John Howe Guest of Honour hour.
Transcript page 2
Q: Was there something in the movie you're most happy with, that
came out just the way you wanted, do you have a favourite scene?
JH: I think the things that I'm happiest about are the stuff that
I had nothing to do with. (general laughter) I'm personally enthralled by
the actors, when we met Elijah Wood (Frodo), both my wife and I fell in
love with him immediately, he is so beautiful, he is so handsome. He has such
amazing eyes, and those are things, I mean, I don't know how you feel about
fantasy illustration, but you spend your whole life basically trying to render
something that you would like to consider "real" and then suddenly you're
faced with the surprise of something like Christopher Lee as Saruman, or Ian
McKellen as Gandalf, or Elijah Wood as Frodo, and you think, "Oh my God, I
wish I had drawn that, just like that, ten years ago." Those were the best
surprises for me, the things that I had no control over at all. And many of
them were just an enchantment, and to be honest with you, things I don't like
in the film are very, very, very few in number. And they do not show up very
much, and I'm exceedingly hard to please, believe me.
I don't know, I'm very pleased with the way the Balrog turned out, for
example. I'm very pleased with the lived-in feeling of Bag End, and Hobbiton.
I'm blown away by the special effects that they managed to do in the prologue,
which I think are absolutely phenomenal; it's practically a film in itself.
And the restraint that Peter showed, because at his fingertips he has all
these amazing scenes, but he only uses them once, he doesn't sort of give them
back to you ten times, just to make sure he's got his money's worth of all the
effects. And I love that incidental side to it, everything is there to
the story, and it's not there to serve itself, and that makes them even
exciting. So those were the pleasant surprises, yeah, absolutely.
Q: Having worked on such a high-profile project, do you have
in the future that you'd like to work on, or that you have in the works
JH: No, I have happily dropped back into total anonymity.
laughter) It's much, much, much, much easier to handle. Yes, I've got
and millions of things I would love to work on. But for the time being
mostly illustration work right now. When the film came out I didn't think
it would take as much time as it had, and I've fallen way behind on my
and my commissions. So I'm scrambling like a silly person to catch up.
I've got dozens and dozens of things I would love to do. There is no end,
no end to them, but whether they'll come true or not, we'll see. "Is
there a life after the Lord of the Rings," that's the question isn't
it. (audience laughter) "Will you ever draw anything again?" (more
Q: Is New Zealand as fabulous a country as on film, as it's been
JH: New Zealand is a wonderful place. Has anybody set foot...?
(one woman answers with a description of a hiking trip on the North
JH: New Zealand is a fabulous country. It is very, very close to
things we find familiar, but it has the incredible luck of having an
ancient ecosystem, which has been an an island for many millions of years,
therefore the actual flora developed in an unusual fashion. It's a much
archaic plantlife, mostly evergreen trees, leaf trees that are deciduous,
and the landscape is for the most part empty of human marks. I don't know
if you've seen photos of where they built Edoras, it's this amazing, rocky
hill on a floodplain surrounded by mountains. And in Europe, you'd find it
perhaps in Scotland but there would have been a castle on top for the last
couple of thousand years. In the States, I'm sure you could find it but
would be, you know, a hotel (general laughter). In New Zealand, they were
able to go in, build Edoras full-size on top, shoot 360° around it, and
was nothing to hide except a very small airstrip, in a field. So, and
had the, once again, he is the King of New Zealand, because every door was
open for him, and he was able to shoot where he wanted. The only thing New
Zealand has which doesn't come in the movie, is the most incredible
and coast which unfortunately Tolkien didn't actually include very much in
the Lord of the Rings! I can't imagine this film, in retrospect, it
couldn't have been done in the States, in Europe it would have been a
nightmare, and they would have had a little chunk of England, and a liitle
chunk of something else, and a little bit of this, anyone who'd been there
would have recognized everywhere. It would have been terribly distracting
and disappointing, whereas New Zealand is, almost as if we were able to
the landscape, because anything he (Peter) wanted could be found. Because
it is simultaneously familiar, but yet a bit odd it very quickly becomes,
to my eyes, Middle Earth. Something the New Zealand Tourist Board has not
let go by! (much laughter)
Q: You just mentioned the Edoras set. How many of these remarkable
sets were actually built full size, as opposed to, built about seven feet
tall, and the rest added by computer later?
