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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Hobbit:
'Hobbit' Set visit Exclusive -Bringing Lake-town to Life

News from Bree

Oct 24 2013, 8:05am

Post #1 of 21 (759 views)
'Hobbit' Set visit Exclusive -Bringing Lake-town to Life Can't Post

[caption id="attachment_81169" align="aligncenter" width="740"]

(The outdoor Lake-Town wet set with extras and crew assembled for a night shoot on "The Hobbit.")

WELLINGTON: The great cities of history have risen up around rivers, lakes and on coasts. Water holds vast and replenishing stores of food, improves transportation of people and goods, encourages trade, and of course keeps a population hydrated. Paris. London. Hong Kong. New York. Tokyo. Moscow. Boston. On and on.

Lake-town benefitted from excellent transportation and presumably a wealth of fish and food and clean, fresh water but it was built on water for a different reason.


One dragon in particular: Smaug The Terrible.

Tolkien's Lake-town, like real-world Venice, was built on wooden pillars sunk into water. The lake men - with the destruction of Dale seared forever into their memory - built on water for safety. We watched it in the prolog of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey", while they had to live with the fear of dragon every day. Water-based living provided at least a chance against the great and terrible worm if he ever attacked again.

Survival was the challenge for the city builders in Middle-earth but for Peter Jackson's film version of Lake-town, dragon-sized demands included creating visuals to sell a water-based town to the audience and to provide a playground to let actors fully realize characters and moments.

A shooting set, complete with camera and dolly, in a residence in a Lake-town set for "The Hobbit."

Ra Vincent, who heads up the set decoration on the films with Simon Bright, each a part of the art department led up by Academy Award winner Dan Hennah, showcased the work that goes into city and world building.

Vincent is an artist at heart, a sculptor and painter. He helped Jackson's team on "King Kong", as sculpting supervisor. During our visit he is relaxed and easy going, even on a large scale project with daily deadlines like "The Hobbit", with his dark hair, his eyes playful, his smile easy to invoke. Not far from the sound stages, Vincent has a desk in an open, creative office with other key figures in the Art Department. Scattered around the office are concept pieces for sets including some watercolors from Vincent's hand. He enjoys talking about the team.

From the corner of his desk, just down a hallway, sits a room sits that would simply blow the minds of fans of cinema and fans of Middle-earth alike. It serves as a visual showcase for sets from the film.

Ra Vincent in Los Angeles.

"So in this room, we kind of put little hints of each society or culture, just so that everyone knows generally which way the esthetic is headed," he said during a tour for TheOneRing.net.

In one section sits a wooden, rustic desk with pinecones and some of the more mundane items one might find in the dwelling of an eclectic wizard. Above it hangs concept art and colors.

But the room, which would impress any visitor from any studio or the public or anywhere, isn't made to show off at all.

"No, no this is very practical. We generate all these color swatches for fabric and that way we can really control the color quite accurately on the set so you can finish a set with interesting things. To give visual strength to certain areas, you can tie a room together with color.

"This is Radagast - from his house [ and then by making a little installation like this, these guys (staff from the art department) can come and they know that there is a certain kind of color that we're working toward and they can reference this. These are sort of practice pieces if you like, and development with the rest of the environment."

Several specific regions of Middle-earth were represented. The natural but vibrant colors of Hobbiton moving around the room to Thranduil's elven realm.

"It's all that blue and silver and gold, so everything kind of became kind of glassy and quiet and still with blue but we gave a warm and inviting feeling with the introduction of gold and silver metallics and pivotal to the elven aesthetic is the layer of shimmer on everything. It gives it a magical otherworldly sort of sensation."

The goblins realm is next, the results on screen in the first film.

"These guys, being subterranean kind of critters that live in a hive environment, also have their individual curiosities. All we did with goblin world was to put a whole lot of different set dressers in there who all had their own kind of quirky aesthetic that they are working on and by doing that we can individualize the spaces.

"(We) have a goblin sitting at a kind of child's rocking chairs next to a portrait of something completely off the wall like a cow's head. It's quite lovely for the set dressers because they get this sort of diverse opportunity."

Next is Radagast's section, now, like the goblin caves, familiar to moviegoers.

"We generate a quite a bit of the dressing for these environments so not only are the swing operators responsible for putting in and taking away objects for finishing, but they also manufacture all this stuff."

Bard the Bowman as played by Luke Evans.

It is simply geektacular.

