Book Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design by Weta

Weta's Chronicles book series explores the creation of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit Trilogy. This first Desolation of Smaug Chronicles book examines the film's art and design and will be followed in July by The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Cloaks and Daggers. Art & Design allows readers the opportunity to see early conceptual ideas of new creatures and lands populating Tolkein's Middle-earth not yet seen in director Peter Jackson's work.

In the acknowledgements, Weta Workshop Designer Daniel Falconer states the goal of this book is creating “a deep and rich volume that offers a peek through the window into the creative reservoir that has nurtured the visual development of” the film. Regardless of what one feels about The Desolation of Smaug, which certainly and understandably has its detractors, there's no denying the great talent possessed by many of the individuals who worked on its creation. Falconer is credited as the book's writer, but the majority of the text is identified as the words of different artists whose work graces the pages of Art & Design, allowing direct access to their perspective and approach.

The book progresses much like the journeys taken by Bilbo, Gandalf, and the 13 Dwarves in the film. It begins with a chapter entitled “Queer Lodgings,” which introduces Beorn the Skin-Changer, a giant who has the ability to become a bear. On display are pencil drawings and paintings that explored different looks as they decided on the creature's appearance. There are also maquettes created both physically and digitally. Boern is also shown in non-animal form, which required the contributions of the makeup and costume departments, because, as makeup designer Peter King states, “Peter was quite keen that Boern should appear as something other than just a big human.” Beorn's Home allows the work of more crew members to be seen as the book presents a 1/16th model and “the final complete and dressed exterior and interior sets.”

All the other chapters offer a similar variety of impressive materials. For those who enjoy spooky things, the art for the diseased forest of Mirkwood and its eight-legged inhabitants is marvelously creepy. The Elves of Mirkwood guide the reader into The Woodland Realm. The artists make great use of earth tones as expected for creatures that live within a forest. Concept Art Director John Howe offers insight into the process as he mentions that the “props designed for the Woodland Realm needed to be significantly different from those in Rivendell, while remaining Elven.”

The journey continues and the reader is taken to the depressed Lake-town, “Dale in Glory and Ruin,” and Erebor, the Dwarves' former kingdom that is now the home of the great dragon Smaug. Each location is distinct in its use of color and material. The art of Smaug is some of my favorite in the book. The Orcs and Dol Guldur each received their own chapters though not where they chronologically appear.

Fans of Jackson's Middle-earth will surely be impressed by the work on display in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicles: Art & Design.

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Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer…

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