The Making of the Wooded Road
© Lotrscenerybuilder 2008
"I'm told tourists still try to find the tree on Mount Victoria,
but they never will because it isn't there.
Like so many of the trees in our Middle-earth, we built it!"
(Peter Jackson, in Brian Sibley's: "A Film-Maker's Journey" )
For us, a well-beloved scene in "The Fellowship of the Ring" is the one which shows the four hobbits hiding from a Ringwraith in the roots of a gnarled Oak tree. Oddly enough there is no such incident in the books of Tolkien; sure, there is a hollow tree where Frodo, Sam and Pippin take a short rest, "and had a light meal, talking quietly and listening from time to time". But their first confrontation with a Ringwraith takes place earlier on in the story, near an ordinary tree "that over-shadowed the road" through Woody End (rumour has it that Peter Jackson got his inspiration for this scene from Ralph Bakshi's animated LOTR adaptation from 1978).
Anyway, we thought that our range of Shire-scenery wouldn't be complete without this Memorable Oak. Sadly enough, tree-boles as picturesque as the one made by the people of Weta do tend to grow rather scarce, especially the ones scaled down to Combat Hex needs. Since we like to keep things simple - and cheap - we decided to build our own trunk (we saved ourselves the trouble to visit a Bonsai-nursery...)
From a heap of dead wood in a nearby park we chose a few branches that looked promising. As we broke one of them down into a fitting tree-base, we started to think about the dimensions of the battle-field.
While working on our model of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol we had experimented with gluing individual hexes together into an uneven surface. Now we used this 'invention' to imitate the natural course of a winding woodland track.
Next, we installed the hexes on different levels onto the floor-plate, in such a way that the four hobbits could hide themselves in due time below ground level.
Once we had defined the room to manoeuvre, we placed some sheet piling. This would help us to model the broken ground around the track.
Then we turned our attention to the Oak. By using certain botanical tricks (which included acts of penetration and some tree-hugging) we made our bole sprout branches in strategic places in order to create a natural looking root system.
Mind you, this isn't simply a matter of sticking sticks into a bigger stick: you have to think like a tree; all roots have their roots in reason. Boorárum!
The ramifying tree caused a minor change in the course of the footpath. But, as you can see, the scope of our terrain was planned with foresight... (the Ringwraith seems to be a little concerned about the safety of the track - well, it isn't ready yet, you blackass!)
In this whole building business there is one thing which is fully beyond our control: the way polyurethane foam expands when the spirit is out of the bottle. And although we know that we can knife away the excessive bulges, spurting foam into a careful prepared model remains a tense undertaking... there's nothing for it but to press the button and hope for the best.
When you start cutting away the foam, you need to have a faint idea of the result in the end. Now we wouldn't dare to say that all this carving is of the Michelangelo sort but with rolling landscapes you want to have all objects (path, tree, hillock, roots etc) logically integrated into the surface. That's why, for guidance, we used the sinuous edges of the sheet piling. Because the roots would only hamper the modelling we left out the tree at this stage (and, should things have turned nasty, we would have saved our precious Oak).
The tree was sprayed from all sides before it was firmly rooted into the soil...
... and then more foam was added to fill up the holes. It was carefully done, with small spurts from the bottle to prevent the trunk from disappearing altogether (this time, there was no turning back!).
Cutting away the surplus of foam without breaking the branches proved to be a delicate job. Next we applied a layer of polystyrene adhesive to roughen up the surface before painting it all again.
We used no fewer than five different colours of paint to give this model its characteristic nondescript Middle-earth appearance: anthracite, black, green, brown and white.
A little bit of grass here, some patches of moss there, and Nob's your uncle!
The big question at the start of every new piece of scenery is: "what will it look like, once it's finished?" We agree with you that it takes some imagination to recognize a Tolkien-worthy tree-trunk in this faggot (Oakwood, that is).
But then, creativity makes all the world of Middle-earth.
We've seen it before, haven't we...?