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Dressing The Part
Watching the Lord of the Rings movies you may have noticed that the inhabitants of Middle Earth don’t spend a great deal of time wearing t-shirts and jeans. Instead, there’s a very medieval fashion sense in the fantasy world, filled with protective leather, cloaks and hoods. But one area where The Hobbit differentiates itself from its predecessor is in terms of color.
Delivering a presentation in a room filled with Bilbo, dwarf and Gandalf costumes, Bob Buck, who is credited as an Additional Costume Designer on the movie, told us that the change in tone between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit has had a significant effect on the way the costumes are made. “The Hobbit itself reads lighter in a bit more like a fairytale, I suppose,” Buck said. “So in lots of ways, we've amped up the color in our world now. We're relating it to what it was, but we've amped things up a lot.”
Beyond the tone of the new movie being much more jovial, Buck also has a practical theory as to why the look has changed so significantly. “The Ring hadn't actually been in Hobbiton now. In The Lord of The Rings, the Ring had been there, and had been tucked away in an envelope, tucked away in a special chest or whatever. But the evil and the menace, and the bad magic that that emanated, I think sucked the life and the color out of Hobbiton. And that gives us a bit more of a raison d'être.”
But more than just being about tone, there’s also the fact that the events in the new films occur six decades before Jackson’s first trilogy. In the same way that our clothes today don’t look like they did in 1952, the fashion sense in Tolkien’s world has changed too. “We looked at 18th century and we looked at pastoral things. We looked at a lot of folk costume. We looked at Sardinian folk costume. We actually really went right out there to look as far as we could, to be as eclectic as we could, 'cause we didn't want it to be a period.”
One of the most important tasks taken on by the costuming department was the development of Martin Freeman’s style as Bilbo Baggins. While we got to see an older version of the character – played by Ian Holm – in the first three movies, Bilbo’s look as a very defined influence this time around. Said Buck about Bilbo, “He's an English country gentleman. There was often talk from Peter of wanting Tolkien himself to be an influence. So just looking at Tolkien, how he had a jacket on, how it's always there, he was smoking a pipe-- There's these qualities of a country gentleman, who Peter wanted us to emulate.” Overall the costume Bilbo wears undergoes six stages of wear and tear throughout the series.
The dwarves are a different story. Described by the professional as “a rough and ready bunch” in “a biker gang in a way,” the characters’ designs weren’t based on real people, but instead were made to have the costume reflect specific personality traits and highlight each of the 13 members of the company as individuals.
“Thorin's of a kingly line,” Buck told us, “with his nephews Fili and Kili. You've got Balin, who's a Lord, basically a counselor, the literary sort of world. You've got Dwalin who's a head of the military-- a General sort of fellow. Also Gloin, who's high up there in the military ranks. His brother Oin, who serves as a sort of medical practitioner in this one. He's got the healing qualities. So these are of an upper class, I would say. Definitely Thorin. And these are around his world. So these would have been in that echelon of his place of standing. And then we go to what would be more the middle class, which is the brothers here: Nori, Dori, Ori. Probably a merchant class. He came to look after him, 'cause he dragged him along. It's a great relationship between these three. They banter and wind each other up and get involved. He's a bit of a merchant showman, he's the one who's always dressed up.”
As you can imagine, all of the prosthetics, wigs, makeup, layered clothing, and heavy props make getting into character a hot, gross ordeal – not to mention a potentially dangerous one. To combat the risks of overheating, the costumes are built with cooling vests underneath all of the layers. Between shots the actors are brought what Buck calls “their little Dwarf Handbags,” which are used to pump cold water through the cooling vest and give the performers some relief.
There are also characters like Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen, who have appeared in all of the movies thus far. For his part the costume has largely stayed the same, with an exact replica of the hat being produced along with the cloak, but even the great wizard is getting a new bit of flair for The Hobbit. “We've just added in one additional piece here,” Buck said, pointing to a mannequin with Gandalf’s costume, “which is an Elven scarf, which was a gift to him from the Elves. It was actually in Movie One, it was just sitting on his cart when he first trundled into Hobbiton.”
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