News for Mar. 09, 2005
Narnia Set Report 3: Centaurs and Satyrs
3/09/05, 3:01 pm EST - Xoanon
It's unusual to find a crowd of people at the studio who aren't doing anything, but today I find such a crowd. They are standing and admiring. The reason for this is that Richard Taylor and his team from Weta are visiting, and there is a kind of show-and-tell in progress in one of the studio sheds. The Weta people - already famous for their work on The Lord of the Rings, and currently busy on King Kong - are also making some of the prosthetics for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Today they have brought up the rigs and costumes for some of the C. S. Lewis's most magical characters.
In one room I met Stephen Ure, who should be familiar to Rings fans - not that you'd recognise him out of orc costume. He played both Grishnakh and Gorbag, and he's certainly used to being encased in latex and hair suits. Just as well, because he's doing it again - this time as a satyr. Satyrs are the ugly cousins to the cute little goat footed fauns. In Narnia they're very hairy, with stubby-fingered hands and curling ram's horns. Stephen's satyr was armed with a short curved sword. Weta's latex mask gave him a very different face, with a blunt muzzle and a lipless mouth. I asked him if he had to act under all that and he said he did. He has a very mobile face and I remember him saying a while back that he had learned, with Peter Jackson, how to move his features enough to transmit his expressions through the thickness of a latex mask.
There was a good deal more excitement in the next room, and I had to push through a press of photographers and bystanders to see an astonishing sight: Four centaurs lined up with their armor and weapons.
The centaurs - three men and one woman - are standing with a kind of rig harnessed to their hips which provides the horse parts to their bodies. The back end of the horse is supported on a post that rides on a pair of small wheels. How the post attaches to the undercarriage of the horse is clever: I noticed that whenever the centaur actors shifted their weight from foot to foot, the body of the horse moved to counterbalance in a very natural way, just as a real horse would. I couldn't see the join - you can't see any of it. The centaurs are clothed in leather and chain mail armor, and the camera will only show them down to the tops of their legs. Just as well, because you could see their shoes and socks poking out from under their beautiful breastplates.
Being centaurs, they have two breastplates - one to cover the human chest, the other to protect the horse's chest. Weta's usual work is in evidence - the metal (or a realistic light plastic substitute) is beautifully decorated with lion emblems, sunburst patterns and slightly art deco papyrus motifs. The leather caparisons worn on the horse bodies are also tooled and worked with details. Many leather straps and belts bind the armor and war harness onto their bodies, and each is decorated with ornate golden buckles. Each centaur also wears a kind of short cloak fastened over the shoulders, in a coarsely woven cloth colored in rich ochre and reddish brown.
You can't see the join between the human and horse parts because of the armor and the cloak, but parts of the horsehide are visible, and they reveal another cunning piece of work. The hair is not real hair, but it does look realistic - most of all because the hair lies in the direction of the limbs, just as on a real animal, instead of pointing all the same way as it would with cheap fake fur. The centaurs seemed to have on their winter coats, which were rather rough.
Richard Taylor and his people were photographing the whole thing to record the details of how everything looked, and director Andrew Adamson stood by to give his opinion and suggestions. Richard looked like a proud parent as he watched the centaurs strut their stuff. "You get all the good jobs,"I commented. "This is the best job!" said Richard.
This was an opportunity for the actors to see how they were going to be able to move and act in the costumes. I asked them if they had to run in that rig, and they laughed and said "I hope not!" They walked outside without too much drama, and demonstrated how they could unsheathe their swords and whirl them around. One centaur had a long scabbard strapped to each flank, and two very long swords. He could draw them both and flash them about in a very dramatic way, but it was tricky to avoid hitting the horse body strapped behind him. The others carried long Norman-type shields with a lion emblem.
The horse wranglers were standing by holding two ponies with plaited tails. They were very pretty - fine-boned, glossy, and intelligent-looking. They would need to be intelligent, because they are "liberty trained," which means they can perform various tricks such as rearing up on a word of command, without a rider to direct them.
They were led alongside the centaurs, and all were measured exactly and the centaur rigs adjusted so that their backs would be level with the horses' backs. The CGI artists need this information because they're going to be merging the legs of the real horses in action with the centaur actors. It all seems incredibly tricky to pull off this kind of effect, and yet with the advances that happen in CGI effects every few months, nothing seems impossible any more. The centaurs are going to have nice legs, that seems certain at any rate.
Just a quick correction that I got from Daniel Falconer at Weta just after we posted this. "Weta did not make any masks or prosthetics for the film. That work is being done by LA based KNB Effects Group, lead by Howard Berger, a good friend of Weta. Weta provided some design work for creatures, some of which was used by KNB, but they also designed and redesigned a number of the creatures themselves. Weta only provided armour and weapons for the creatures to wear and use.We also made armour and weapons for the four children and some of the hero props."
In fact I met Howard in a later set visit, and I'll be talking about him and some of KNB's amazing work in my next set report - Tehanu.
-Erica 'Tehanu' Challis is an Editor for TheOneRing.net and TheOneLion.net, she has written two books on Tolkien with other members of TheOneRing.net 'People's Guide to J.R.R. Tolkien' and 'MORE People's Guide to J.R.R. Tolkien'. She currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand