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<< The Fate of Merry and Pippin

Peter (cont.): [Merry and Pippin run through Fangorn] This was a studio set, Fangorn Forest, because we hunted round on location in New Zealand to try to find a real forest that could stand in for Fangorn, but it’s, sort of, so evocative and so atmospheric, and the trees have to be big, old, gnarly, twisted trees, and we just, really, couldn’t find a single place in New Zealand that we thought would be a good Fangorn, so we decided it should have a slightly heightened, you know, feel: it didn’t have to be ultra-realistic, and so we built all these trees – everything that you’re seeing here is either a miniature forest or it’s a set, a studio set, and all of the trees are fake. They’re a wonderful job – incredible art department to actually be able to build these things to look real, because often fake trees look really like fake trees.

Fran: I always felt guilty when we would walk into a Fangorn set, because I’d think about the trees that died for the set, and how it was so much in conflict with what the story was about!

Peter: Yeah, most of it was made out of old, dead trees – bits and pieces lying on the ground – and the bark was usually rubber: I mean, a lot of the bark on the trees was actually just big sheets of rubber that had been moulded off a real tree. (beat) The first time we see Treebeard. Treebeard was a really difficult character – initially he was, and conceptually he was tough, because I always felt that there’s no way we could do a walking, talking tree without making him look stupid. And I think I was being, you know, really freaked out by the way he looked in the Ralph Bakshi cartoon version of ‘Lord of the Rings’ [Fran agrees] where he looked like a walking carrot; and on the very first day at Weta, way back in, maybe, 1997, you know, I had the designers around and I said, “Listen, the biggest challenge is going to be to design an Ent, to design something that doesn’t make us laugh.” Daniel Falconer, one of Richard’s great designers, went away, drew a pencil sketch, showed it to me, and it was Treebeard. [Philippa and Fran agree] It was the first time in my life I’d ever seen an Ent illustrated in a way that looked really great. [Fran agrees], and it was his very first drawing; and I said [laughing], “We’ve got Treebeard! Okay, we don’t have to do any more work on that! Let’s go onto the next thing!” It was incredible, it just happened instantaneously; and about four years later, that original pencil sketch was used to design the final creature that we had in the movie.

Philippa: And Daniel loves and knows Tolkien so, so well.

Peter: I like the pedantic nature of Treebeard. He is probably my favourite character – I mean, Gollum, obviously, is pretty amazing, but as a sort of fantasy character, I just like the fact that he’s so pedantic and he’s rather bureaucratic and he’s kind of dull; and his dullness I find very humorous and funny. It’s a rather self-important character, and some of that, I think, comes from almost wanting to send Tolkien up, doesn’t it? Tolkien clearly, kind of, revered Treebeard to such a degree that you can’t help but want to, sort of, poke fun at that a little bit when you’re making the movie. It was difficult to create the face of Treebeard in the sense that, because he was supposed to be bark, you know, you don’t really want bark to act like rubber and sort of stretch and push and squeeze, and yet that’s what the skin of a face does, so we somehow had to try to get a balance between being able to have a mobile, flexible face, but not betray the fact that it is supposed to be kind of wood. We didn’t try too hard to get many expressions into his face, because we thought that with the more expressions there were, the less he’d actually come across like a tree.

Fran: Mmm. In fact, there are times when he lapses into being a tree, doesn’t he?

The Passage of the Marshes >>

The Lord of the Rings and its content does not belong to me, it is property of the Tolkien Estate;  the commentaries transcribed here, as well as the images used, are the property of New Line Cinema.