Designing Henneth Annun

 

squire: We’re still wandering around the soundstage floor, taking dimensions with a 100-foot tape to verify just how much room we have left. The next problem is a classic: For the scenes with Faramir, Frodo and Gollum at Henneth Annun and the Forbidden Pool, we need to do a big dark cave with a waterfall across its opening. The script also calls for the rocky gorge and pool that the waterfall falls into. Uh-oh: two waterfall sets!

Or maybe not?

Grant Major: You build up basically from the studio floor. We combined the waterfall and the Forbidden Pool with the caves, really in the interest of saving time and energy with the manufacture of the waterfall itself, which was the most complicated part to build.

So it became a very high set.

 

squire: A. Should they have at least tried to find a location for the Forbidden Pool?

weaver: some quick answers... As a water lover, here, I say yes.

Darkstone: Well... I would think the location scouts were looking for possible locations for all the scenes. Indeed, it sounds like many locations were found by accident while scouting for something else. But can you imagine the environmental restrictions on a real location like that??

squire: B. How hard is it to build a waterfall on a sound stage anyway?

Darkstone: “Waterfall”, “dialogue”, and “sound stage”: One of these things don’t belong with the others.

squire: What would the problems be?

weaver: Hmm..how do you keep the water going? Where does all the water go? How do you keep it from looking like a fountain?
I do think, though, that since even if it's a fake waterfall, it's still made of "real" water the pool comes off more real to me than the cave in this part of the film.

 Darkstone: Besides the sound of falling water drowning out everything? Well, leaks, getting the water to fall in a full sheet, the sound of pumps, the effects of humidity on equipment, makeup, and paint.

squire: C. What does building a “high set” involve?

weaver: Having more than one level to it?

Darkstone: Safety first. Plus having a high ceiling. And I guess getting Radagast, aka John Harding, back on the cherry picker.

Grant Major: Here … we have Faramir’s group of people. Kind of a hideout, right. We wanted to develop a look that made them look like rangers. So this cave’s kind of a hideaway. It’s also a base of operations so it had to have a certain amount of dressing. We thought that they would probably have to carry everything that was packed all the way from Minas Tirith, which is after all where he comes from.

Chris Hennah: Henneth Annun did really have only a few basic props like barrels, a few weapons, sacks and baskets of food. But it’s complicated in the building because, in a lot of these rock sets, there’s way more work than you ever imagine.

 

squire: Here are some questions you have to answer before dragging all those heavy “rock” pieces from the Emyn Muil set up onto a 15-foot high camera platform. Can you answer them, or figure out what the designers’ answers were?
D. 1. What does the inside of a natural cave look like, anyway?

Darkstone: Which type? The inside of Henneth Annun looks like a well worn natural fault cave, though one might expect a solution, or limestone, cave under a waterfall.

squire: 2. What are the lighting sources?

Darkstone: Always a problem in any cave set. For some reason audiences seem to be put off by totally black screens.

squire: Must the ceiling be closed over?

 Darkstone: Part of the concept of a cave is a ceiling. Of course most sets don’t have ceilings. Well, real ceilings. Er, that is, fake ceilings. Oh, never mind….

squire: 3. Why would the floor be flat?

Darkstone: Worn down by feet and leveled out by tools. How long has Henneth Annûn been in use? Since the Second Age I’d guess. At least long enough for a hoary taboo regarding the Forbidden Pool to have started.

N.E. Brigand: Henneth Annûn was built in the Third Age. And late in the Third Age.  In the book, at least.  From Appendix B:

"2901. Most of the remaining inhabitants of Ithilien desert it owing to the attacks of Uruks of Mordor. The secret refuge of Henneth Annûn is built."

So it's 118 years old when Frodo reaches it.

And I don't think the "Forbidden Pool" is actually so called in the book -- it's not the pool as such but the refuge behind that puts Gollum's life in danger.

Darkstone: Whoops!

NEB 3
Darkstone 0

I'm gonna need a Hail Mary (or Hail Galadriel) play to catch up.

And squire says that's a spruce, not a fir, and since he's younger and got better eyes than me, I'm not going to argue with him, so I'm losing on all fronts today.

squire: Younger?! That's the nicest compliment I've heard all year (my 50th).

