Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remaking The Shield of Achilles (LOTR, Game of Thrones)

"And Vulcan answered, 'Take heart, and be no more disquieted about this matter; would that I could hide him from death's sight when his hour is come, so surely as I can find him armour that shall amaze the eyes of all who behold it.'

When he had so said he left her and went to his bellows, turning them towards the fire and bidding them do their office. Twenty bellows blew upon the melting-pots, and they blew blasts of every kind, some fierce to help him when he had need of them, and others less strong as Vulcan willed it in the course of his work. He threw tough copper into the fire, and tin, with silver and gold; he set his great anvil on its block, and with one hand grasped his mighty hammer while he took the tongs in the other.

First he shaped the shield so great and strong, adorning it all over and binding it round with a gleaming circuit in three layers; and the baldric was made of silver. He made the shield in five thicknesses, and with many a wonder did his cunning hand enrich it.

He wrought the earth, the heavens, and the sea; the moon also at her full and the untiring sun, with all the signs that glorify the face of heaven- the Pleiads, the Hyads, huge Orion, and the Bear, which men also call the Wain and which turns round ever in one place, facing. Orion, and alone never dips into the stream of Oceanus."

--The Iliad, Book 18, lines 478 ff (trans. Samuel Butler, 1900).

At their digital forges, the masters of CGI have in the past decade rendered Middle Earth, Narnia, Westeros and dozens of other fantasy worlds. Lobster & Canary always sits in the theater watching the ever-lengthening credits rolls, applauding until the lights come on the platoons of artisans who bring the techne to the screen: the programmers, engineers, designers, matte painters, miniaturists, concept artists and storyboarders, compositors, animators, simulation researchers, visualizers, developers, shader writers, special effects wizards of every description. Click here and here, also here and here for insights into how leading firms such as RODEO FX, Pixomondo, Industrial Light & Magic and Weta Digital work their craft.

Weta is the bridge to the even more fundamental craftsmanship that propels the best recent fantasy/science fiction films: the devoted attention to making traditional sets and props in traditional ways to make the fantasy real. Weta Digital's mother company (founded six years earlier, in 1987) is Weta Workshop...which created Middle Earth for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies.

Artisans at Weta-- John Howe, Ngila Dickson, hundreds of others directed by Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger, Daniel Hennah-- made 900 suits of armor, hundreds of swords, 10,000 arrows for 500 bows, 19,000 costumes, 20,000 household implements and artifacts, landscaped and built massive outdoor sets for Hobbiton, Helm's Deep, Minas Tirith, and so forth.

HBO is taking the same care on Game of Thrones. And -- as Peter Jackson does, as Terry Gilliam does, likewise Guillermo del Toro, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese--the HBO team, including author George R.R. Martin, highlights the work of the craftsmen and -women who hew and forge, weave and paint the imagined world into a visual reality. Listen to Game of Thrones production designer Gemma Jackson (no apparent relation to Peter) and graphic designer Jim Stanes:

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