Part 7: The Hobbit Fan Fellowship Contest | Day 5: Wellington, WETA & meeting Sir Peter Jackson

This blog is part 7 of my journal about my unexpected journey to New Zealand, as winner of The Hobbit Fan Fellowship Contest!

Day 5: Wellington

With mixed feelings we left Queenstown this morning: it was already the last day of our adventure in New Zealand. I really didn’t want to leave the beautiful city of Queenstown, but today’s activities were the ones we have all been waiting for: visiting Weta Workshop and meeting Peter Jackson at the private screening of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Unveiling Smaug at Wellington Airport

Air New Zealand flew us to the Middle of Middle-earth: Wellington. At the airport of Wellington I was so excited to see the larger than life installments made by Weta Workshop of the Eagles with Gandalf (a fun detail: on Gandalf’s hat there is a weta bug) and of Gollum cathing a fish. We were all surprised when Richard Taylor, the founder, creative director and head of Weta Workshop was there to welcome us in Wellington! (For the muggle readers: Weta Workshop is the company which created all the costumes, weapons, props and (digital) special effects on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and many other movies). For this special occasion, he unveiled a new installation on the airport together with us! Jake Hudson, the youngest Wizard of our group, had the privilege to unveil a huge head of Smaug, with moving eyes and smoke coming out of his nose! Even the local news was there (watch the report of New Zealand 3 News here). And we were featured on the Weta Facebook!

Gollum at Wellington Airport
Gollum at Wellington Airport (Photo by Amy Earl)
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Sculpture of Gandalf on a Great Eagle
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Richard Taylor welcoming us on Wellington Airport
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Unveiling a new sculpture of Smaug at Wellington Airport
Natscha Webb (Air New Zeland), me and Emma Bell (Tourism New Zeland) at Wellington Airport
Natscha Webb (Air New Zeland), me and Emma Bell (Tourism New Zeland) at Wellington Airport
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The Hobbit Fan Fellowship on the banner of the Weta Workshop Facebook page

Roxy Theatre

Our next stop was Roxy Theatre, where we were welcomed by Jamie Selkirk (editor and producer), Tania Rodger and Richard again. We we were treated with a presentation by Weta Digital on production design by Matt Aitken (Weta Digital effects supervisor) and Daniel Falconer (designer and concept artist). Matt showed us the process of creating and layering digital effects like in the scene of the eagles’ rescue (Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire) with all its different angles. Daniel Falconer designed the real cool stuff in the movies like Arwen’s sword. He showed us concepts and photos of the design process of armour, weapons, architecture and costumes, “and enjoyed having an audience he could ‘geek out’ to, diving into First Age Middle-earth history references”, like Amy beautifully wrote in her blog.

On the way out we got a gift from Tania: authentic 35 mm celluloid filmstrip from The Lord of the Rings. Arjen and I were given shots of Frodo and Sam walking in Rivendell and Aragorn leaning over the dying Boromir from The Fellowship of the Ring.

Roxy Theatre in Wellington
Roxy Theatre in Wellington (Photo by Amy Earl)
Welcome in Roxy by Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and Jamie Selkirk
Welcome in Roxy by Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and Jamie Selkirk
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35 mm film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Weta Workshop

Next up was one of my favorite memories of the whole trip: actually visiting Weta Workshop! We did mini workshops of making chainmail, how to create fake blood, sword making by smith Peter Lyon and some lucky few of us got applied prosthetic hobbit ears by Gino Acevedo. I took a shot and went on a photo with Richard Taylor. I was wearing my own made chainmail necklace and he said he really liked it! ❤ I was in nerd-heaven. They also retrieved props and weapons from them movies that were stored for years, especially for us to see. In a little shop we bought a map of The Shire and a Weta Workshop t-shirt.

We also did a Weta Cave Workshop Tour where we got to see an awesome collection of costumes, weapons, sculptures and designs from all the movies Weta has worked on so far. At the end we received a gift from the Weta crew: a piece of chainmail which was actually used by the dwarves on set!

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Me and Richard Taylor at Weta Workshop
Gino applying hobbit ears
Gino applying hobbit ears on Melu
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A gift from Weta: Dwarven chainmail
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Me with Thorin’s sword Orcrist. It was so light!
Weta Cave
Playing around Weta Cave
Smaug sculpture at Weta Cave
Smaug sculpture at Weta Cave
Trolls at the Weta Cave
Trolls at the Weta Cave

Meeting Sir Peter Jackson

At the end of the day we all put on our finest clothes for the epic final evening. Especially our fellow Wizards from Australia, Amy and Adam, in their own designed and made breathtaking Elven costumes.