N.E. Brigand: If...I'm somehow ahead, it's because I play very seldom. But fifteen threads down the board, Aerin linked to a tree-silhouette web page which may help resolve this question.

Elostirion74: Does it? I didn't find spruce nor fir (nor pine for that matter) on the list.

N.E. Brigand: Try these. Sorry -- I hadn't checked the details of Aerin's link, but only knew it contained a host of tree silhouettes.
Try these:
Spruce
Fir
Given the variety, I'm not sure how helpful these pictures are either, but at least it shows the right kinds of trees.

squire: It would be helpful to know which species each silhouette refers to. Clearly the two families of trees have some species which are indistinguishable in silhouette, calling into question my impression that spruces are "pointier"!

But the pictures I researched of southern European highland firs, at least, were not particularly pointy on top, nor did they have the distinct clusters of boughs that seem to catch snow the way I thought spruces did, and the way I think the one in the painting does.

We'll just have to go to New Zealand and see what conifers grow there -- my guess is that the artist drew a "fir tree" from memory or life, rather than research and render what would be most characteristic of the Mediterranean-styled Ithilien which Tolkien describes.

The film documentaries have repeated references to the problems the untraveled New Zealand crews had with learning European forms when they were called for.

Of course, part of the excellent visual effect of the LotR films comes from the "like yet not alike" temperate environment of New Zealand, which reads just a little alien to most northern hemisphere audiences and so makes an excellent Middle-earth. But that snaps back when things get just a little too alien -- like that odd canyon the "Anduin" passes through at one point.

squire: 4. How many men should it look like it can house?

 Darkstone: According to Fire Codes, common sense, billet regulations, or frat house practice? I’m sure you can stuff a lot of men in there. Of course, you have to consider you’ve got shifts of guards on duty and a rotation of men out on patrols. In many military situations doubling up sleeping space is common. For example, bunks are sometimes shared, with the guy coming off duty getting right into the bed the guy going on duty just got out off. Pretty nasty sometimes. Mess halls are so small you eat in shifts. Stuff like that. So even if the place seems small, that doesn’t mean it’s not being used by a lot of guys.

squire: 5. Does it feel damp or dry inside?

 Darkstone: Dry, which makes me think it’s a tectonic (or “dry”) cave. It seems really similar to the one in San Marcos Texas, the only natural fault cavern in the world that’s open to the general public.

squire: 6. Would there be any stone-and-mortar work to finish or seal off spaces?

Darkstone: I’d imagine so. I mean, that’s what non-commissioned officers do. They don’t like it when the men sit around doing nothing, so I’m sure it’s SOP for ranger sergeants to assign details to flatten the floor, smooth out walls, and slap on some mortar if only as make-work.

squire: 7. How to justify the “inner room” that Sam and Frodo are put in?

 Darkstone: Well, there was this one misfit who was drafted into the rangers, and one day he didn’t answer at role call, and when they looked behind his Shieldmaiden poster there was this tunnel….

squire: 8. How many camera angles will the director require, so that some pieces must be left removable (remember to leave plenty of off-set platform space wherever the camera will be)?

weaver: I'm not a big fan of claustrophic places and dark places, so I don't have much perspective from which to comment. But the cave we got was pretty well lived in and darn comfortable compared to what I think a real cave would be like. Moria looked more convincing to me. But I think the key here was that this wasn't a "money set" (thanks for that term). What's important here is what happens between Frodo and Faramir, and "where" they are doesn't matter as much, maybe. They could have been in an old house and still have made the points they did on film.

Darkstone: Always impossible to say. I remember in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe the studio threw a fit over the expenses for the entrance hallway in the Professor’s mansion, and so they skimped on it, and later Andrew Adamson said he felt very restricted in the angles he could shoot. On the other hand, the Beavers’ house was made in its entirety, and could open up a number of ways so the interior could be shot from any angle.

Elijah Wood: Once in the film the only thing you see that doesn’t look like a set because it isn’t, it’s all digital, is the view, the Moonset over Ithilien, which is an extraordinary thing to look at, it’s beautiful.

 

squire: E. What does Wood mean, “doesn’t look like a set”?

