The Peter Jackson films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” brought Middle Earth to life and established an elaborately detailed style for its inhabitants. The new series, which cost $462 million for the first season alone, brings a similar cinematic blockbuster quality to the small screen. Set in the Second Age of Middle Earth, it introduces a new world of characters, including Durin IV, who leads a clan of dwarves known as Longbeards.
Hair and makeup department head Jane O’Kane wanted Durin IV “to be larger than life and to have a big presence in a room amongst the heightened elves.” It took layer upon layer of makeup and hair, and plenty of glue, to achieve the right look.
The team included makeup and hair artist Aly Webby, prosthetics artist Simon Rose, wigmaker Alex Rouse and facial hair postiche maker Sarah Weatherburn. During early testing, O’Kane and crew would dedicate whole days to working with Arthur to get things perfect — and deliver a look inspired by Scottish knights and kings.
One of the team’s goals was to whittle down the prep time to enable a full day of shooting. By the start of production, O’Kane says, “we got Owain’s total time down to two and a half hours with two artists working on him.”
The first hour was dedicated to Rose’s application of the char- acter’s prosthetic nose and ears. Next, the actor was prepped for extensive hair work. The beard came in 16 pieces, Arthur says. The idea was for it to be “attached to my face so it would move but not pull.” Among the tiny pieces were what the team calls “nose cones.” Explains Arthur, “They attached to the edge of the nose and curled upwards.”
To keep the long beard in place, costume designer Kate Hawley incorporated a small hook near the base of Arthur’s outfit. The beard “weighs as much as a newborn baby,” Arthur explains, and the “hook takes a lot of the weight. It’s also attached to the wig at the back” to further share the load.
All the time he spent in hair and makeup notwithstanding, Arthur says, no one wanted the beard to become a problem: “We want to see you express yourself,” Patrick McKay, one of the show’s screenwriters, told him, “and not have the makeup be a hindrance.” With that in mind, the team lowered the beard on Arthur’s face so that his expressions could be seen.
The hair work consisted of a full wig with neck-hair additions, an under beard, sideburns, split chin pieces, a mustache and nostril hair. All were custom-made from a mix of human, angora goat, horse and yak hair. “We integrated real copper threads to give it something unique in light reflection and texture,” O’Kane says. “There were also felt dread sections in the beard, all handmade.”
Just fitting the character’s wig and applying makeup took another 45 minutes. “It was an extensive jigsaw puzzle of facial hair,” O’Kane says.
Hawley was also a key player in the early testing of Arthur’s look, O’Kane explains. “Working with Kate [on Owain’s costumes] allowed us to integrate our designs so that they not only functioned but naturally and seamlessly complemented each other. This was a big focus for us—to make everything real in his world.”
The most challenging part of transforming Arthur was not so much the prosthetics applications as the practical elements that came with the show being shot during the New Zealand summer — February to August. To mitigate the intense heat, Arthur was outfitted with a cooling vest while sitting in the makeup chair.
O’Kane, having worked in the field with prosthetics since the 1980s, notes that not only did technological advances make her work easier, but there was little to no need for visual effects to complete Arthur’s transformation
“That silicone — the material used on the prosthetic pieces — has improved so much that it seamlessly blended into Arthur’s skin alongside fine wig la e and expert knotting work to sink the hair work into the skin,” she says.
But one production challenge was resolved by methods that included a decidedly low-tech approach: making the 5-foot-9- inch Arthur appear dwarfed by his fellow actors. While scale and visual effects were used, Arthur reveals that the best strategy was far simpler. “I would be down on my knees,” he says, “and Robert Aramayo, who plays Elrond, would be on a ladder.”