Amy at Park Road Post Wellington
Amy in her beautiful elven gown at Park Road Post Wellington
Park Road Post
Park Road Post

I was actually nervous when we arrived at the Park Road Post Production facility, owned by WingNut Films, the production company of Peter Jackson. This facility is where sound for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) was mixed. This was the moment we all have been waiting for: the private screening of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies with the director himself! After a drink and security check, we all took a seat in the beautiful art-deco movie theater with a ceiling like a starry sky.

Here the masterminds behind the movies waiting for us: Joe Letteri, senior visual effects supervisor and has won five Oscars, Jed Brophy (Nori in The Hobbit) and Philippa Boyens, writer of the screenplay of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and who has won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the KingOf course this panel wouldn’t be complete without the biggest fan of all: Sir Peter Jackson! It was an unbelievable moment when he came in, everybody cheered. We all got the chance to ask them questions before the screening. Among the fans there where a lot of aspiring filmmakers, including me as an aspiring screenwriter, and Peter Jackson said to us:

Don’t give up. When you don’t give up you distinguish yourself from those who do. And then you will get there. – Peter Jackson

We presented Peter a thank you card and a tea mug. Before the movie, he warned us: he only slept for 3 hours since he was in the middle of the post-production of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. So the ones who sat next to him had to keep him awake.

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The thank you card from The Hobbit Fan Fellowship to Peter

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Since Ann from Belgium had found the Ring on day 3, she got to sit next to Peter! Now it was finally time to see the final movie of The Hobbit trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies as the first audience in the whole world! You all probably have seen the movie by now and it was epic right?

Private screening with Peter Jackson
Private screening BOTFA with Peter Jackson

What I find really special about the screening was the fact that the movie wasn’t finished yet! There were shots with green screen on the background and certain digital effects weren’t finished yet. Remember when the were-worms come out of the ground followed by an Orc army? The whole army wasn’t there yet! On screen there was only a moving text with ‘Orc army’. Also in the gorgeous scene at Dol Guldur where Elrond, Saruman and Galadriel are fighting the Nine, the Nazgûls where only white, square models. I was blown away when I saw the finished movie later and how they created those spirit like Nazgûls! A funny one was the entrance of Beorn during the battle: he changes from a human into a *poof* (not animated) bear, instead of a beautiful morph like in the final movie. It was such an amazing experience to see the unfinished movie like this.

The movie ends with the heart breaking song ‘The Last Goodbye’ by Billy Boyd. I think nobody kept it dry. The song meant so much at this moment: the end of this epic adventure, to have to say goodbye to the friends we have made, to have to leave this beautiful country, but also the last movie about a little hobbit. No more movies about unexpected journeys in Middle-earth. After a year, I still cannot listen to this song without shedding some tears.*snob* So we created our own meme:

meme last goodbye

After the screening Peter Jackson signed something for everyone and had a little chat. I could see he was so tired, but he spoke to all of the 150 fans. We were on the last row and it took probably more than an hour before we got to him, but I managed to gave him some Dutch sirup waffles or ‘stroopwafels’. He also signed my copy of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey EE. Finally, we made a group photo with Peter. Then we were taken back to the hotel for our last night in New Zealand.

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My copy of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey EE signed by Peter Jackson and Jed Brophy
Hobbit Fan Fellowship with Peter Jackson at Park Road Post
Hobbit Fan Fellowship with Peter Jackson at Park Road Post

In my last and final blog about my unexpected adventure in New Zealand I want to thank everyone involved and share my most precious memories. For now, here is the final video diary by Tourism New Zealand:

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Part 4: The Hobbit Fan Fellowship Contest | Day 2: Hobbiton Movie Set

THIS BLOG IS PART 4 OF MY JOURNAL ABOUT MY UNEXPECTED JOURNEY TO NEW ZEALAND, AS WINNER OF THE HOBBIT FAN FELLOWSHIP CONTEST!

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DAY 2: Hobbiton Movie set

After we enjoyed our first day in Rotorua, New Zealand, we slept for eleven hours this night (our bodies were desperately trying to catch up the jetleg). After a delicious breakfast in the Millenium Hotel in Rotorua there was a fire drill, but luckily we already were heading outside for today’s activities.

Beware: this post contains a lot of pictures. 😉 Click on the photos for a larger view.

