I will never forget the bookshelf my parents kept in our living room when I was growing up. My parents are avid readers, so they collected books on world cultures, art, architecture, opera, natural history, and world history. From this vast selection of topics, there was a series of three books packaged together in a special box that always drew my attention. When I pulled one out I found a strange red eye looking at me, surrounded by a field of black with bizarre red writing around the edge of the circle. At the top was what appeared to be four flames licking upward towards an inverted ring. The binding read, The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Maybe it was the creepy eye, or the strange cursive writing, but I knew I liked these books right away, even though I found the design a bit intimidating at the time. My mother saw me looking at them and asked if I was interested in reading them. I said I was, and after some consideration she decided I was still a bit too young for these volumes. However, there was a book she thought would be perfect for me: The Hobbit.
My mother read the entire volume to my brother and me. It was a great edition. The cover was leather, with inlaid gold writing, and a picture of trees with distant mountains. Inside, there were color plates painted by Tolkien himself. My favorite was, of course, the one of Smaug the Dragon. Reading The Hobbit, and later on Lord of the Rings, filled me with the same type of wonder and inspiration that I got from watching Star Wars. I loved these worlds and the characters in them, and I always wanted more.
Fast forward many years, and I find myself working on Star Wars: The Clone Wars with George Lucas. Through this incredible work experience, you get to meet other people that have similar interests; you always have to be ready because you never know who will drop by. One day I was talking to then CG Supervisor Andrew Harris. These were the early days of 2005, so we had some rough concepts of what we were doing, but no real scripts yet, and no actual renders of the animation. In the middle of the conversation, our receptionist Kris Donovan came into the office and said that George was looking for us. That was strange because it was not a “George Day.” Kris said George had brought a visitor — a couple of visitors, in fact. Well, that was even stranger. During that time, we worked behind the Main House at Skywalker Ranch, almost in secret. It wasn’t often we got visitors, so who could it be? I went to the bottom of the stairs and looked across the production room when George found me and said, “There you are! I’ve been looking for you. I want you to show Peter what we’ve been doing with previz.” Yes, you’ve probably guessed correctly. George’s guest was Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Stabilizing my mind, we went into my office and we fired up my computer so I could show Peter the action scene where the AT-TEs climbed the cliff on Teth. It was a really early version of the scene, but it told the story well enough. I had to walk him and George through our entire process, and how we got to where we were in editorial. The team from Weta Workshop that was with Peter was very supportive of our efforts, and in those early days of trying to figure out our series, I think their response to our work was really appreciated by my crew. There was a real mutual understanding and respect between everyone there. We were all big fans of The Lord of the Rings, and they were big fans of Star Wars. Even better for our crew was the fact that George seemed to like what we were doing enough to bring Peter Jackson by and show it to him. That was a big deal, and a real confidence booster.
A couple years later, Mary Franklin brought a friend of hers from Weta by the animation studio. This is when I met Daniel Falconer, one of the designers from The Lord of the Rings films. It turns out he and some of his friends had a Clone Wars night where they would get together and watch episodes. My team and I always really valued the support we got from Daniel and his team, and over the years we would trade emails and thoughts on Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. I appreciate the challenges that different creative teams in our industry face, and I always enjoy seeing the results of their hard work. It’s even better when you know that the effort you are watching is backed by great people, who truly care about the work they are doing. There seems to be a bond between these two worlds, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, and the people that watch and create these stories. I guess we just all love the sense of adventure, the sense of wonder, and feeling of hope that we get from these stories. Whether it be facing a stampede of oliphants or a squadron of attacking AT-ATs. These are the stories we all grew up with, and we are fortunate to live in a time where we can get jobs telling these stories and passing them on to future generations.
In appreciation for Daniel and the crew at Weta, and for the relationship Lucasfilm and Peter Jackson have had over the years, I created this image of Gandalf and Yoda.
Congratulations on the opening of The Hobbit. I hope it is a great success, and I look forward to the next two installments. As your roads go ever, ever on, the Force will be with you, always.