The making of Barad-Dûr
© Lotrscenerybuilder 2009
"On the day we arrived, Peter [Jackson] told us:
'if you guys can draw it, we can build it!'
Well, we did, and they have!"
(John Howe, reflecting upon his conceptual design work for the shaping of Middle-earth)
"It was only a matter of time…"
(Steve 'Onyx' at TheLastAlliance forum)
I. 'And then he saw, rising black…'
Back in 2001, when we left the cinema after seeing the "Fellowship of the Ring" movie, we were hugely impressed: not so much by the drama of the story - which we knew already from J.R.R. Tolkien's books - as by the representation of Middle-earth. In particular we remember seeing Barad-dûr for the first time on screen (however, initially we didn't even realize we were watching Sauron's Fortress as its appearance didn't match at all with our own image of the Dark Tower…) After being distracted by the pleasantness of the Shire the camera suddenly focussed upon a fire-belching Mount Doom; next, it turned away and zoomed in on a sharp-toothed pinnacle, high above the smoking plains of Gorgoroth … only to tilt over again and revealing an immense structure behind it, lit by a myriad of torches and still wrapped up in scaffolding! Gollum's wailing from the rack only added to the ghostly atmosphere: Shire!... Baggins!" It was a vision which haunted us for days…
We got a much better understanding of the aspect and complexity of the Barad-dûr after seeing 'The Two Towers'. In the first movie, the most expressive part of the fortress, the central Tower, had been barely visible (sitting upon the Seat of Seeing, on Amon Hen, Frodo has a distorted vision of the topmost crown when his gaze is drawn to it; earlier, at the time of Gollum's agony in the dungeons of Sauron, the main tower was still completely missing on the structure). Now we got a detailed picture of it, both from this second film and from Brian Sibley's "The Making Of…" book, published in 2002. As far as we were concerned, this Tower was definitely the most impressive building in Peter Jackson's Middle-earth! And let's be honest: the most striking part of the whole building, that which sets this Tower apart from all other fantasy towers, are those twin horns at the pinnacle. Like the ears of the Egyptian jackal-deity Anubis they're pointing at the swirling Mordor sky, bestowing a pagan horror upon the Dark Lord's Throne! All devised by John Howe:
"I'd always avoided [to draw] the top - the place where the Eye of Sauron looks out across Mordor, searching for the Ring. I didn't know how to illustrate it. Now I had to go all the way -three thousand feet up - to discover exactly what it looked like - and then draw it!"
His sketches drove the miniature technicians of Weta up to the wall. Brian Sibley reports about the pains which attended the building of the Tower:
Building Barad-dûr was particularly demanding. It began early, in 1999, with John Howe's drawing and was then constructed as a two-meter high model. […] Eventually, a larger-scale version had to be built. "This was obviously going to be big," remembers Mary MacLachlan, "and there was a tightish time limit on the job. After a huge amount of work it was finished, and Peter came and took a look at it. Disaster! He felt that it somehow wasn't capturing what he saw in his mind's eye. Yes, it was true to John's drawing, but it wasn't quite his Barad-dûr… I went for a very long walk, sobbing in despair: how could I find that 'X factor' that Peter was looking for?"
Time was running out, but with assistance from Weta sculptor Ben Wootten, Mary started reworking the miniature: "The atmosphere was electric! We were within an inch of what Peter wanted! The clock was ticking and we were sculpting like crazy! Then, somehow, we got it! Peter saw it and just said: 'That's lovely.' And we collapsed!"
This elicited only a mischievous grin from Howe:
And what about the difficulty of building a structure that stands three thousand feet high? "That wasn't my worry!" laughs John. "What was so wonderful about working on this film was that nobody ever said: 'How are we supposed to build a tower that tall?' ".
(Brian Sibley, 'The Lord of the Rings - The Making of the Movie Trilogy')
In due time, however, it did become our worry. For a long time we wondered about a way to 'make this Tower ours'…