Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Production Design of The Hobbit: AEJ

Hero Complex continues their series of articles from behind the scenes of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey were they interview more then just the cast but the crew of the movie that are critical part in creating Middle-Earth. The latest is a conversation with Production Designer Dan Hennah who has been designing for the film for the last three years and was the art director for The Lord of the Rings trilogy and won an Academy Award for Return of the King. Segments below, full interview here.
HC: Can you start by explaining what your job entails? Production design must have been so important for a film like this one.
DH: A production designer takes responsibility for the look of everything pretty much on the picture except the actors and what they’re wearing, and obviously lighting is a separate area. It starts with liaising with the director, with the script and working out creatively what the director’s vision is. And while it’s permissible for the production designer to have a vision, it’s always good to try and work out what the director’s vision is and to bring that to the screen. That’s the ultimate aim. And it involves liaising really closely, collaborating with the director of photography, the cinematographer and the costume department, because you don’t want purple costumes in a green room. And it’s one of those things that worked really well on “The Lord of the Rings,” and it’s worked again very well on “The Hobbit” — that sort of interdepartmental collaboration. The production designer has to put together a team of people who can execute the director’s vision and have it ready within the budget. Always, always the budget is a really big consideration, and time. And of course always time and money fight with each other; if you haven’t got enough of one, you need more of the other. Apart from coming up with this great grand vision that works with the director, it’s also about attention to detail. Every nut and bolt, every small thing being in the right place. So it’s a big-picture job, but with attention to the detail as well.

HC: How is the look of Middle-earth in “The Hobbit” different from “The Lord of the Rings”?
DH: Well, it’s 60 years earlier, and quite a lot happened in those 60 years. Also it starts in midsummer and goes through to midwinter, through the three pictures. “The Lord of the Rings” started in spring so that was a slightly different feel, in the sense of our color palettes. We’ve gone a bit more whimsical. One of the great things about the script and the story itself of “The Hobbit” is that it’s written for a younger audience, or a younger reader, so we’ve been able to embrace that. It had a lovely, whimsical feel to it, whereas “Lord of the Rings” was a much more serious book. So we’ve incorporated wherever possible a little bit of whimsy. It’s a slightly younger world that we’re in.

HC: So you were able to pull in some non-Tolkien influences?
DH: Yeah, absolutely, but you know, the interesting thing is that Tolkien wrote it. We discussed this going east thing, and really we based that on the fact that Tolkien had gone east from London, so forgetting about the English Channel, he had gone east across Europe in his research, and in his story, really. So that was the influence there. So in a way, while it’s not Tolkien, it is Tolkien, you know? But I think we have to say in terms of our design, Tolkien is our bible, and that’s the beginning and the end, really. And sure, there are opportunities to extend it, but you have to use them really subtly.

HC: Of all the new places in Middle-earth you helped design for “The Hobbit,” which is your favorite?
DH: In the first film, I’d have to say the world underneath the Misty Mountains. The goblins’ world was quite an incredible place to work on. As the films go on, there’s a sort of favorite in each film, really, but if we’re just talking about the first film, I would say the goblin world and Gollum’s cave, which is a hole in the ground with some water in it, but it’s very, very much more than that. It’s a very organic set, and one of the things about organic sets is they’re very hard to quantify when you’re working with a director, and you’re trying to visualize what you’re going to build for him, and what he’s going to work in. In this case, we modeled every set up so that Peter could look at the models, and we had to be as accurate as we could with these models so he could see if his action was going to work inside that environment, if the environment was suitable for the drama. That whole inside the mountain environment was quite fun.

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