"He (Radagast) has a very eclectic style and in order to get going, we brought in a weaver who sat down with the truck driver, the coordinator, the swing gang, some movers, the store-men and they all learned how to weave baskets in one day. Then they carried on weaving these baskets for another five days, so we ended up with the most extravagant individualized pieces. We did the same thing with a book binder. Now we have a team of very good weavers and book binders who generally in their normal day-to-day jobs would be truck drivers or coordinators."

The room continues on to Radagast's naughty neighbors.

"Then the spider forest was exciting and Mirkwood - wonderful set to work in. We gave it a poisonous quality that hopefully you'll see on screen. It was all painted very vivid color-wise. I think in that way Peter can control the progression through the forest through his color grading later on and start off with a fairly conventional kind of spooky looking forest and then you (lead) up to the most outrageous spider-infested home.

"And without being wasteful we do make sure that we're covered. It's always good to give the director as many options as we can."


Next is Lake-town, a significant part of film two. Many of the items are nautical, or related to or, are manufactured fish. We also see on the wall the dwelling of a certain bowman, where much of the embed action happened.

"The original inspiration was slightly different from what we ended up with. This is interesting, the translation. Take kind of simplistic drawings but I think they are simple enough that you hand the drawing over, a prop designer will pull that out and draw it up and it's typical of that process."

Lake-town isn't just one set during the shoot, its several. Some exteriors scenes shot on a wet indoor soundstage. The Bowman residence interior was on another stage, replicated in two scales. Giant walnuts, tiny walnuts. Absurdly big model boat, petite model boat. Fans know the drill from the LOTR movies but it is no less miraculous to see the attention to detail. Corn kernels come in two sizes.

In a five-week embed, various versions of Lake-town go up and down, sometimes very literally overnight. So while no single place or set is Lake-town, in the middle of the outdoor lot of Jackson's Stone Street Studios, an enormous practical Lake-town dominates the grounds. Its a wet set, meaning everything is on, in or surrounded by a shallow man-made lake, kept behind cement barriers. On one side looms a permanent jumbo green screen wall big enough to keep King Kong out. Enormous cranes are rigged with overhead lights and the illusion of a village on a lake is pretty emotionally convincing. You can tell the difference of course but to find an angle that looks 100% convincing isn't difficult at all. Emotionally, it feels like the real thing.

Out of the magical art room and building, Vincent is equally at home giving a tour of this two story practical set. Its one of those moments when I could hardly believe I am there, walking up and down stairs, across bridges and seeing the set dressing highlights with Ra, an enthusiastic gentleman-artist that is difficult not to really like.

A prop hangs on a post as dressing on the Lake-town set of "The Hobbit."

He knows every object on the remarkable set. Hanging outside a boatsman's house are some glass floats - either old Chinese pieces or the duplicates made by the art department's manufacturing arm. Nobody knows the difference now.
In another section rests a magnificent oversized leather book. While nearly every object is made, including books and paperwork, Vincent remembers that this one isn't.

"I purchased that from a bank that was closing down in Wellington that was clearing out their basement and they had these 150-year-old ledgers. It is incredible."

At another corner we find a wonderfully decorated niche that I suspect from my time as an extra the previous week will make at least a background appearance in the film and sharp audience eyes will be rewarded.

"In the prep or the initial dress (of the set) the idea is to tell little stories. I don't think anyone has played with this too much. This is just a little room where there are a little bit of Lake-town remedies going on here where you come to buy your secret herbs for various ailments.

"Our set dressers conceived of the oddball pagan bits and pieces to set up a magic potion shop. This is very off-the-wall stuff and it's only ever meant to be background, even just having a little hint of it is kind of fun because its so well laid out and everything has been thought about and positioned nicely."

Around a corner is a copper bath and a boiling water heater to keep the imaginary townies, clean, at least sometimes. It is beautiful in fact. Nobody will ever take a bath there, but it would be difficult to argue that it isn't art. What if it never gets on screen? What if nobody ever sees it?

"We kind of decided at the beginning of the job that we were going to make museum-quality pieces because there is no point in making rubbish if all you're going to have to do is remake it over and over again. So we set up a bronze foundry and we brought beautiful timber for making the best quality pipes. There is nothing quite like holding a knife that is made out of the real thing rather than a rubber version or a plastic version or something, it kind of needs . . . it should have the weight and should behave the way the object is supposed to behave."

I wish it could all go to a museum, mindful of friends and TORn users that would cherish the chance to see this first hand. Mindful of the need for a film to tell a great story, I am also aware that it all simply cannot all be captured by the cinematic camera.

