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Treebeard's Stumper Answer
13 December 2002

Size Shifting

The holidays bring many treats, including movies! Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are school favorites of course, and they share a stumper about size. Hagrid would tower over Gimli, but the actors Robbie Coltrane and John Rhys-Davies both stand 6'1" tall. Gandalf hit his head in Bilbo's house, but actor Ian McKellen is only a bit taller than Ian Holm and Elijah Wood. Surely these movies are not all blue screen mattes and CGI effects. How did they do it? We have research to do at The Two Towers premiere next week! Can you make your own photo example?

I checked the cast info at The Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
Clockwise from upper-left, the Fellowship of the Ring actors are:

  AragornViggo Mortensen5'11"
  GandalfIan McKellen5'11"
  LegolasOrlando Bloom5'11"
  BoromirSean Bean5'11"
  GimliJohn Rhys-Davies6'1"
  PippinBilly Boyd5'7"
  MerryDominic Monaghan5'6"
  FrodoElijah Wood5'7"
  SamSean Astin5'5"


From the Harry Potter cast, we also have:

  HagridRobbie Coltrane6'1"
  HarryDaniel Radcliff5'3"


There is some logic to this casting, but there is also real movie magic. I wish I could find a photo of Hagrid the Giant and Gimli the Dwarf side by side! How do these movies perform such convincing size shifting of their cast? Can you make your own photo example?


Computer-generated monsters and armies can be grand, but I prefer the small special effects that I don't even notice, like the size of the characters in The Lord of the Rings movies. When Frodo jumps on Gandalf in the cart, he's a small stunt double. They ride "side by side" in a cart made so that Frodo is sitting farther back to look smaller. There were two Hobbit houses, identical but for size. Hobbits were filmed in the large house to look small, Gandalf in the small house to look large. These are classic "movie magic" tricks done to perfection with careful editing!

Notes:

I did a hard hike this weekend, and I'm out of time for this
interesting movie stumper. I'll get back to this extended
answer as soon as I can, with help from my DMS students!

The canonical source for this stumper lies in the extra features on disk 4 of The Fellowship of the Ring (Extended Edition) DVD (2002), which includes a feature on "Scale: Creating the illusion of size". The features are worth watching even if you don't care for the movies.

Of course I have to mention Ray Harryhausen even in this short answer. The real stumper for me is how LOTR director Peter Jackson managed to land this gig based on his past movies. Wahoo!

(To be continued...)

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Copyright © 2003 by Marc Kummel / mkummel@rain.org