"Edoras was interesting on a technical level, because the mountain range just happened to be around 18-percent-gray exposure," Doyle notes. "It therefore acted as a wonderful grain test for the entire background and the actors in the foreground, who were lit by the hard New Zealand light. Andrew and I also built a filter that acts like a lens with all of its color coating ripped off. It doesn’t look old and sepia, but there’s a touch of blooming in the highlights, like a silver-metal photographic print from the 1890s. Andrew and I also softened the blacks to see into them a little more."

The race of Men is presented as somewhat pagan and feudal, a characteristic that influenced Lesnie’s approach to the Edoras scenes. "When we were filming the Rohan scenes, I kept telling myself that it felt medieval, so the makeup and colors tended to be earthy greens and browns." The key dramatic determinant in Lesnie’s method was the change that comes over King Théoden (Bernard Hill) after Gandalf lifts Saruman’s spell. When the group first arrives at Edoras, Théoden is being advised by Saruman’s minion, Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), who has ingratiated himself into the court. A resultant rot is setting into Rohan society, starting at the very top. "Saruman and Wormtongue are literally breaking down the health of the king," Lesnie explains. To express this, Lesnie, the art department and Doyle combined their efforts to create a distinctive, desaturated look, "as if the life is literally being sapped or bleached out of Edoras," Lesnie says.

Doyle outlines the technical considerations of the grade: "We convert from RGB into a different colorspace, so rather than work in CYM [Cyan, Yellow and Magenta], we convert it into HLS [Hue, Luminance and Saturation]. This means we can reduce the saturation based on color only. For example, we can keep the skin tones while dropping everything else down in saturation and changing the colors slightly. For the blacks, we took out the red wash that Kodak stocks traditionally have, making them pure black, which is very rarely seen on a film print. We also selected key components of the production design, such as the yellow and burgundy Edoras flag, and let those colors kick back in. Initially, it’s quite an elaborate setup, but the result works very well – it looks like the color-dye prints of photos from the 1950s. All of the colors are just slightly twisted and have an entrancing look."

After Gandalf expels Worm-tongue and lifts the spell from Théoden, color and life return to the Golden Hall. For the night interiors, Lesnie used warm light created by torches and candles. He was careful to avoid strong color in the lighting, choosing instead to have the increased saturation provided by the art direction and digital grading. "The art department put in banners that were quite rich in color, and those types of earth tones tend to respond pretty quickly to colored light, so I didn’t try to do anything too explicit with the color of the light itself," he explains.

A poignant scene that takes place after the funeral of Théoden’s son, Théodred, was scheduled to be shot over two days late in the afternoon. "The two scenes are set in the barrows, which are down on the lower slopes of Edoras," Lesnie explains. "I used an 85B filter to warm up the first scene. For the following scene, in which Théoden and Gandalf are left alone to reflect on the nature of mortality and the sadness that war brings, we scheduled the shoot for when the shadow of the mountain would completely cover the area. The mountain range in the distance was getting the very rich, late-afternoon light, while the characters in the foreground were in what I felt was appropriately subdued soft light, which I cooled down with an 81EF. The scene deals with very fragile emotions, so it’s fitting to set it at a fragile time of day." Lesnie singles out first assistant director Caro Cunningham as being "absolutely terrific" in helping him achieve the appropriate look for these scenes.

Fantastic Forests

Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin, after escaping the clutches of the ill-fated Uruk column, find themselves in the mysterious Fangorn Forest, which Lesnie describes as one of the most fantastical elements in The Two Towers. Fangorn is inhabited by creatures known as Ents, who are basically living trees, as well as their more aggressive relations, Hurons. It is the Ents and Hurons who turn the tide at the battle of Helm’s Deep and lay Isengard to waste. The forest was the first major studio element in The Two Towers and was achieved through a combination of full-scale live-action and miniature sets. The character Treebeard was accomplished through a combination of large-scale animatronics and digital facial animation. Lesnie shot these miniatures with Richard Bluck, but he credits cinematographer Alex Funke with shooting an overwhelming number of miniatures for all three films. "They passed day 600 a couple of months ago," Lesnie declares. "In itself, [the miniatures are] an epic work-in-progress.

"My gaffer, Brian Bansgrove, and I came up with this great plan to put the lighting for the forest in ahead of the set build," he continues. "We installed space lights in the ceiling of the studio and placed huge silks underneath, creating a large, soft toplight. Underneath that, we ran a fine grid of wire from which we hung camouflage nets, and when the art department built the set, they hung their foliage from that wire. The soft light was considerably reduced in exposure, resulting in a dark, ambient light, which I enhanced by running a slight atmosphere throughout the set." Lesnie completed the look for Fangorn by introducing overexposed slivers of sunlight created by Xenons. "The contrast ratio in a real forest often defies the film stock’s ability to capture it, so I wanted to create a contrast on the set that was too much for the stock."

The cinematographer says he envisioned Fangorn as "spooky but not scary." He adds, "You have to intellectualize these things to a certain extent. For me, Fangorn is one of the oldest places on Middle-Earth, and it has a mystique. Just the mention of the name strikes fear into the hearts of the people of Middle-Earth, but no one knows why. We were therefore trying to create an eerie atmosphere where you want people to step into the unknown, but you don’t necessarily want them to immediately become scared, because that’s simplifying the character of the Ents too much."

<< previous || next >>

© 2002 American Society of Cinematographers.