An Aussie veteran who first came to attention with the two “Babe” movies, Andrew Lesnie joined the ranks of A-list d.p.’s by taking on the massive “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
He refers to “The Return of the King” as the trilogy’s “third act,” which therefore departs visually from the first two films.
“The broad approach of the three films required a variety of looks to establish Middle Earth: Get our characters and story under way in the first film, then become grittier and dirtier as the world descends into war in the second and third films, and having various characters discover their true selves or confront their destinies in the third film,” he explains. “Therefore, (‘The Return of the King’) is a third act, and definitely concentrates its visual style on creating moods and coverage appropriate to embellishing the personal journeys of the major characters.”
Although much of “The Return of the King” was shot during the original, 14-month shoot more than three years ago in New Zealand, Lesnie points out there has been constant production work done since then, not to mention his participation in the third film’s digital intermediate, performed at PostHouse, in Wellington, New Zealand.
“The crew re-convened each year for pickups ranging from six to nine weeks of shooting,” says Lesnie. “This was important, because it gave (director) Peter (Jackson) a chance to edit the film and establish what was working, what story threads were being efficiently told and whether we had fully realized the subtext of particular sequences. The digital intermediate also helped greatly because it allowed us to create some amazing visual concepts, though it required me to spend longer in (the post-production process) than I ever thought possible.”
Key tools: Principal photography used 21 35mm cameras — Arriflex 535Bs, 435s, and Moviecam SLs; Ultraprime lenses and Cooke and Angenieux zooms; Kodak 5293 and 5297 were the principal shooting stocks.
Aesthetic: “The third film’s look departs from the first two films in that its priority is character resolution first. We still had to be responsive to time and place, but that subtext drove most of the aesthetic decisions regarding the look.”
Challenge: “We shot the three films simultaneously, but out of sequence. Caro Cunningham, our first assistant director, did the most amazing job of keeping the project together, because as much as we all wanted to shoot the trilogy in chronological order, seasonal considerations and cast and crew availability had to be factored in. Therefore, we had to really work out in pre-production this visual progression before beginning the 14-month shoot.”
Oscar pedigree: Won the Oscar for “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001).