JH: Many, many, many sets were built full size, many more sets
is the trend these days, where the trend now is to have a piece of plywood
and a railing and a big blue screen, and a bunch of people talking to
actors who will be created digitally. No, Peter is someone who likes to
out in the wind and the rain at midnight with his actors, and have them
in puddles and over cliffs, stuff like that (general laughter). He's very
much a believer, that if you want people to act, you have to give them
in return, which is more than just a soundstage and a blue screen. So
are large chunks of the film which were done in that way, but as much as
Peter had great, great, huge sets built, but never, never obviously,
which looks like a full city on the screen, that's because it's not shot
the back, but they actually did build absolutely huge sets. And even the
sometimes, were absolutely massive. Barad-Dûr is literally ten metres
ten or eleven metres tall, and it's still a miniature.
There's sort of an earnestness and a desire to do more than you're
paid to do, with the team that worked on this film. It's true that a lot
the cities were also built digitally, but as much as possible, every
digital maquette comes from something physical, if possible. So that is in
keeping with this idea of making it all feel real, and that you shouldn't
be able to see the seams, if possible.
Q: Who were the illustrators who have influenced you?
JH: Oh, that's a good question. Have you got a couple of days?
laughs) I'm very much attracted to the period in our history when
and painting were not separate entities. This separation between what we
fine arts and what we call communication arts or commercial art is a 20th-
well, 19th-century division. And, I find that sometimes a little bit
so I do honestly admire a huge number of 19th-century illustrators and
I also am very much interested and attracted to anything between the 7th
15th centuries, in any domain, whether it's architecture or art, or
of any kind. I don't really have any preferred living illustrators, to be
honest with you. I admire the work of many, many, many people. I think
growing a little older I've gotten over my boyhood infatuations with a lot
of illustrators that I admired when I was in my teens. It's been replaced
with a sincere admiration for what they do, and admiration for the fact
they're still able to do it, to keep it up, because it's not always
easy to do. Yeah, (chuckles) I've got a huge list, of illustrators and
whose work I admire.
But I didn't really answer your question, I'm sorry... (audience laughs)
It's just not that easy, I just can't reel off a string of names. And I
to fall into this crappy trap, that most people fall into, and say, "Yes,
I was heavily influenced by, uh, Michaelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci-" and
I don't see how that can be, I don't see the point. I don't see the point
in naming names which are in another firmament, so far beyond anyone alive
today that it just seems ludicrous to try and tie your own experience to
It sounds a little harsh, but I don't really know, I can't really answer
question, having spent five minutes answering it, I can't really answer
Q: It was just delightful to see as they came to a new town or
or domain to see how it had its own feeling. Everything was interactive;
clothing, the architecture, the natural surroundings were different from
JH: Everything is interactive, we live in a wonderful age
because we live in a world where we have everything. You want to have Ptolemy's
"Geography," you can have it on your bookshelf next to the full
works of William
Blake, paintings by Gabriel
Rosetti, you can have next to that the Book
of the Dead from Egypt, you can have it all. If you want it, you can
it. On the other hand we live in architecture which is not really a
to humanity. We dress ourselves in a way which is pretty plain compared to
the way people dressed a few hundred years ago. We seem to have gotten our
priorities dispersed to such an extent that it's hard to actually maintain
a cohesive image of anything. But this is obviously not true of periods in
our past. For example, the fifteenth century is a period where you have a
unified European style, with the exception of Italy, because it was quite
a different kettle of fish at the time. But you have a unified style which
takes you from the top of the cathedral to the sole of your shoes, and all
the way through every object you can imagine. And all of these things are
coherent, cohesive, and not design-driven, but they are visibly part of a
whole. That was one of the things that we felt was very important to
in the film, is that you do not have, beyond the necessary anachronisms of
Hobbiton and the Hobbits, which Tolkien had developed long before he
what kind of a world he was really setting them in. We were very conscious
of actually maintaining some unity of design. That is very important
many, many, many films have the "image bank" attitude, where you
just pull out a piece of this and a piece of that and a piece of this, and
you just chuck them all in there, and that's cool. And that's not good,
that's not design work that's, I don't know what it is, but it's certainly
not design work. So that's something else I feel very strongly about, that
if you're trying to create a coherent representation of something, even if
it doesn't exist, then you have to think equally coherently about
as you do about cathedrals. You're not going to be able to focus in the
manner on both. And then you must carry that through to shoes and
it goes with an honesty of approach to a design problem.
Q: Have you done that with your home, made that a coherent thing?
