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The City Under the Mountain
The Dwarves' journey East ultimately takes them back to their homeland of Erebor, the lost Dwarf City built within the Lonely Mountain. "Outside, all that you see is a doorway, but once you go through that doorway, you are into the most incredible world of art, riches, architecture, and golden light," Jackson describes. "It's their sacred homeland, an underground empire where they mined, shaped and crafted a fortune in gems and gold. But 60 years after its heyday, Smaug has set up a nest for himself in the Dwarf gold."

For the design team, Erebor presented an opportunity to express the personality and aesthetics of the Dwarves. "The great thing about Dwarves is that they're short and stocky but they see themselves as being huge, and their architecture and sculpture reflects that," Hennah says. The city itself was an exercise in architecture and scale, and reflects the elegance of Dwarven artistry. "In some places, it is simply rough stone; in others, you see perfectly polished pillars, walkways and thrones," Hennah continues. "Every hole is a place where the Dwarves have mined gold and jewels, but have left their mark on it."

Because the Dwarves mined precious gems throughout their centuries within the mountain, its caverns follow the veins of green marble, rendering them asymmetrical and random. Notes Alan Lee, "Dwarves don't really do curves; everything is based on faceted jewels and crystal, straight lines and angles. It's their lost Kingdom, so it should feel like a kind of paradise for the Dwarves, but the arches and architecture also have to be large enough for Smaug to crawl through."

The mountain of gold in which the Dragon sleeps is comprised of mats of stamped metal and molded-rubber coins, covered in a layer of 170,000 punched aluminum coins plated in gold, as well as 2,000 hand-spun goblets, and handfuls of necklaces, gold nuggets and crystals. "We built our whole studio full of gold that went up to about forty-feet high," Hennah says.

The physical set itself represents only a fraction of Smaug's cavernous lair. Its massive dimensions and the vast amount of treasure covering the Dragon were realized by Weta Digital. "We had to write a solver program for our gold coins because of the sheer volume that Smaug has accumulated," comments Eric Saindon. "Also, the Dragon is the size of two 747 airplanes, so the amount of coins to cover something that big is outstanding. We would do twenty million coins at one time, all bouncing off one another as Smaug moves through them and bats them away. It's a fun scene."

"Smaug loves gold," Jackson states. "Not because he can spend it, but because it has gotten into his head. He luxuriates in the sight of it. He's been living with it for years, all the while knowing that one day, someone--maybe Dwarves, maybe someone else--is going to come and try to take it from him. But when that moment comes, it's not a Dwarf; it's a little Hobbit."

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