Darkstone: I assume he’s referring to the panorama of seeing all the way to the horizon. Aren’t believable horizons hard to do in set backdrops?

squire: It’s not a compliment to the Art Department, which would be a first for this documentary.

FarFromHome: I can't think of any night scenes that don't use a set - Weathertop, the Doors of Moria, Lothlorien, Gollum climbing down the cliff, Helm's Deep, the Forbidden Pool, the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, they're all sets. I'm guessing that the demands of lighting a night scene convincingly would make it hard to use a real location. And many of the night scenes are meant to have a surreal, claustrophobic quality anyway, so perhaps using a set may actually be an asset.

I think "not looking like a set" is meant as a compliment. Probably Elijah Wood is just remarking on that fact that on this particular night set, unlike most of the others, there is a long view out of it, breaking that claustrophobic feeling.

I think this is one of the most strikingly beautiful matte paintings in the movies. Seen on the big screen, it's very realistic, although somehow on the small screen it seems less so. But it really captures the way I always imagined the description of moonset over Gondor (rather than Ithilien, as EW says) in the book.

I've never tried to get my head around the phases of the moon in either the book or the movies, although I've read that those who have think the movies are pretty accurate, as far as it can be established. Why do they worry about the moon phase here? Sheer geekiness, I think. There's no need to use it for the time check with Gandalf and Pippin's ride, because the timelines have slipped at this point, to allow the various story threads to converge on a climax at the end of TTT. It's only in ROTK that we get that time check:

[At Edoras]
Pippin: How far is it to Minas Tirith?
Gandalf: Three days' ride, as the Nazgul flies...

[At Minas Tirith]
Pippin: You've seen Frodo and Sam?
Faramir: In Ithilien, not two days ago.

But it would have been neat if they'd included a shot of the moon during Gandalf's ride, so that the astute viewer could have figured this out for themselves!

Darkstone: Seems a compliment to the cgi department, which is not new.

 

squire: F. Do you find the matte of the Moonset over Gondor convincing or beautiful?

weaver: I liked it, a very romantic image (in the sense of a romantic image of nature, nothing to do with that nice Ranger in the foreground).

Darkstone: Both. Love the moonlit landscape in the distance.

Elostirion74: Beautiful and convincing. Still.. I think it's beautiful and entirely convincing in its own right. Maybe there should have been some more mist in the valley at the back of the picture, but otherwise I've got few complaints. I have looked at the trees and agree with squire that the types of trees don't appear to be the ones wanted, as a Scandinavian I'd say these trees do look too similar to trees in more northern latitudes.

Jeremy Burnett, Digital Effects Art Director: We went to great pains trying to work out what we should be seeing as the moon goes. Is it a full moon, is it a half moon? You know that kind of information is available from Tolkien. So that’s true to the book.

squire: One of the reasons Tolkien obsessed about the moon was it served to connect the two separated stories and establish a credible timeline. In the book Tolkien explicitly explains to the reader that Pippin, while riding to Gondor with Gandalf in Return of the King, sees the same full moonset that Frodo and Faramir do in The Two Towers.
G. Do the films show the moon as a continuing and consistent device for chronology and connection?

weaver: Well..Tolkien would have hated that they messed with the moon phases and seasonal structure of his work. I guess I was glad to see one moment where the moon was honored in the films.

Darkstone: Yes, about the same as with Tolkien. And similarly both make occasional mistakes.

If not, why did the matte artists bother to get the moon right, but not the types of trees found in Ithilien?

weaver: As for the trees, again, they weren't considered equal cast members in the films as they were in the books.

Darkstone: Isn't that a fir tree behind Frodo? Seems pretty accurate to me.

 Before them, as they turned west, gentle slopes ran down into dim hazes far below. All about them were small woods of resinous trees, fir and cedar and cypress. and other kinds unknown in the Shire, with wide glades among them; and everywhere there was a wealth of sweet-smelling herbs and shrubs. The long journey from Rivendell had brought them far south of their own land, but not until now in this more sheltered region had the hobbits felt the change of clime. Here Spring was already busy about them: fronds pierced moss and mould, larches were green-fingered, small flowers were opening in the turf, birds were singing. Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate kept still a dishevelled dryad loveliness.

