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The Makeup and Hair Magic Behind ‘The Hobbit’

Peter King

Cate Blanchett and Peter King

After winning the Oscar for Best Makeup in 2004 for The Return of the King, hair and makeup stylist, Peter Swords King, is nominated again! This time around for An Unexpected Journey.

A lot of people may not know this, but yak hair was used to create the beards and wigs used in The Hobbit trilogy! Everyone involved, save one person with ‘feral’ enough hair, wore a wig in the movies.

Over 80 wigs alone were created for the leading thirteen dwarves; each character consisted of the actor, along with a stunt double, a scale double, a scale stunt double, a photo double, and a riding double.

Since the movies were being filmed in such high quality (3D and high frame rate no less), King made sure that the doubles wore real yak wigs rather than synthetic ones. King states: “It’s like working under a magnifying glass. Everything is in focus. You can see every pore, whether it’s the actor’s real pores on the skin or that of the prosthetics.” I thought all of that work paid off; everything looked amazing!

Coming up with thirteen original and individual looks doesn’t seem like the easiest thing to accomplish, but I must say that they did a great job! Peter Jackson met with conceptual artists to sketch hundreds of reference images. They ended up with designs that are different from Professor Tolkien’s original descriptions which includes colorful hair and vibrant hoods. The filmmakers made the decision to stray from the Professor’s descriptions because they were worried it would be too distracting for the viewers. In the end, they made each of the dwarves distinguishable and recognizable enough that it’s easy to tell them apart just from their silhouettes.

King says they held sessions which were called “show-and-tell.” Every head of department would be there, and we’d change everything. We’d say, Let’s make his beard longer. Let’s make it shorter. We don’t like the color. Let’s make it lighter. Let’s make it darker. We went through this process with every dwarf, every time a dwarf changes his costume.” There were about 20-30 show-and-tell sessions for each of the dwarves.

Thorin was the only one to not have a yak wig, rather, his was made from human hair. The decision was made to make Thorin’s hair stand out from the rest of the group. Martin Freeman, who plays our favorite burglar, was actually one of the lucky ones (in terms of the amount of time it took in hair and makeup). King said that since Martin already had a “Hobbit-y” kind of face, all that was really needed were the hobbit ears and a wig; they did try out to see what Martin would have looked like with a slightly bigger nose, but because they didn’t like it, they tossed that idea out.

To make Gandalf appear slightly younger, his beard was darkened and his face had a little more color. To really show off Galadriel’s magical quality, King created a special light-reflective powder to make her appear “extra-luminous”, says Vanity Fair. (I’d like to get in on that cream action.)

Cate Blanchett - Galadriel

Alongside with Peter King, prosthetics supervisor, Tami Lane, and key makeup-and-hair supervisor, Rick Findlater are also nominated for Best Makeup for the next Academy Awards. I’m super excited to see their work in the next two installments from the trilogy!

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