Skyline Rotorua gondola
Skyline Rotorua with view over Lake Rotorua
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Skyline Rotorua with Matthew, Floris and Alex

The first stop was the Rotorua Skyline. With a Gondola cableway we were brought on top of Mt Ngongotaha with a beautiful view over Lake Rotorua. Here we got to do some exciting activities, like ziplining, luging and the skyswing. We tried the luge, a kind of race car, in which you can race down the mountain across the stunning Redwood forest. Unfortunatley, it was raining quite hard, so our ludge cars filled with water and we were soaking wet. But it didn’t matter, because it was so much fun! I felt like the wizard Radagast the brown on his sleigh with Rhosgobel Rabbits racing through the forest! After we had a superb lunch, especially the deserts, in the Stratosfare Rotorua Restaurant we got back onto the coaches to our next destination: Matamata.

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Radagast the Brown on his sleigh with Rhosgobel rabbits
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The local cat was drinking out of the luge cars
Stratosfare Rotorua Restaurant buffet
Delicious buffet at Stratosfare Rotorua Restaurant

In the little town of Matamata we visited the information centre build in Middle-earth style. 150 crazy hobbit fans wanted to buy merchandise here, so we bought only a few things: a replica of the ‘No admittance except on party business’ sign, magnets and post cards. We also drank some coffee with our lovely Swedish friends. We got another chance to buy merchandise at the Shire’s Rest gift shop close to the Hobbiton Movie Set, where we bought hobbit beer, a Green Dragon replica mug and a replica of the key  to Erebor.

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Striking a pose in front of the visitors centre in Matamata
Gollum statue Matamata
Stealing a kiss from Gollum

After a ten minute drive we were very close to Hobbiton. Our four wheel drive coaches drove us through the picturesque 1,250 acre sheep farm owned by Alexander family. This area was scouted in 1998 as a perfect place to depict the green hills of Tolkien’s Shire in Peter Jackson’s adaptation. The road to Hobbiton was build by the New Zealand army especially for filming The Lord of the Rings. After filming, everything had to be stripped down again. But for filming of The Hobbit the whole Hobbiton Movie Set was rebuild and this time with permanent materials: real bricks, wood and stone. I got goosebumps when we were given an unusual welcome by masked men on horses (probably the Alexander family). When the coach turned around the corner, down in the valley we saw the first glimpse of Hobbiton.

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‘Welcome to Hobbiton’
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“I can’t believe we’re here!”

Visiting Hobbtion was one of the things on my bucket list. I was already planning to save some money every month to visit New Zealand one day, especially to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set. And now we were actually there! When we arrived the sun was shining, like it was meant to be. The moment we ran past the pebble stone wall like Gandalf and Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring and Bilbo’s “I’m going on an adventure!” moment in The Unexpected Journey was something I will never forget. And yes, almost everyone started to cry when we took our first steps in Hobbiton.

First steps into Hobbiton
First steps into Hobbiton
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“I’m going on an adventure!”

There we were: in the Shire with all the hobbit holes, flowers and laundry drying in the sun. We were welcomed by Russell Alexander himself, some champagne and a lady who looked like a hobbit on the violin, playing some folkish music. Our guide was the enthusiastic local Ethan Wellington (with the best job in the world) who guided us around Hobbiton, the little lake and the party field. He told us about the area, the movie set, the props and funny behind the scenes anecdotes.

Russell Alexander Hobbit Fan Fellowship
Welcome by Russell Alexander, general manager of Hobbiton Movie Set Tours and unofficial ‘lord of the Shire’
Hobbiton Movie Set Ethan Wellington
Our guide Ethan Wellington

Gardeners have spent three years before shooting The Hobbit to plant and let everything grow and bloom. The art department build 44 unique hobbit holes, all designed after the hobbits who supposedly live there: the baker, the fishermen, the lumberjack, etc. The details are absolutely stunning! Some of the hobbit holes are build on a smale scale so Gandalf (Ian McKellen) looked even larger when he stood in front of them when they filmed it.

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A hobbit hole
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The baker’s home
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Me and Arjen with The Green Dragon

On top of the hill,  under the (artificial) oak tree, there was of course Bag End, home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, with its green door and the ‘No admittance except on party business’ sign. In the grass we found some leafs of the oak tree, a really special and unique keepsake of this day.

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Bag End
Bag End sign Hobbiton
Bag End
Frodo Shire Bag end sign
Frodo with ‘No admittance except on party business’ sign

One of my personal favorite hobbit holes was the home of Samwise Gamgee, the gardener, and my hero from The Lord of the Rings.

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My favorite hobbit hole: Samwise Gamgee’s home
The Fellowship Of The Ring - Sean Astin as Samwise 'Sam' Gamgee
Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings
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Me at Hobbiton
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Our lovely friends Sinna and Melu from Finland
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Our Bilbo, Bernard from Slovenia
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And our lovely friends from Bulgaria: Viki and Maia

I just can’t get enough… More pictures! (I’ve warned you!)

