February 1, 2000Greetings From Hobbiton
Following a monthlong break for the holidays, filming resumed
January 17 in three locations: on the Hobbiton set here in Hamilton, a few hours north of
Wellington; at Three Foot Six studios in Wellington; and at a recently constructed outdoor
location near Wellington where the Battle of Helm's Deep will be filmed over the next few
months (mostly at night, with stepped-up security and safety precautions).
A day trip to the Hobbiton site, on five acres of remote
farmland, reveals a set that's, well, breathtaking. On our way, we stop at the crest of
the hill to look down at the village. There's an old stone mill with a footbridge over a
calm lake, with the Green Dragon Inn nestling behind.
Work on the set started in September 1998. While the lake
existed prior to LOTR's arrival, most of the land was swamp, which had to be drained and
cleared. Crew then laid down 5,000 kiloliters of soil to create the gently rolling hills
of Hobbiton. A field overlooking the lake was replowed to appear like hobbit-farmed land.
Gardeners and technicians "repaired" the buildings
and tended the flower and vegetable gardens to give a sense of generations of hobbit
labor. The polystyrene buildings were expertly painted to look like weather-worn stone and
wood, but they were also allowed to age naturally in the open air over the past year. As
with the Amon Hen sets we saw last month, Hobbiton looks as if it's been here for years.
And it's not Disney-ized--the set looks real and lived in,
with the beauty of a stretch of English countryside. The towering achievement is the
ancient oak that stands above Bilbo Baggins' home, Bag End. LOTR crews constructed the
tree, handpainting and attaching 250,000 leaves (and a few acorns) to its branches.
Between takes, crew members refill the hobbits' pipes, using
a mixture of medicinal paraffin and incense, which creates thick, sweet-smelling smoke.