South and west it looked towards the warm lower vales of Anduin, shielded from the east by the Ephel Dúath and yet not under the mountain-shadow, protected from the north by the Emyn Muil, open to the southern airs and the moist winds from the Sea far away. Many great trees grew there, planted long ago, falling into untended age amid a riot of careless descendants; and groves and thickets there were of tamarisk and pungent terebinth, of olive and of bay; and there were junipers and myrtles; and thymes that grew in bushes, or with their woody creeping stems mantled in deep tapestries the hidden stones; sages of many kinds putting forth blue flowers, or red, or pale green; and marjorams and new-sprouting parsleys, and many herbs of forms and scents beyond the garden-lore of Sam. The grots and rocky walls were already starred with saxifrages and stonecrops. Primeroles and anemones were awake in the filbert-brakes; and asphodel and many lily-flowers nodded their half-opened heads in the grass: deep green grass beside the pools, where falling streams halted in cool hollows on their journey down to Anduin.

Don’t you love that phrase “dishevelled dryad loveliness”?

N.E. Brigand: Nice catch on that fir (clever you, seizing on squire's well-known fondness for the descriptions of Ithilien, from his favorite chapter; though he's noted that not everyone agrees).

squire: I do love that phrase, actually......though some don't.

I criticized that tree because it looks like a spruce to me, it's so heavy and opaque. A fir is airier and a lot less pointy.
And scenic artists may love tall free-standing conifers for their silhouette (see how the trees echo the mountains and Faramir himself: very artful!), but the crude rendering of these trees is the weakest part of the backdrop (lit from the right? wtf?).
Softer, airier, and dimmer would have been a better night vista. The book emphasizes the sea of mist in the Anduin valley.

Darkstone: But......spruce are "resinous trees" like "fir and cedar and cypress" so maybe it's just one of those "other kinds unknown in the Shire".

squire: They are resinous, of course. Who can resist the christmas-y smell of spruce?

But I've always thought that the plants that Sam and Frodo didn't know were ones that were entirely indigenous to the Mediterranean climates of the southern reaches of Middle-earth.

Spruce, if anything, is a northern tree, and probably occurred in the Northfarthing, which is one of those notorious northern highlands that Tolkien so loves to populate with piney trees.

Darkstone: So......why did the Men of Gondor decide not to include the common spruce in the inventory of their garden? They planted lots and lots of other trees, bushes, herbs, flowers, and fungi. Was this another one of those taboos? Did Elendil have a bad experience with a spruce and so they're banned forever from the great Numenorean botanical gardens? So I imagine one of the rangers' more mundane duties is uprooting any spruce sapling caught growing in Ithilien.

BTW, I've put stars, angels, Santa Clauses, Father Christmases, and Kronoses (don't ask) on top of many a Norwegian spruce and that still doesn't look like the top of one to me.

squire: Maybe it's not a spruce, then.

Darkstone: Hey! Don't give up so easily! You're supposed to respond "I never said it was a *Norwegian* spruce!"

squire: I never didn't say it wasn't any other kind of spruce, either.

Darkstone: Don't you just love it! You sweat blood and tears working your back end off working on a discussion topic with high concepts and all sorts of bells and whistles and your longest and most contentious thread is about some dinky little thing like "Is that a spruce tree or a fir?"

squire: It's very Art Department! That's just the kind of discussion heroic overworked assistant art directors and sketch artists have, while struggling to save the movie by getting the Moonset backing perfect.

N.E. Brigand: Ack -- we double-Roseburied! Doesn't that mean I have to forfeit my accumulated Darkstone points?

squire: "Points such as those are hard to come by" Darkstone is a kind of ominous jewel-like name, isn't it?
Keep your points! 

Darkstone: "Done by! Gum by!"

squire: Éothéod! Fram! Scatha!


FUNNY STORY – the real Scrubbing Bubbles of The Lord of the Rings movies.

Grant Major: Actually as it happens we had painted the bottom of the pool quite dark to make it feel deep, but paint usually has detergents in it, and as flowing water comes in contact with the paint, it would look like a bubble bath. So, ah, we had to put all these chemicals into the water to stop this foaming.

squire: It’s always something!

 

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