Hollywood Reporter called the three Hobbit films ‘a $1 billion gamble’, the first two films costing £315 million each. The stakes are high, the rewards potentially huge: Lord Of The Rings grossed nearly $3 billion, with 2003’s The Return Of The King winning 11 Oscars.
Nearly every character in The Desolation Of Smaug (with the possible exception of the dragon) needs a wig. So the wigmakers made 752 of them – 91 for the film’s 13 dwarfs alone. The hair is not synthetic but from humans – or yaks.
And then there is the facial hair – 263 beards were made for the film, held on with 4.45 miles of toupée tape. To be fair, they are very big beards, especially that of Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf.
It took five hours to complete hair, make-up, prosthetics and wardrobe for each dwarf. And, although there are only 13 dwarfs in the trilogy, it took 165 people, including actors, doubles and stunt men, to portray them.
Thorin Oakenshield, king of the dwarfs, is played by British actor Richard Armitage. Arriving on set for An Unexpected Journey, the first in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, he feared he’d be sacked for being too tall – he’s 6ft 2in. He needn’t have worried – Jackson uses special effects to ‘shrink’ the actors on screen, but the dwarfs did have to be trained how to walk. ‘We had weighted belts to pull your centre of gravity low,’ said Armitage.
Four tons of silicon was used for facial prosthetics – and 860 bottles of isopropyl alcohol were used to remove them. In total, 11,862 prosthetics have so far been made for the trilogy. One crew member was given the job of looking after prosthetic hands – wonder how that gets written up on their CV?
In days gone by film stars might have had a stunt double for high-flying action scenes. Here, each main character had five doubles – including scale, stunt and riding doubles. Orlando Bloom (Legolas), though, got hands on, and performed his own epic stunts.
The trilogy was shot on location in New Zealand, with 115 drivers to transport the cast and crew to the 94 sets. Two crew sat in a car overlooking the nearby airport to warn when planes took off, so noise didn’t interfere with filming.
Peter Jackson’s daughter Kate pushed for Ed Sheeran to write the song for the closing credits. A wise choice – Ed’s a Tolkien fan and The Hobbit was the first book his dad ever read him. After seeing a screening, Sheeran immediately went into a studio and recorded I See Fire – the British singer-songwriter’s first single in two years.
Arachnophobe Peter Jackson has often used his fear to make his films scary. In The Return Of The King, his computer- generated giant spider Shelob was inspired by his fear of the New Zealand tunnel-web spider. ‘Whenever I see movie spiders, they’re based on tarantulas, shot in slow motion so they move slowly. I wanted Shelob to move fast.’ In The Desolation Of Smaug, Mirkwood Forest is overrun with spiders that may be Shelob’s ancestors and which feed on unsuspecting travellers who stray from the path.
John Bell, 16, who plays Bain, grew four inches during the making of the film.
What does Smaug look like? The CGIgenerated dragon is under wraps until release, but you can hear Benedict Cumberbatch’s voiceover online in a sneak peak of the trailer. We know what Smaug’s lair will look like – 2,000 hand-spun goblets were specially made and 117,000 punched aluminium gold plated coins are trickled over the lair. That’s one lah-di-dah dragon.
Maybe unsurprisingly for a 1937 book, there aren’t many women in The Hobbit. But in the film they’re as abundant as orcs. New characters include feisty elf Tauriel, who carries twin daggers, a bow and arrow, and is fast and agile in battle, a bit like Lisbeth Salander with Spock ears. She’s not a ‘floating, ethereal thing’, says Evangeline Lilly.
The meerkats with big feet More than 100 prosthetic hobbit feet had to be made for Martin Freeman, who plays reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins. ‘They were heavy,’ he said. ‘And they were six inches longer than real feet. So it immediately changes the way you move.’ He modelled his performance of the 3fttall hobbit on the meerkat, especially when stretching his neck to look over things larger than him… such as dwarfs.
McKellen considered quitting acting on the first film. Gandalf is supposed to tower over hobbits and dwarfs, so he had to be filmed separately, on a greenscreen set. ‘I felt pretty miserable… I wondered, had the time come for me to stop acting if I couldn’t cope?’ But he battled on.
More than 140,000 coffees were made by the caterers during production – that’s 35,000 litres of cappuccinos!
A remarkable 1,200 extras appear in the trilogy. Last year, an audition for extras took place in Wellington. The casting department said they were looking for men under 164cm and women under 155cm, big men with ‘character faces’ over 175cm, men with large biceps, women with ‘character faces’ and women with long hair. However, the casting call proved more popular than thought: it had to be closed down when more than 3,000 people showed up.