Exclusive: WETA’s Richard Taylor on ‘The Hobbit,’ ‘Lord of the Rings’ on Blu-ray
BY TODD GILCHRIST
Although actors like Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood, not to mention writer-director Peter Jackson and producer Fran Walsh are often credited with the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the real folks responsible for bringing them to life are the crew members behind the scenes, led by Weta workshop president Richard Taylor. Since the beginning of the film series, Taylor has provided vital, insightful information about the making of the films, and helped flesh out their journey from page to screen.
This week, Warner Home Video released the theatrical versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy on Blu-ray. The good folks at WHV offered Hollywood News an opportunity to talk with Taylor about the process of blowing up the films to Blu-ray, and we caught up with him late last week while driving to San Francisco for Wondercon. Although Taylor admitted outright that he hadn’t seen the new discs and had little to do with the high-definition remastering, the effects guru spoke about his interest in the films as new iterations arrive in fans’ hands, and then offered a few brief details about his upcoming work on The Hobbit, which is among Hollywood’s most highly-anticipated future films.
Hollywood News: How involved were you in the remastering process given the fact that these films aren’t very old, and probably came from a digital intermediate that was high-definiton to begin with?
Richard Taylor: Not in any way, I’m afraid. It’s just not part of my job description. I look after the physical effects and design side of our business. Therefore, there’s been no need to be involved or no benefit to the project, so I’m not even aware of how much actually has been done.
Hollywood News: What do you think there is left to explore in the Lord of the Rings mythology or even cultural context given that each DVD or Blu-ray release features additional featurettes and documentaries about the films?
Taylor: Well, I guess the Blu-ray option is offering a choice to the community of enthusiasts around the world that love these films to watch them in a new, crisper, more impacting way. I can only draw on the comments of the other interviewers that have watched them, but a number of them have said the experience is incredible because the technology of Blu-ray has allowed them to see the intricate detail, the colors, the depths and the imagery that otherwise had been in some way missed in the original DVD releases, and that’s a very exciting thing for people that have worked on the films to know that. Obviously there’s some trepidation that maybe the clarity in this new technology will find holes in the process, but you’ve got a certain confidence at some level that you’ve done the best you possibly could when you made that movie and you got to work on that film, and that it will hold up today regardless.
Hollywood News: When people were going to make sure that the films were properly mastered for the Blu-rays, what was something that you especially wanted them to be careful with to make sure looked good no matter what sort of presentation viewers ultimately chose?
Taylor: Well, I guess at the time we made the movie, Blu-ray hadn’t even been imagined. The thought that one day in the future a movie would be released in a format that allowed an audience sitting at home in their loungers to be able to watch the movie with the same fidelity as they see at the cinema was beyond comprehension. But I don’t know that you even think about those things; what you is you set out to make the absolute best possible work you can with the technology, the capabilities, the budget and the time made available to you, and give it your all. If it holds up, you’ve done your work, and if it doesn’t, you’re going to suffer because people aren’t going to enjoy it as much. So yeah, I see that as the challenge.
Hollywood News: During any part of the creative process, how much do you participate in making sure that each new edition or iteration of a film’s life on DVD or Blu-ray is substantial and not just a chance to get fans to buy another product?
Taylor: I don’t participate in any way at all. I fortunately or unfortunately am not in that position in my job role. My job is to look onwards to the next job and try and figure out how to do the best we possibly can, and I wouldn’t have the opportunity or possibility to be involved with the discussion about how to present new formats, or even how they would be presented as a service provider to these sorts of films. Ultimately, of course, there is a choice, always, if people want to buy into new mediums and new ways to see a certain film or not, and that makes for a decision when you’re there are as a purchaser; I have that same challenge myself. The new version of Blade Runner comes out and should I, shouldn’t I buy it just because I’m going to see something different (laughs). It’s a hard decision to make.
Hollywood News: Does talking about these films even in interviews rekindle your energy and enthusiasm as you’re gearing up to do The Hobbit?
Taylor: It takes very little to rekindle my energy about Lord of the Rings. It’s ever-prevalent in our lives because all of our workshops have the props that we made, and the crew that made the Lord of the Rings films is part of my everyday life here and at the workshop. And even going to meetings on other films, the New Zealand crews that you run into, you worked with on those films for all of those years. So Lord of the Rings, although we’ve been away from the films for a long time now, it’s part of our very existence. We’ve built a place called the WETA cave, which is a little store and a min-theaterette and a mini-museum, and that brings a huge number of Lord of the Rings enthusiasts to the facility. We get to interact with those people a great deal, and therefore they want to know about the films and what part we played in them, and that’s a very enjoyable opportunity to be a part of an ongoing discussion of those films.
Hollywood News: Given this enormous archive of resources, do you have a solid foundation for starting on The Hobbit already, or are you going back to the drawing board?
Taylor: Well, it’s a different part of the world and a different time in the world, but you’re not starting afresh because you’ve already got a blueprint and there’s already an established world to complement. Of course, there’s also new elements to design as well, so they’re very very exciting and enjoyable; I only see it as complementary and progressive from where we were.
“THE LORD OF THE RINGS” TRILOGY BLU-RAY TRAILER