THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
To the East: Locations
Location shooting took place across eight-and-a-half weeks on sites all around the North and South Islands of New Zealand, the cinematic Middle-earth already known to so many people worldwide. Supervising location manager Jared Connon and his team had been prepping the mammoth location shoot for many months. He worked closely with the art department to ensure consistency between what was being scouted and what would be created on a soundstage, such as Trollshaw, which became a composite of the Mangaotaki Rocks, near Piopio, and a stage set.
For each location, Connon and his team sought out and secured permissions from everyone from landowners, local councils and the Department of Conservation to the local Maori representatives, the Iwi, and, on the South Island, the Crown. "Everything had to be agreed beforehand so that we caused the least disruption and local people knew exactly what to expect," he says.
For the locations team, access was key. Connon notes, "We sometimes had to put in roads to carry the trucks and equipment, so locations could always be scouted. But we always took great care to preserve and protect environments, too."
Such attention meant that the production was privileged to be able to shoot on in the Fiordland National Park and at Mount Owen in Kahurangi National Park.
Recycling and safe disposal was a major activity for the production. It set up its own electrical and plumbing systems, as well as an IT connection, no matter where filming was based, which meant carefully positioned satellite dishes.
The remoteness of many film sites, plus shot requirements, also demanded a lot of helicopters to ferry cast and crew up to a mountaintop or inaccessible land, as in the case of the landscape of Braemar Station in the McKenzie Basin. "The crew was accustomed to location shoot logistics, including helicopter-only access, but New Zealand's capricious climate makes for more adventures than normal," Andrew Lesnie comments. "A portable stereoscopic station was designed, which gave us full 3D mobile units for helicopter-access sets or walk-in areas. Taking two 3D production rigs, two SteadiCam rigs with lightweight 3D rigs, sometimes 3D handheld, double the lenses, cameras, stereo processing, and then running wireless in forests and up cliffs meant a big package. Add to that airlifting technocranes into isolated areas if needed as well."
To reach the remote location for the scene in which the Dwarves are pursued by Wargs, helicopters flew from a base that was over an hour's flight from location, at Klifden Station in the Ida Valley. Because most of the aerial shooting was done by the second unit, the aerial team dubbed itself "Andy's flying Serkis" after second unit director Andy Serkis.
Much of the remote shooting of New Zealand's wild and varied landscapes was used to evoke the breathtaking scope of Jackson's vision for Middle-earth. Such locations included Kaihoka Station and Ngarua Caves, Takaka; Mangaotaki Valley, King Country; Middlemarch, Strath Taieri; and Treble Cone, Wanaka.
Accommodating the massive production was only possible through the grace and support of the local people. "We relied on them so much wherever we went," Connon states. "They were moving out of their homes to accommodate us, and if we had a requirement, they went out of their way to help us. They were just brilliant."
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