JH: No! (much audience laughter) No, I am deeply suspicious of
who surround themselves in their own worlds. I don't have any of my work
my walls; it's all tucked away where I can't see it, because I see it,
enough when I'm doing it. We have lots of artwork by other people. We have
objects that we like, but I haven't done the H.R. Giger trip,
where I live in a black room with aliens hanging from the ceiling, and
poking out the doors and stuff (audience laughter). There seems to me to
something, I'm intrigued by people who dress in a certain way, and who
so many things from their lives because they are concentrating on one
on the other hand, our attic is full of armour and swords and crap like
our garage is full of tree roots and shields and you name it, so we have
of funny stuff at home. But it's not a conscious effort to create an
that goes along with what I do. I find that a bit creepy to be honest with
Q: I have a question regarding the calendars, the 2001 calendar,
many of the pieces in that calendar were created specifically for the
JH: My intention was to to do twelve, thirteen pieces for that
however, as I was running out of time unfortunately we had to put in a few
pieces which I had done previously. But honestly, my intent was to do
new pieces, specifically for the calendar. But as usual, you know, life
you to waste a month here, a couple of days there, and get stuck. So in an
ideal world I would have done thirteen pieces.
Q: Are there any future plans for calendars?
JH: Well, Ted (Nasmith) has the next calendar, he has 2003 done
and 2004 I think he's starting work on seriously. Because Alan and I were
involved in a project, on the movie, there was no question of us doing
while the movie is coming out. But yeah, I'd love to have another shot at
one, of course. I could happily draw pictures from Tolkien for the rest of
my life and not do half the ones I'd like to do. There's so many
and so many things I saw a certain way five years ago I don't see in the
way now, so I'd be happy to do them again. But for the time being, no.
On the other hand, I'm working on the Sauron expansion for the board
and Foes is already out, I don't know if it's appeared in Canada yet
not. In the second expansion for the board game, somebody gets to play
and hassle all the other players. (audience laughs) so that's quite
Other than that... other Tolkien-related projects, maybe another map,
Q: Do you have a website?
JH: No. No, I'm sorry I don't, I wish I did, I will. I'm working
getting that set up over the next few months. Yes, it's such a huge job,
get involved in trying to set up a website, that I just couldn't face the
whole idea until recently, when a very kind person phoned up and
love to do a website
for you," and I thought yes, this is the man I want to meet. So
we've been working on it recently and will get that going, I think over
next few months.
Q: Regarding the Internet, as you are no doubt aware, several of
pictures have in fact been scanned in and posted up on the Internet, and
wondering just how many of these were done with your permission, and how
of them are in fact pirated?
JH: I think everything I've ever done is on the bloody 'Net,
None of them are there with my permission, but my permission is not
because we are in an area where if the person who is putting them on
is not putting money in their pocket directly because of that, then I have
nothing to say. Any more than I would for someone who takes a calendar,
it on his wall, except the wall he is putting it on in this case is a
wall that you can access from the world over. The only thing I do pursue
great diligence and fury are people who put my work up without crediting
Occasionally people put my work up and credit it to themselves,"copyright
so-and-so." That's interesting. I don't appreciate people who copy my
work, put it up on the 'Net, and claim they did it as an original piece. I
find that to be a little annoying, actually, I wish I'd brought it down, I
just picked up, when I was coming through Stuttgart on the way over, I
up a book, a German book on Tolkien, with a very familiar Gandalf on the
but he's wearing a purple-burgundy cloak much like your shirt - (points
to this audience member) - and he's standing in a forest, but I've
seen that guy somewhere before. So, what do you do? In one sense it's
quite touching that someone would find the work interesting enough to
a piece of it, and use it for themselves, because the rest of us do it
usually using the art by people who are dead so they can't complain!
laughter) It's a big world, and you cannot control that sort of thing. One
of the things I can't get is my own name, actually. It's been purchased,
for sale for fifteen hundred bucks. I refuse to buy my own name back, so
johnhowe.net, johnhowe.org, they're all gone.
Q: Have you tried your middle initial?
JH: Yeah, it's just too complicated, we're going to put a hyphen
between the two.
Q: That's even more complicated.
JH: Is it?
Q: Yes, I can talk to you about web (unintelligible)
JH: Okay, (laughs) talk to me after class! (general laughter)
Q: Are there web sites in place for your name being taken, or is
a "This domain is being registered by someone?"
JH: Yes, it's some bright lad who's thought, "Oh, that's a good
thing to register."
Q: You can't actually go to, I think there's a branch of the
Nations that covers this. You can say, "Sorry, this guy's trying to make
money off of me, can you please have him give it back?"
JH: Yes, if you've got ten years to do it, there's a backlog
considerable. So if you apply now, in five years they'll come to your
So we've found another solution. Any more questions? Yes?
Q: When you did most of the drawings, what did you use? Conté,
pen and ink or, what is the medium that you prefer to work in when you are
doing large numbers of sketches?