Hobbiton Movie Set
Hobbiton Movie Set
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The Wizards in Hobbiton at the party field
Hobbiton Movie Set
Hobbiton Movie Set
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Green Dragon fine ale

After the tour we drank special brewed hobbit beer in The Green Dragon! All the details are phenomenal: the carving, furniture and little notes with ‘help needed for apple picking’.

Interior The Green Dragon
Interior The Green Dragon
Interior The Green Dragon
Interior The Green Dragon
Interior The Green Dragon
Interior The Green Dragon

Drinking ale in The Green Dragon like true hobbits:

And there was a big surprise for us: behind the curtain there were some unexpected guests waiting for us: Dori, Nori, Oin and Bombur! The actors Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, Steven Hunter and John Callen were there to meet us. All night they stayed with us taking photos and to give autographs. They were so nice!

It was a real celebration to be together at The Green Dragon. We enjoyed the food, drinks, music, the company, the scenery and did some archery… We could live here forever.

Mark Hadlow Dori
Arjen with Mark Hadlow (Dori)
Jed Brophy Nori
Me with Jed Brophy (Nori)
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Showing off my inner Legolas at The Green Dragon
Group photo with actors Hobbiton Movie Set Matamata
Group photo with actors Hobbiton Movie Set Matamata
Party Green Dragon Hobbiton
Party at The Green Dragon
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Hobbiton by night

And the surprises weren’t over yet! We all gathered inside a party tent and we got to see the newest trailer of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies which came straight out of the editing room, a few days before it was released worldwide. And to commemorate this evening, the dwarves sang for us ‘The Misty Mountain’ song.

When it was dark outside, Gandalf gave us a surprise firework show! Or were Merry and Pippin secretly involved? As icing on the cake, we did a night tour around Hobbiton and danced at the party field.

This was definitely a night (and whole day) to remember. It was one of my favorite days of the whole journey, a memory and experience I will treasure whole my life.

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Jed Brophy, Steven Hunter, Mark Hadlow and John Callen singing ‘The Misty Mountains’ song
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Gandalf’s fireworks at Hobbiton

Here you can watch the video dairy of day two by Tourism New Zealand:

In my next blog I will tell you about day three of The Hobbit Fan Fellowship Journey when we went to a place called Paradise…

THE INSPIRATION OF A LIFETIME

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Weta Workshop does creative development, publishing, weapons, props, creatures, make-up, miniatures, public art, merchandise for many of my favorite films, such as The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Last Samurai, Dracula Untold and Avatar. Weta Workshop invites people to share their story: http://wetaworkshop.pgtb.me/8xb4Vl
This is my Weta story.

Dear Weta,

 

It all began thirteen years ago, when my mother took me to the cinema to see The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. That moment changed my life. This was the beginning of the journey… my life’s journey.

I immediately fell in love with the on-screen Middle-earth that could not have existed without Weta. Soon after, I found something that I loved maybe even more: the appendices on the extended dvd’s of The Lord of the Rings. This was the first time I saw how movies were made, how all the departments work together to create this on-screen world: the sets, the costumes, the props, the weapons, all the designs and the effecs. This transparency about filmmaking inspired me to study Film Studies at the University of Amsterdam. I graduated at the university with a Master’s thesis about the adaptation of The Hobbit. You also inspired me to make my own costumes (how to make my own chainmaille), how to decorate my house, how I wanted to look (yes, the children in my class found the Legolas braids a bit weird but that didn’t matter to me). You inspired me how to live my life.

 

My journey went even further from home than I have ever been. I entered The Hobbit Fan Fellowship Contest and a dream came true when I actually was one the winners! I got the chance to visit New Zealand, the real Middle-earth! My number two memories of this journey of a lifetime are visiting Hobbiton and visiting you, Weta Workshop in Wellington. Meeting some of the artists like David Falconer, Gino Acevedo, Peter Lyon and of course sir Richard Taylor (and he liked my chainmail necklace!) was an absolute highlight I will never forget. To meet the persons that inspired me for who I want to become since the moment I first saw Middle-earth, thirteen years ago, is something I will treasure all my life.

 

Thank you for giving my life’s journey a purpose: to become a screenwriter and write stories to be brought alive on-screen. To be creative and make cool stuff. And hopefully to meet you again in New Zealand! Thank you Weta for your creativity, beautiful movies, inspiration and for bringing stories to life!

 

At your service,

 

Elaine Fleur
The Netherlands