"Even at the end of the day if it doesn't end up on screen, one of the actors had the enjoyment of getting into character because he was sitting at the table and there was all those little details in front of him. I think I've achieved my job. A lot of this stuff audiences will never see but I think it's great. Everybody on set and off set that made it, knew that it was there and we know how rich the film is and hopefully even if it's not literally seen on screen it will be felt."

Vincent gives me run of the set and I use it to photograph as many of the details as possible without being an absurd guest. There are plenty of visual clues about who lives where and does what. A fishmonger lives in the main plaza. There are hunters who successfully hunted flying foul (manufactured props) and the city of Lake-town either imports or grows a variety of vegetables. The citizens enjoy eels. There is plenty of paperwork involving trade and with the Master of Lake-town's stamp as well as information about the city's imports and exports. A few weapons rust in storerooms. Beyond the set dressing, the set itself is intricate and amazing. Broken statues, weathered boats, moss growing on stones, wooden supports done with a fish motif and water gates all impress, all of it set on a man-made, illusion-giving "lake".

Fish, all manufactured, hang on the outdoor Lake-Town set in New Zealand for "The Hobbit."

It feels a bit run down and weathered and used.

The next day the tour continues, but now via car on the way from Stone Street to see where all this Lake-town and other set dressing comes from. Not far from the studio we enter a production workshop in full on work mode. It is noisy, filled with various scents of materials and labor, including woodwork.

Weta Workshop designs and builds weapons and armor for actors and extras but the art department must populate the background with identical items modeled after Weta's stuff. The day we visited, the first of about 500 spears were in production progress along with thousands of arrows.

Another artist was busy making pottery.

"Every pierce of ceramic that appears in "The Hobbit" has come through this kiln," Vincent said. "He has probably touched every single one of them. At the moment he is working on some jugs, probably for cognac."

We see a saddle-making and leather station. We see the bronze foundry.

"It is easier to make the real thing than make plastic moulding," he explained.

There is plenty of wood-working going on.

"Sometimes we mill our own timber to get the sizes right."

There is a jeweler working on a piece of significant and beautiful jewelry that may show up in the prolog of the second film and has something to do with Thranduil. Special cuts of stone were imported and because the craftswoman working on it is something of a specialist, much of it will be finished with silver.

"It is easier for her to make it for real than to fake it. All except the diamonds of course!"

The amazing goes on and on, but Vincent has more to show. Another short car ride and we are at the warehouse where snow banks and floating ice chunks are manufactured. From there it is on to storage.

And storage is yet another prime geek dream destination inside the warehouses that serve to keep film artifacts safe. Cataloged and shelved, it and others like it, hold the treasures of Middle-earth. Its riches are laughable and even the mundane becomes pop-culture art.

All I can think about is a Middle-earth, movie-prop museum. Oh to play a part in presenting such a place to fans! It would be like watching kids faces at Disneyland but the faces would belong to adults, some of whom would gasp in wonder or come close to tears - reactions the Hobbiton Movie Set evokes in Matamata currently.

Vincent has done an exceptional job with show and tell. (In fact there was much more of both than can possibly be crammed into this report and we haven't even started with time spent with Mr. Hennah at all!)

Back to the "A" soundstage, with Bard's house in both scales. Naturally this potential hero can't live in a vacuum but rather in an organic community. He chooses what to wear every morning from clothes that must have been made by someone and must have a place to hang. He likely washes them as well. He must make a living, have skills or hobbies, possibly friends or enemies and now its been revealed - a family. (Might even need a place to store some old arrows or something.) A year after the initial visit, during a shorter and more secretive drop-in, old Lake-town was still in play.

There was always talk about the set about the rather amazing quarters of the Master of Lake-town that I never witnessed. And I haven't even mentioned (until now) a whole different set for the city's armory, with its age and symmetry and lovely colors. It was exceptionally fun to photograph.

Yes readers (and if you made it this far, accept my virtual pat on the back) Lake-town was, and will be, astonishing art that you will be too busy to notice on your first screening but will be worth your time to scrutinize on subsequent viewings. A quick aerial shot in one of the trailers shows a nighttime realization on a screen of the artistry by a team of creators, all serving Jackson's vision. And Weta Digital, hardly mentioned here, will be the last to touch the city before it is handed off for screenings.

The finished place might even turn out to be one of the great cities in cinematic history - built near water of course, for dragon's sake, and Pete's.