JH: 3B lead pencils. We ground down literally thousands of
Little bits. The quickest, most efficient way to actually render a concept
is in pencil, on paper. I did actually very little colour work, because we
were so busy scuttling along to design so many things. This is the
of a film like the Lord of the Rings because you're designing and thinking
in natural materials; wood, stone, leather, metal. You don't need to
design the colours as you're going along. They oppose themselves in a very
natural fashion. The poor girl who was doing the shopping for us would
to buy huge stacks of paper and hundreds of pencils. The way of
was, you'd simply sit down and start anywhere on a page, and you might end
up five sheets over, at the other side of it, later on. Because we were
not doing, what I would call "attractive originals," in that sense,
it wasn't this whole idea of, "Oh, this is going into-" this is
something that I find very intriguing in Hollywood, is when you see
of" books, I can imagine these guys working on a film and saying, "Right,
I have to get twelve pages in the 'Art of' book later on, so I'd better
up these pictures as well as I can to make sure they look cool when
in the book." This was something that Alan and I did not do, because
that seemed to be contrary to the freedom that you need, to actually stop
in the middle of a piece and more or less ruin it by doing something else.
So everything that we drew, or everything that I drew, and I think Alan
the same way, is quite incidental, in that sense. I'm not attached, I'm
fussed about the idea of the originals, as such, and they're simply
tools. It seems to me to be a little bit narcissistic to actually be
the aspect of publication while you're trying to do concept design. that's
not the point. Other questions? Yeah?
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your involvement in the medieval
societies in Europe?
JH: Yeah, we have a website,
that you can check out. We've published a couple of books over the years,
there's one called The
Medieval Soldier, I don't think anybody's seen it. We work with
quite a lot - it's a hobby, so we are amateurs, in the sense that we are
being paid to do it. But we try to recreate, within a period of a couple
decades at the end of the fifteenth century, between, say, 1470 and 1490.
Beyond that or before that we're not credible for the style of clothing
the accessories we use. So we've re-created a fiction (misspelled?), which
is a small artillery company with a couple of very small old-fashioned
for the time. And everything that goes around that, and we've just
a collossal lot of money in tents. There are about 60 or 70 of us, in
Germany, France, England, Switzerland, and Sweden. We get together when we
have an engagement to do, an event, generally with a museum or a castle,
sort of organization that can pay all our expenses. We try to be as boring
as possible, we try to be the exact equivalent of people you could meet on
the corner of the street. So it's all very low key. And it doesn't look at
all very exciting, it looks like people, honestly, that just walked
in the door. But I find it to be very exciting, because it also nourishes
my work, in the sense that you actually have the chance to live in the
that you wear. And it's made of 100% wool, and it's made of proper
leather, and the shoes are properly made, and not some sort of crappy
that look like what they're not. It becomes very satisfying, because it's
very informative. And we also realize that we don't know anything about
period at all, really. The things that we do not know outweigh a
things that we do know. We try to stay within the balance of what we think
is legitimate. Which is actually quite restricting but it makes it even
fun. Yeah, I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of it.
Q: And practical knowledge.
JH: And practical knowledge, and once again, we also have a
of friends who work in museums. The other day in Stockholm we were to go
and actually pick up a lot of objects from the 14th century that you can
see through glass, generally, and actually turn them over and look
them. So it's very exciting, very, very exciting. We do have a website, we
do have a litlle newsletter, so I can write out the address later on, if
like. Yes, sir?
Q: (little boy) Do you have any scenes that you dislike because of
goriness or strangeness?
JH: Yeah, I do, I'm something like you, I guess. I don't like
things. I don't like things where you doubt the creator's mental health. I
don't mind scary things, because that can be interesting and constructive.
But I honestly don't like things which I consider to be the domain of the
psychiatrist. (general laughter) The domain of the illustrator.
Q: No I mean, like in the Fellowship of the Ring, do you have any
specific scenes that you don't like?
JH: No, I like them all. I mean, I find some of them pretty scary,
you know the one that scares me the most, is when - you've seen the film,
haven't you? Okay, when Bilbo gives Frodo the mithril shirt, and he
starts to unbutton his shirt. What they did, they actually put in a couple
of frames, a tenth of a second, of Gollum, on Bilbo's face. Wait for the
you can go back and forth over it again! (much laughter) I found that to
really, really scary. That scared me more than the big orcs, you know, the
big, creepy creatures. Because that's really frightening, isn't it,
a big nasty creature, you know what it is, but that was suddenly
and it was really scary, yeah. I got the same taste as you. Other
Q: I understand that everybody who saw the inside of the Hobbit
more or less wanted to grab their stuff and move right in. What happened
the Hobbiton set, is it still existing, or was it all ripped apart and
JH: The exteriors were taken down; those were bulldozed. But the
set itself, such as it is, I'm sure is in a warehouse somewhere. They're
going to throw that out. They actually carted a great chunk of it to the
film festival last year. You know they built two of them; they actually
one to the film festival, set it up. That was quite exciting to walk
Well, thank you very much for coming!
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