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Dwarf Boot Camp: Fighting and Stunts

Months prior to cameras rolling, Martin Freeman, the Dwarf cast, and the full complement of stunt and scale doubles were put through their paces in weapons training, movement training, and horseback riding, in what they came to call "Dwarf Boot Camp." The fitness requirement also took into account what the cast would be wearing, including heavy prosthetics, fat suits, bulky costumes and weaponry.

Given that all the participants had widely varying levels of strength and experience, stunt coordinator Glenn Boswell and his team worked out general routines, along with character-specific actions. Swordmaster Steven McMichael also trained them in how to use their individual weapons to allow the stunt team to choreograph the action.

The work of movement coach Terry Notary also became vital for the actors in finding their characters. The different species of Middle-earth move and fight in specific ways. Notary explains, "They each have their own little innuendos and quirks that had to be carried consistently through everything they did. I'd go from the script and visuals, as well as talking to the filmmakers, to work out the characters' 'footprints,' their rhythms and personalities."

Following Jackson's lead, Boswell, Notary and the cast developed fighting styles for each character. Some of the Company are already old soldiers at the start of the quest, but, what of the peace-loving Bilbo? "Martin, like Bilbo, was not used to weapons and fighting, so we used that learning progression, particularly in the beginning where he didn't really need sword wielding skills," Boswell recalls. "But he caught on pretty quickly and then the trick was always to remember how good he should be at any given time in the script."

As a Hobbit, Bilbo's large feet help define his gait. As Notary explains, "Hobbits are knee-driven. They have strong limbs, are sure-footed and they move with purpose."

Dwarves march in a four-count, lead with their gut, and are truly earthbound. "They are like little Sherman tanks that cut through soft earth," Notary describes. "Despite their stature, they don't think of themselves as short at all."

The willowy, regal Elves are at the opposite end of the spectrum. "Thought is action," Notary explains. "No ponderous shifting of gears involved. The Elves move in extreme grace and contained emotion. They are deeply spiritual and at one with nature, so, unlike the Dwarves, they leave no trace of where they have been behind them."

Goblins, he adds, "are little balls of nervous energy. Living in a pack, they are head-driven and looking for danger all the time; they scurry, jerk and twitch, living in a constant state of fear, tension and competition. Whereas their slightly more developed cousins, the Orcs, are bullies, they lead with the upper chest and are about ego, pride, muscle and competition."

Over the course of Dwarf Boot Camp, the group not only gained the physical skills they'd need, they also formed a bond. Boswell says, "We were very lucky -- there was a great rapport among the actors, doubles and stunt team. They all put their heart and soul into it."

And, over the course of the film, their skills were put to the test when their characters are chased by Orcs and Wargs, swarmed by masses of Goblins, pummeled and thrown about by Stone Giants, and nearly roasted by three giant Trolls, among other hazards.

In all stunts, safety was the primary concern and demanded heavy preparation, particularly at Trollshaw, where Bilbo and the Dwarves are ambushed by the three not overly intelligent Trolls. Sneezing Trolls and flying Dwarves meant timing and control was key, even though the actual Trolls would be added to the scene later by Weta Digital, based on MoCon performances. When hit by the 'sneeze wave,' the stunt men were pulled backwards by wires at almost 20 mph, flying a precise distance to land safely on special impact mats.

This complex sequence also saw actors and stunt men hoisted onto the Trolls' roasting spit, which required individually made harnesses and metal plates that allowed the stunt team to get everyone on or off in just 5 to 6 minutes. Such efficiency was key considering how disconcerting it was for all involved to be tied upside down to a spit.

In the film, Radagast's sleigh is dragged across a bumpy woodland floor by large CGI rabbits. An elegant creation the art department crafted from tree branches, the sleigh was ridden by stunt man Tim Wong, in place of actor Sylvester McCoy, for the high-octane chase. Under Serkis's direction, the second unit shoot saw the sleigh being pulled by a wire attached to a special effects winch, reaching speeds of 25 mph. Fortunately for McCoy, when he rode it, the stunt team became his "rabbits," pulling at a slightly more moderate pace.

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