Larry D. Curtis is part of the Senior Staff at the all-volunteer TheOneRing.net where he serves as a writer, editor, photographer, consultant and helps with social media and live events. His TORn pen name is MrCere. He is a freelance writer and creative, always looking for new endeavors. He is a filmmaker, a student and a fan of fans.
Email: Email Me
Twitter: @MrLDC

See also: Set visit exclusive Extras: Living large in the background of "The Hobbit"

Note: Special thanks to @Saoirse_Lochlan from Twitter who helped transcribe for this report.

Participate with TheOneRing.net on:

(This post was edited by entmaiden on Oct 24 2013, 3:48pm)

Tol Eressea

Oct 24 2013, 7:58pm

Post #2 of 21 (414 views)
Mr. Cere, you did it again! [In reply to] Can't Post

You managed to capture the sense of wonder and astonishment anyone who walked onto the Lake-town set would feel, as some of the actors have said previously. The attention to detail was enough to bring tears more than once to these eyes. Yes, I know that will sound way over the top to some of our more skeptical friends Sly, but that's how it was for me. What I wouldn't have given for a camera! The first day on set, I looked behind me and there was a door with a small window with a tiny piece of embroidered fabric inside, no more than 6 inches by 6 inches, as a curtain. If anyone other than the set decorator and I see it, it will be a miracle, but it had to be there, just in case. It looked for all the world as if the house proud Lake-town woman who lived there wanted her neighbours to see her skill with a needle.

And apropos an earlier discussion of cinnamon
there is a certain house in Lake-town, M-e where a small green ceramic pot sits on a windowsill with several sticks of that exotic, hard-to-come-by spice waiting to be made into an apple pie.Wink I had not seen it yet when I decided that some hobbit husband must have managed to buy some for his missus, and did I laugh when I saw the proof. It obviously came by way of Lake-town.

I'm looking forward to the books covering DOS which, I hope, will have lots of photos of homely vignettes from Lake-town. This one extra certainly felt at home there. The set decorators deserve a book of their own, IMHO.

And Larry Mr. Cere, nice fish! TORnfolk, we're lucky to have an official inside man reporting. Relish it! Smile


Oct 24 2013, 9:34pm

Post #3 of 21 (372 views)
It really was cinnamon, I smelt it. [In reply to] Can't Post

A bundle of quills not powder.
The attention to detail was amazing, things the camera would never see let alone the audience.


Oct 24 2013, 9:45pm

Post #4 of 21 (372 views)
Thanks Mr. Cere! [In reply to] Can't Post

Amazing report, and the insight into the endless creativity that goes on is so welcome.

Ra's job must never feel done: constantly scanning the world at large finding just the right item. Probably dreams about huge garage sales.

Lissuin and Moahunter: what an experience! Its great an strangely thrilling to her you two chat about real cinnamon on the set. CoolSmile

Is there a Tolkien topic that you have wanted to look into more deeply, and write about your thoughts on it? If so, we'd like to hear from you for the next TORn Amateur Symposium- coming in November. Happy writing!


Oct 24 2013, 9:48pm

Post #5 of 21 (365 views)
I agree with you Lissuin [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
The attention to detail was enough to bring tears more than once to these eyes. Yes, I know that will sound way over the top to some of our more skeptical friends Sly, but that's how it was for me.

..and I'm quite happy not being skeptical! I love reading your reaction and empathize entirely AngelicAngelic- wish I could have seen it myself!

(Alas, I'm on the wrong side of the world - and unless I got the nurse job, there's no place for me!)

Is there a Tolkien topic that you have wanted to look into more deeply, and write about your thoughts on it? If so, we'd like to hear from you for the next TORn Amateur Symposium- coming in November. Happy writing!


Oct 24 2013, 10:10pm

Post #6 of 21 (353 views)
I read this earlier on the home page many thanks for posting it. [In reply to] Can't Post

What really strikes me is the attention to detail the fact that craftsmen are employed to produce real pottery, jewellery, metalware, etc., some of which may not even be seen on screen. It makes you realise how much effort goes into these films.

Fantastic stuff!


Oct 24 2013, 10:25pm

Post #7 of 21 (351 views)
Wow [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for all the details about, well, all the details! I find it so fascinating to hear about this whole world behind the scenes. Getting more and more interested in seeing Lake-town come to life in the movie! Smile


Oct 25 2013, 12:09am

Post #8 of 21 (333 views)
A fantastic read. [In reply to] Can't Post

Can't wait to dive in to more of this with the EE in a couple of weeks. Smile


Oct 25 2013, 12:31am

Post #9 of 21 (317 views)
Green as the Shire with envy [In reply to] Can't Post

Love all those details, fascinated by all the little pots and cushions and bottles and whatnot at Bag End, so only hope the set designers and craftspeople know that even if something is on screen for a few seconds,
there are those in the audience who really, really appreciate all of it (like the kite and toys for sale in Dale in AUJ. WK (Bifur) has said at a con that the audience would never have the opportunity to appreciate even the hand-crafted
hinges in Bag End, but I wish I could, just wander about picking up things, feeling them and gazing. Same with the costumes.

