Richard Armitage, Martin Freeman discuss 'Hobbit' transformations

By KAREN BUTLER, United Press International  |  Dec. 10, 2012 at 1:35 PM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- British actors Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman say the costumes, makeup and hairpieces they wore in their new movie "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" greatly helped them transform into their respective, non-human characters.

"The first time I was ever created into a dwarf, it was quite shocking. I remember they did like a time-lapse photography of the process and it took something in the region of 4 1/2 hours," Armitage -- who stands 6-foot-2-inches in real life, but was shrunken through movie magic for the film -- told UPI at a recent New York news conference.

"I actually kept my eyes shut because I didn't want to see how it worked and just opened my eyes at the end. It's very strange when you don't recognize yourself. And, actually, at that point, it was quite extreme. But they went through a process of sculpting many different kinds of face. I had an amazing sculptor .... who I used to visit at WETA, so he could look at my face and it would help him with his work.

"They eventually found something, which was invisible, but it was still there, still dwarf. And that is down to how amazing WETA is and also Tami Lane, who is an Oscar-winning prosthetics artist, her work is completely invisible. In terms of getting into character, it's always brilliant when you look in the mirror and don't really recognize yourself. So, I really enjoyed that side of the process," said Armitage, who plays dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield.

"It was sort of gradual. Bilbo went through a few phases. There were a couple of noses for Bilbo," said Freeman, who plays lead hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

"The ideas of him having a more snub nose or a slightly Cyrano de Bergerac-shaped nose [were considered] and then it was decided my nose was weird enough. But the wig sort of slightly changed and the color changed, so it went from a more middle-aged rocker to being what Bilbo looks like now, which is a middle-aged rocker. So, it was gradual; it wasn't just like 1 minute you are you and then the next minute you look like your the character. It was an incremental process."

"It's an interesting, but useless bit of information that every single character in 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' wears a wig and many of them wears a prosthetic -- false ears, feet, hands. In my case, nose," said Ian McKellen, who plays wizard Gandalf.

"You had no prosthetics," Freeman teased Andy Serkis, the actor who plays the computer-generated character Gollum through motion-capture performance technology.

"I had digital prosthetics," Serkis quipped.

"The Hobbit" is the first of three planned prequels to Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson's blockbuster "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The entire franchise is based on the fantasy novels of the late J.R.R. Tolkien.

Asked how he made everything look as real as possible despite the new 3D, high-definition filmmaking technique he employed, Jackson told UPI at a separate news conference, the "levels of detail" in the movie are similar to 'Lord of the Rings.'

"With the high-definition camera you see more, so I think you have an apparent sense of more detail, but fortunately, the team we have in New Zealand, WETA Workshop, who design a lot of the effects and makeup and our wardrobe department, our art department, we've always wanted to put a lot of detail in -- a lot of detail that never gets seen by the cameras. Because, to me, fantasy should be as real as possible. I don't buy into the notion that because it's fantastical, it should be unrealistic because I think you have to have a sense of believing the world that you are going into and the level of detail is very important."

Jackson went on to say when making a big-screen epic "the more detail and the sharper and clearer you can make things, the more real and more immersive [it is.] It is exactly the sort of thing I like."

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" opens nationwide Friday.

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