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"A fun but completely useless fact: every single character in Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit wears a wig, and many of them wear a prosthetic."

That's Ian McKellen, the star of this morning's press conference with the cast of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, who of course has grown very accustomed to his own fake hair and nose after playing Gandalf in what will be six different films. He was sitting next to Andy Serkis as he said it, and it took a few beats before he looked to his left, laughed, and acknowledged his co-star; "I had digital prosthetics," Serkis allowed. Though I'm not sure "a completely digitally created appearance" totally counts as "prosthetic" under the traditional definition.

It was pretty remarkable, though, how many seemingly unfamiliar faces took the stage at the press conference, and none more than Richard Armitage, who enters the world of Middle Earth for the first time in this film as the leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. In the film Thorin is a rugged, bearded and solemn dwarf, determined to reclaim his ancestral homeland from the dragon Smaug. During the press conference, the clean-cut and soft-spoken Armitage described the experience of sitting down in the makeup chair for the first time to become Thorin:

The first time I was ever created into a dwarf, it was quite shocking. It took something in the region of four and a half hours, and I kept my eyes closed the whole time. It's very strange when you don't recognize yourself. They went through a process os sculpting many different kinds of faces. They eventually found something which was invisible but it was still there-- it was still dwarf.

It's pretty remarkable that there was once a point where Armitage was more unrecognizable than he is now, but every other character went through the process too, including Martin Freeman's Bilbo. While you might think it's as simple as putting on a curly wig and some hairy feet, Freeman said there were a lot of steps on his way toward become the brave hobbit:

There were a couple of noses for Bilbo, in having a more snub nose or Cyrano shaped nose. Then it was decided that my nose was weird enough. But the wig slightly changed and the color changed. It went from a more middle-aged rocker to being what Bilbo looks like now, which is a… middle-aged rocker, I guess.

There are plenty more highlights from the lively press conference, including Ian McKellen wondering why Tolkien didn't include any mention of sex in the books, so come back for much more on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey before it comes to theaters December 14.