Wish all these sets could be preserved as a walk through museum of some kind. I will be paying special attention to Laketown!


Oct 25 2013, 12:33am

Post #10 of 21 (327 views)
Me too - now I just have to figure out [In reply to] Can't Post

how I'm going to make it through the next 2 weeks! I'm already having to skip over so many posts and articles to avoid spoilers! Sly


Oct 25 2013, 1:16am

Post #11 of 21 (299 views)
I know, it's the worst! // [In reply to] Can't Post



Oct 25 2013, 1:45am

Post #12 of 21 (305 views)
Well, this might describe Jackson's Lake-town [In reply to] Can't Post

Lake-town benefitted from excellent transportation and presumably a wealth of fish and food and clean, fresh water but it was built on water for a different reason.


One dragon in particular: Smaug The Terrible.

Tolkien's Lake-town certainly pre-dated the arrival of Smaug. Tolkien did write that the ruins of a previous, larger Lake-town; however, he never indicated that it fell victim to Smaug. The new Esgaroth that is built after the Demise of the Dragon is at least the third such town.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring

Sr. Staff

Oct 27 2013, 4:58am

Post #13 of 21 (225 views)
Long gone [In reply to] Can't Post

The set was gone while I was still there. The lot seemed a bit sad without it for me. Some of it will be used again for other sets but they could build a new one anytime but that exact one is gone forever.

I have no choice but to believe in free will.

The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie

My blog

Sr. Staff

Oct 27 2013, 7:03am

Post #14 of 21 (220 views)
Thank you [In reply to] Can't Post

It is nice to know somebody reads. These may be too dense and not accessible enough to more casual readers. I am wrestling with how to make thing easier. But anyway, thanks.

I have no choice but to believe in free will.

The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie

My blog

Sr. Staff

Oct 27 2013, 7:04am

Post #15 of 21 (218 views)
You are kind [In reply to] Can't Post

Someday, lots more pictures. You will be pleased with the depth of photos not published.

I have no choice but to believe in free will.

The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie

My blog

Sr. Staff

Oct 27 2013, 7:05am

Post #16 of 21 (219 views)
Wow back [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for reading!

I have no choice but to believe in free will.

The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie

My blog

Sr. Staff

Oct 27 2013, 7:06am

Post #17 of 21 (222 views)
They are great [In reply to] Can't Post

For me, the content about the movie is greater than the extra scenes. The EE is very, very good this time around. I say with full confidence: You will enjoy it.

I have no choice but to believe in free will.

The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie
The cake is a lie

My blog


Oct 27 2013, 7:27am

Post #18 of 21 (227 views)
MrC! WAY WowWONDERFUL... [In reply to] Can't Post

Bomby often jus' likes to sit BACK...

..."Take Time Ta..
Think Things Through"...

Rather than JUMP in
... too soon.

ANY Thread here
IS Better served
ON-Site/Eye Witness Thoughts...

Excited Emotions,
and Tactile Touching of ANY SET.

" Movies ARE Forever!"

"SETS come &go.. but they Remain Forever in our Collective Minds"..

Bomby was THERE!
Reading your posts...

Thang you Berry Buch...


Oct 27 2013, 7:42am

Post #19 of 21 (215 views)
Awesome! [In reply to] Can't Post

Great to hear that from you, MrCere.It's going to be fantastic--and of course, very bittersweet--to have all six lined up on the shelf. There will be lots of emotions when it's all over.


Oct 27 2013, 10:09am

Post #20 of 21 (222 views)
Indeed. [In reply to] Can't Post

There will be LOTS of emotions!! Frown

I simply walked into Mordor.


Oct 28 2013, 12:06am

Post #21 of 21 (183 views)
Your welcome! can't wait to read more!! // [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
It is nice to know somebody reads. These may be too dense and not accessible enough to more casual readers. I am wrestling with how to make thing easier. But anyway, thanks.

Is there a Tolkien topic that you have wanted to look into more deeply, and write about your thoughts on it? If so, we'd like to hear from you for the next TORn Amateur Symposium- coming in November. Happy writing!


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