The 90s were a very different time for film making. The biggest blockbusters of the time lived in the realms of the dramatic (Forrest Gump, Titanic), science-fiction (Jurassic Park, Terminator 2), action (Air Force One, Speed), or in some cases all three (The Matrix). It was a fantastic decade for movies, no doubt. 1999 in particular has been heralded as the year that changed the art form. Yet, at the dawn of the new millennium, one of the most innovative and noteworthy trilogies came out that shifted the tone of movie culture over the next eleven years: Lord of the Rings.
The project was nothing short of ambitious right from the start. The source material was dense, the visuals required had never been done before, and perhaps the most problematic of all, Peter Jackson was asking studios to commit to two films (later three…funny how that keeps happening with this man) with little assurance beyond the fans of the books that it would be a success. Everything was stacked against this production, and yet it’s gone on to become a landmark trilogy.
Now that the Hobbit has finally arrived (or will arrive in the very near future, depending on your home country), it’s a fantastic time to look back at the ways this series has influenced the industry. There is little doubt that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy—which began release in 2001, ending in 2003—has had an irreversible effect on the art of putting imagination on film. The scale, the ambition and the sheer innovation that went into the trilogy has served as a model and a foundation for countless artists since. Here are ten ways how:
“Have you ever seen it, Aragorn? The White Tower of Ecthelion, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, its banners caught high in the morning breeze.”
One of the defining characteristics of Peter Jackson’s film style in the old Lord of the Rings trilogy was the blending of computer animation and practical effects. Sure, some enormous army shots or fantastic creatures required CGI (it simply isn’t practical to construct a flying Fell Beast, after all), however much of what you see on screen was actually, physically built. Swords, costumes, even the entire city of Edoras. The devotion to realistic detail was so great that, though it’s impossible to see it in the film, the inside of Théoden’s armor has Rohan motifs sewn inside.
The most notable contribution, though, came in the form of “bigatures”. While it’s not uncommon for a studio to use miniature versions of structures or vehicles (particularly when they need to be blown up), the Weta team went the extra mile by creating gigantic, warehouse-filling models, some even as large as 30 feet/9 meters tall. Any time you saw a grand, sweeping shot of a city or tower, it was likely you were looking at a bigature. The level of detail that these things could convey was astounding.
While some filmmakers still prefer CGI effects over practical ones, the models that were built for Lord of the Rings were among the most ambitious that had been made and proved that artists who construct things still have a place in a digital production world.
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