Ive been a stunt performer since 1992 working mainly on the TV series of Xena: Warrior Princess & The Legendary Journeys of Hercules where I was one of two stunt doubles for Kevin Sorbo as Hercules. As the series progressed, I became a stunt rigger & stunt co-ordinator.
I joined the LOTR crew in September 1999 & helped Greg Powell (the original LOTR Stunt Co-ordinator) train the core group of stunt performers & develop the required stunt sequences for the 3 movies.
Early in 2000, George Marshall Ruge became the Stunt Co-ordinator as Greg took other work in England, notably Band of Brothers & the Harry Potter movies.
George came from the US with extensive experience as a stunt performer, stunt co-ordinator & actor & worked alongside Bob Anderson the LOTR swordmaster on the Zorro.
Our job was to provide Peter Jackson with the most dynamic action sequences we could come up with. He would brief us on the overall look of the sequences & sometimes go into a specific piece of action required and we would choreograph the fights & rigs, then video tape them for Peter to critique & offer feedback.
All three movies have their own unique action sequences designed to help tell the story.
Amon-Hen, for example with Uruk-hai hordes chasing & fighting the fellowship through the Beech forests near Queenstown.
The Weathertop fights with the Ringwraiths (Viggo Mortensons first fight action with the kiwi stunties), which involved full-body burns, the death of Boromir & Aragorns slaying of Lurtz were all very powerful stunt sequences.
One of the most intensive pieces of action was the storming of the battlements at Helms Deep, which involved months of night shoots, stunt performers & extras in full-body prosthetic costumes, real armour & weaponry.
This was Viggos baptism of fire. He was in nearly every shot slashing & stabbing his way through armies of stunt Uruk-hai. He impressed all around him with his natural athletic skill, his raw determination & an uncanny ability to pick-up the choreographed stunt action instantly. (All the better for the stunt performers running into him to meet their deaths).
Most of the stunt performers I work with have a martial arts background, and have the necessary experience & skill to be able to do high falls, fire-burns, air-rams & flying rigs.
The main stunt-rig action that can be seen in the The Fellowship takes place in the Orthanc Chamber in the fight between Saruman (Christopher Lee) & Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan), and was shot over a 3 week period. The action involved a number of manual (eg. when Gandalf was thrown up into the wall & Saruman was propelled backwards through the doors) & mechanical rigs (eg. when Gandalf was spinning on the floor & lifted up inside the tower), which we worked closely with the Physical Effects rigging team on.
Because of the number of scenes requiring horse action, local riders were recruited into the ranks of the Rohan & Gondorians. Specialised riders were used for the scenes such as the Ringwraiths chasing Arwen.
Fortunately the actors we worked with were enthusiastic about learning how to ride & fight from horseback. Bernard Hill (Theoden) was great to work with and as always Viggo (Aragorn) put 110% into his horse riding & fighting skill.
The weapons made by Richard Taylors Weta Workshops are the most realistic in their form & function I have ever worked with. We were amazed at how well constructed the swords were, because we would usually break dozens of swords during rehearsals but not with these ones. Most of the background blades were made from a non-metallic resin and the foreground & hero blades were cast aluminum which meant they were easy to use with speed & they looked so realistic.
Each character had a unique fighting style & choice of weapon. The Uruk-hai with their broad hacking blades were cumbersome to most but well suited to the size & stature of the character. We had to do specific stunt recruiting to find performers who were able to fill the Uruk-hai prosthetics.
The Orc & Goblin characters were more normal in size and had a huge variety of weapons at their disposal including axes, daggers, spears, hammers & vicious slicing blades. The Orc stunt performers learnt a fighting style that was a mixture of short hacking & stabbing with a bent, misshapen body posture.
The Elves on the other hand were majestically flowing and their demeanor was suited to an Aikido style of martial art like water flowing & swirling around the opponent. Their blades are long-handled with a sweeping graceful edge.
We had to categorize our stunt performers depending on their size & body shape. The tall solid guys were the Uruk-hai, the slimmer performers were usually the Elves & the rest became Orcs who were quite varied in their character form.
Bob Anderson, the legendary swordmaster, was Darth Vadars stunt double, & choreographer for the sword action in Zorro, The Three Musketeers, First Knight & The Princess Bride. Bob at 79 years old (he worked with Errol Flynn), is the epitome of an English gentleman, and the years just melt away from him when hes got a sword in his hand. Hes able to perform intricate & delicate sword moves so smoothly & with the ease that comes from years of experience hes gained as a stunt performer & world class fencer.
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