Creating the many faces of The Hobbit

CAROLYN ENTING
Last updated 05:00 27/11/2012

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Atop a mountain in the South Island and a hundred dwarfs stumble and stagger down its slopes led by the heroic Thorin Oakenshield.

As the cameras roll, Andy Serkis' voice crackles over the radio from a helicopter above: "You guys are doing great. You look like you are in pain and so tired."

"It ain't acting, it's real," mutters prosthetics supervisor Tami Lane, herself sporting prosthetics and facial hair and sweating in a fat suit with makeup kit in tow.

Standing in as a dwarf extra for a day on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gave her extra sympathy for what the actors endure. "It was a good thing I was up there," she says. "It was so hot, the sun was just beating down on us and the moustaches kept popping. Adhesives only go so far in heat on the body. Sweat bubbles kept appearing around the edges of some of the dwarfs' noses. I had to keep popping and draining them, which wasn't the most pleasant part of the job."

Back at Stone Street Studios in Wellington, Oscar-winning makeup and hair designer Peter King faces a different challenge. Reinventing luminescent Galadriel powder to dust over Cate Blanchett's skin. He invented a similar concoction for The Lord of the Rings but forgot the formula. This time he uses a blend of four MAC makeup powders to create the "vaguely shimmering and slightly pink" powder. The high-end, trendy MAC Cosmetics company has provided nearly 10,000 units of makeup for The Hobbit.

It's the biggest production Lane and King have worked on in terms of the volume of makeup, prosthetics and wigs required and between them they've done a lot, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy. King has also worked on Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides, and Lane's CV includes The Chronicles of Narnia.

"In this film, every single [main] character is wigged. Every person wears a prosthetic," says King. "Pirates was a big movie but it was a two-hander compared to this."

Lane won an Oscar for makeup for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but this is in another league. "So many heroes have intense prosthetics, wigs and maintenance. Not just one or two characters like in Narnia. I've never seen so much rubber in my life. Everyone goes through an intense process every day and you have to be perfect every day."

This includes making a fresh set of eyebrows for each of the dwarfs daily, which, depending on the eyebrows, can take between one and four hours to complete, punched one hair at a time into the silicone with a needle.

"Continuity has to be hair to hair," says King. "And the shape has to be exactly the same. If you go 1 millimetre over, it will look different and someone will know something is wrong, so you have to be incredibly precise, especially when working with Peter [Jackson] and Fran [Walsh], because they are, and quite rightly so, sticklers for getting it right. That's why working with them is fantastic and at the end the work is incredibly good; though sometimes it's really difficult 1 years down the line when you're knackered. ‘That doesn't look quite the same.' But, luckily, that doesn't happen very often."

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The Hobbit author, J R R Tolkien, also didn't make it easy when it came to designing each of the dwarfs' facial characteristics. Apart from noting the colour of their cloaks, he didn't differentiate much between the 13 characters.

Using Jackson-approved conceptual art from Weta Workshop as a starting point, Lane and King designed and made prosthetics and wigs for each actor. Then it was "show-and-tell" time with Jackson, Walsh and co-writer Philippa Boyens. Together they would assess each look. "And it would all change. Remodelling, recasting, changing the facial hair, colour of the wigs," says King.

"Then we'd have another show-and-tell, and change it all again. And every time there is a new costume there is a different show-and-tell because this is where they are wrecked, so you need to wreck the hair or put dirt on the face."

Being a dwarf is an involved process. First the prosthesis is fitted - each has a "T-piece forehead" to cover the actor's forehead and nose. Then Lane uses an airbrush to apply a fine liquid foundation to create a bridge between the silicone and skin. She thins the formula with cleanser to create a "fine wash on the skin". A gel is also buffed into the silicone prosthetic as an anti-shine. "You can't use powder on silicone because you can see it, it just sits on the surface," she says.

Stephen Hunter, who plays Bombur, takes longest to make up, at 2 hours, and is the only one with full-facial prosthetics. Aidan Turner, who plays Kili and grew his own beard, takes the least - 20 to 30 minutes - with just a nose prosthetic.

At day's end, it takes another hour and a half to remove the costume, wig and prosthetics. The prosthetics are then readied for the next day, new eyebrows made, and wigs prepped.

Shooting on HD 3-D at 48 frames per second - twice the frame rate for most movies - provided extra challenges for the team because "everything looks extra sharp". Elven men, who are not supposed to have facial hair, were showing up with five o'clock shadow halfway through the day and required touch-ups with face and body foundation.

To achieve the elves' flawless skin, King applied the foundation with makeup brushes. Making up Blanchett is easy, he says, because she has very good skin. "She doesn't have pores, which is very handy. Beautiful velvet skin makes life a lot easier."

Blanchett, he says, is also the most fantastic person to work with.

"For her high profile and everything else she does, she is one of the most down-to-earth actors I have met. She is divine," he says. "And Lee Pace, who plays Thranduil the Elven king. He's a male version of Cate Blanchett - beautiful, enthusiastic and fantastic. He gets what everyone is trying to do. He's an elf with attitude. He has this fantastic icy stare but, as soon as the cameras stop, he's such a nice guy. It's the elves you see in the end, they are perfect beings."

Of all the characters, the hobbits require the least makeup. "Hobbits are lovely, curly-haired, round-faced people. You can't do anything elaborate with them. They're country folk. They eat a lot and have lots of parties."

For the most part, during shooting, Lane describes the prosthetics and makeup as "bulletproof" - just don't mention the scene involving chlorinated water.

The wigs came back "trashed" and had to be redyed. Wigs are King's speciality. He uses fabric dye instead of hair dye, which means he can dye a wig in 30 seconds as opposed to an hour. All wigs in the film are made of real hair.

"There's not one synthetic anything on this," King says. "Everything is real, even the eyebrow hair is real. Some of the dwarfs have yak hair. Sometimes it's a mix of the two."

SOUVENIR EDITION: See tomorrow's Dominion Post for a world premiere special edition, including a free Hobbit poster and exclusive interviews with Sir Peter Jackson and the film's stars.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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