showed us video clips and photos of the various scenes we visited which was really great! By way of identifying some of the sets, it's really just all in the trees! 

Recognise this hill? No, you probably won't. It's Dry Creek Quarry, where Helms Deep was built and filmed. Peter Jackson decided to built the set here because his studio is located in the middle of a small suburb within Wellington. The scenes were filmed at night and most of them are loud, fighting scenes, so he didn't want to upset his neighbours! They also built here because of the freedom they could have when building. Helms Deep was a huge set, and saying that it's quite funny that no one thought anything of it as it was being built. The quarry is located on the side of a busy motorway, so hundreds of people were passing the set everyday and never gave it a second thought. The build was not advertised and so no one realised what it was until after the film had been released, and after the set had been torn down. 

Luckily though, one curious journalist managed to climb the hillside by the set and snapped this photo!
The set took several months to build and was made from polystyrene. The detail in the set was intricate and painstakingly painted and finished. If you look carefully on the top left of the photo below you can see a staircase - a single man was employed to build this staircase and it was made from polystyrene. He used a saw to cut out and detail all 300+ steps. Each one was painted and finished. The steps were featured in the film for all of 2 seconds. 
The set was sadly demolished, but from its ashes the builders and artists created Mina's Tirrith. Mina's Tirrith was gigantic and triple the size of the Helms Deep set. Some of the artists whom had worked on Helms Deep returned during the new build and were blown away by its sheer size. Some of the structure from Helms Deep was used in the new build as the internal archways and passages. Not a single detail was missed. In fact, the door that is featured in the film during a battle scene was built twice - one whole with the fully working lock mechanism which is featured in the movie, and another broken from when a log is pushed through it. 
Sadly, no photos that our guide knew of had been taken of the Mina's Tirrith set, but I do have this youtube clip which she showed us. Compare this building to the size of the Helms Deep set to give yourself an idea of its size. 

At the start of the clip Gandalf is actually riding his horse in the South Island. When Mirriths Tirrith appears on the screen as he approaches the top of the hill, this is actually a 24th scale model of the set digitally added into the film - as is the zoomed out views of Gandalf riding through the building. As Gandalf rides through the courtyard keep your eye on Pippin. In some places he looks ridged and stiff - this is because it is actually a doll - this was to give Pippin a true Hobbit size in comparison to Gandalf and the horse. 


Our next stop was Harcourt Park, Hutt Valley were the scenes of Isengard were shot. Honestly, you wouldn't know it if someone didn't tell you that these scenes were shot here. This couldn't be a more normal, plain old park! There's a few trees and a patch of grass. But that's all Peter Jackson needed! 

This photo shows you a man working on a scale model of a bridge which is used in the filming. On his ride to Isengard, Gandalf rides under a bridge. This is the actual bridge. As with everything else it is made from polystyrene and then painted. The bridge was held up on those stands and cleverly placed in front of the camera. A pathway was made through the centre of the park, and it's not a very long one. Gandalf was made to ride along the path in one direction, and was then turned around to ride in the other. 
This blue screen was set up at one end and digitally added was the tower and Saruman coming down the steps. 
Sadly,the above photo is not so great and I'll see if Tom has a better one to replace it with, but if you click to enlarge the photo of Alice holding the pictures up you will see two trees to the right of the tower. Unfortunately, the darker more obvious tree actually blew down and was removed from the park a couple of years ago. But the one beside still stands today and here it is, next to the baby replacement of the previous tree. This tree is the last part of the set that still remains. The pathway was removed, and Alice told us you can tell the difference in the grass - but I couldn't. 

Just a few meters to the right of this scene we found ourselves in the spot where we see Gandalf and Saruman taking a walk. I'll let you play spot the difference with this scene. But other than the lack of leaves on the trees in our photo (it's Autumn here, spring/summer during the time of filming) you will notice an extra bush. Can you see where it is? (And of course the background mountains were digitally added, sadly they are not there in real life)

Still standing in the same spot, Alice turned us around to look at a bunch of trees and a patch of grass. 
She told us to take this photo and then she sent us back to the bus to watch another movie clip.
This is the scene were the orcs rip down the trees. But watch the scene very carefully. Weta, the animation/graphic design studio that works alongside Peter Jackson made a fake tree, which they modelled on many fallen trees which they found. This fake tree was made from steel and it had hinges attached to the roots to the ground. In the scene it is the same tree which is being pulled down, you just see it from different angles. 
During the time of filming, there had been a lot of rain. The crew and actors were muddying the ground which Peter Jackson loved, it added to the misery of the scene. In addition, during filming it was raining - so that is real Wellington rain in that scenes folks! 


Fun little bit of scene info for you - the chanting from the orcs when Saruman is looking down on the army was actually the voices from people in a cricket match. Peter went out onto the pitch and asked the crowd to chant various words he prompted them with. Only a short slice of the chant was useable as some drunken hooligans got a bit carried away and starting shouting other words  and phrases. So this clip was played on a loop. Pretty cool huh?

Anyone recognise this river and wall?
This is Hutt River, although it is a little bit high (we had a lot of rain prior to the tour!) and there is usually a sandy/mud bank by that back wall there. This is the scene where Aragon was washed ashore. This scene is not actually in the book, it was a little extra drama Peter Jackson wanted to add, but they had problems trying to train the horse! For me being a horse owner, I find this quite amusing, but they tried to train the horse with a bundle of straw. They laid the straw down on the floor and then tried to get the horse to lay down beside it, but naturally to the horse it laid on top of it! Anyone else find that amusing? So, deciding it was too risky to try it with Aragon (Viggo Mortenson) himself (in case the horse crushed him) they decided to scrap the scene. But Viggo was adamant! He felt the scene added to the film (nothing to do with kissing Liv Tyler at all!) and so he trained the horse himself - and FYI did anyone know Viggo kept this horse? He got so attached to him, he bought the horse and several others used in the film. Aww.

Here's a clip of the scene, and I suggest to pay attention to the water. At the beginning of the scene the river filmed is actually in the South Island. Notice the direction it's flowing and how blue and clear it looks. Then, on the close up notice the direction in which this water flows and it's colour. Oops Mr Jackson!


I'll leave it there for today. Tomorrow I will tell you about our visit to Rivendell, the Get Off The Road scene and the Weta Studios!

Shellby