TT: Modeling for Peter Jackson

Happy Thanksgiving!  This week’s Wednesday Wandering may offer food for thought as I invite you to join me in looking at the changing role of bookstores.  Then be the first with some cool anecdotes Alan has to share about how  Peter Jackson has been a major influence on fandom in New Zealand.

Miniature from Conquest, NZ

JANE: There’s a lot of chatter here about the forthcoming films based on The Hobbit by Peter Jackson.  Jackson, of course, belongs to your part of the world and does much of his work there in New Zealand.

Back when I visited New Zealand in 1995, I gathered the general impression that the SF club running the convention was interested in model building – that, in fact, the building of SF/F models was what had drawn a number of people into the club.

ALAN: Yes, that’s right. The SF club in Auckland was originally called the SF Modeler’s Club and in those days that was its primary role. One of its major projects was a life size model of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. It took them several years to make and I strongly suspect that it’s the best starship bridge you’ll ever see until a real one comes along. They used it a lot as a stage set for live role playing.  David Gerrold (who was closely involved with Star Trek, of course) was once a guest at a con they organised and he was full of praise for it. He even autographed it for them!

JANE: Oh!  I saw some smaller models.  In fact, I have a little, tiny one, but I had no idea the club got that ambitious.

I remember that the young – 22, then, I think – Norman Cates who was con chair dreamed of getting into special effects.  In 1995, that seemed a really unlikely dream, especially for someone living in New Zealand, not Hollywood.  But, of course, Norman’s dream came true.

ALAN: Indeed it did. I first met Norman when he was 17 years old. He was explaining how lasers worked at a club meeting.  To appreciate this story, you need to understand that the word laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission Of Radiation. Essentially photons are energised (stimulated) and forced to travel in the same direction rather than scattering randomly.

Norman told us all this and then gave a practical demonstration. He brought all the girls from the audience up on to the stage and stood them in a row. They were, he explained, photons.  Now all he had to do was stimulate them. He gave them some whispered instructions and then ran down the line tapping each photon on the shoulder. As soon as it was touched, the photon jumped and squealed to indicate how hugely stimulated and full of energy it was, and then it ran off stage, closely followed by the next photon, and the next. All in the same direction…

Later the photons all said how much they’d enjoyed being stimulated by Norman, and how much they’d learned about how lasers worked. It was a most effective demonstration and I remember thinking to myself at the time that this man would go far. I’m very pleased to have been proved right.

JANE: Norman is certainly very enthusiastic – and very nice.  Some years ago, he was in the U.S. with his dad.  They contacted me and Jim (through you!) before arriving.  When they got here, we did a little touring.

By weird coincidence, I was due to give a reading at the local SF club that Friday night.  Instead of doing a long reading, I brought Norman along and interviewed him about his work.  He had his laptop with him and showed slides from “backstage” working on the Lord of the Rings movies.

Norman also told how he ended up being the model for Fatty Bolger when the Lord of the Rings cards came out.  Since poor Fatty ends up cut from the movies, they didn’t have footage.  Norman was given the chance to put on the feet and ears and costume and be photographed screaming in terror.  I thought he did a great job!

ALAN: I hadn’t heard the Fatty Bolger story before. How fascinating! Norman’s talk must have been a treat for you all. He’s a great raconteur – I remember the first time I heard him talking about what went on behind the scenes of the movies. I was absolutely gobsmacked! His first job was making prosthetics  –  he made hundreds and hundreds of hobbit feet and elven ears, but he was particularly proud and fond of the noses that he made for Gandalf.

About half way through the first movie,  he took a sideways step and moved away from model making into computerised special effects. He actually got his name in the credits for The Fellowship Of The Ring twice, once for his prosthetic work and once for his computer effects work. I studied the credits eagerly when the movie first came out, looking for names that I knew. I was hoping it would say something like “Noses By Norman,” but it didn’t. Shame really…

JANE: How has having Peter Jackson right there in New Zealand influenced New Zealand fandom?

ALAN: Peter was world famous in New Zealand long before he was world famous in the world, and he’s always been hugely popular here. His early movies were probably best described as science fiction splatter movies which were full of really gross special effects. But he did them with such style and humour that he could get away with the most outrageous things. His first movie was called Bad Taste and that says it all, really.

Probably the best of his early movies was Braindead (I think the title in America was Dead Alive). I was at its first screening and I overheard somebody remark that they didn’t know whether to laugh or vomit…

JANE: Okay.  I think I’ll give these a miss.   You certainly can see the influence, however, in how really physically nasty his orcs and the Uruk-hai are in the Lord of the Rings movies.

So, does he come to your conventions or anything?

ALAN: As far as I know he’s never been to our conventions and he’s never had any direct involvement in fandom. But nevertheless he has had a huge indirect effect on the way that fandom has evolved here. A lot of fans in other countries come to SF and fantasy through reading books, and their own artistic efforts often tend towards the written word. But here we have a disproportionately large number of people whose artistic interests are in film and TV and I’m sure a lot of that is because of Peter.

JANE: I think that’s really neat.  Maybe because I’m not really good in the visual arts, I always admire those who can create in that fashion.  I think I’d enjoy seeing how this different form of creativity influences your conventions.  Here, I always try to go to the Artist Guest of Honor’s presentation and the costume contest because I’m stimulated by how other people shape creativity.

As I’ve noted in some of my Wanderings, I use creative or visual props to stimulate my writing.

ALAN: I don’t know any insider secrets, but if anyone has questions about what it’s like to work with Sir Peter Jackson, I might be able to help.  Feel free to ask!

2 Responses to “TT: Modeling for Peter Jackson”

  1. paulgenesse Says:

    Fascinating post. As a huge LOTR rings fan, both the movies and books, I was shocked to learn that Fatty Bolger was actually going to be in the movies and got cut. Wow.

    Paul Genesse

  2. janelindskold Says:

    Yes. I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies a lot but I didn’t necessarily like what Jackson chose to cut. I could have done with fewer shots of slime-covered monsters and marching armies for the courage of those without courage, the heroism of those who were not heroes…

    However, I did enjoy the movies a lot!

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