The Rings Of Power Head Of Prosthetics On Creating The Characters Of Lord Of The Rings For 20 Years [Exclusive Interview]

There are many fantastical creatures in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power." And many of these creatures, from orcs to dwarfs to harfoots, require their associated actors to undergo some prosthetic magic to make them look truly otherworldly. And there's none better than prosthetics expert Jamie Wilson, for the job.

This isn't Wilson's first rodeo in Middle-earth. The head of prosthetics for "The Rings of Power" was a member of Weta Workshop who worked on Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" movies, and would return to the world once again for "The Hobbit" trilogy as armour and weapons production manager.

"I started making hobbit feet in 1999 and I'm still doing it," Wilson told /Film in an interview about "The Rings of Power" episode 4.

I had the chance to talk with the show's head of prosthetics, Jamie Wilson, about how he and his team brought all these creatures to life, including one creature we were introduced to in the most recent episode. Read on for that discussion. But before you do, here is your obligatory warning that there will be mild spoilers for the episodes through episode 4, which is now streaming on Prime Video.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

'Obviously, there's something not quite right there'

In episode 4 we finally met Adar, who in my interpretation — which you don't have to confirm or deny — looks like a corrupted elf. Could you share how you approached creating his prosthetics and how you made it clear that there's clearly something a bit off about him?

The main thing was we didn't want to turn him into some sort of beast or be too over the top. It has more of a connection if the audience says, "Oh my God, he's an elf that's gone to the wrong side." That adds more of a story to it rather than he just being some crazy monster.

So it was important that we definitely kept the elfness there, but at the same time there is darkness creeping in, be it physical — because obviously you can see he has been it attacked or traumatized at some point — and also probably a mental darkness that has crept into his soul. So we very much wanted to keep him quite elf-like. But obviously, there's something not quite right there.

Were there any subtle touches you did that you think might not be obvious to someone who watched it for the first time, that you just thought really brought out the fact that Adar isn't quite right?

As I said, there's a fine line between going too far, but we did need to make him slightly different. And if you actually lined him up alongside one of the other lead elf characters, you would actually notice he's got more pronounced upper cheekbones here. And also there's some work to the ears, the coloration of his skin, and also the scars. The color of his skin was meant to look septic or toxic — not elf-like, who are beautiful, porcelain, and ethereal characters who float around. He is definitely not that.

'We let the character of the person, the actor inside, come through and not just be smothered in prosthetics'

One thing that really struck me on the show is that no two orcs look alike. They're very distinctive in their facial features and their size and coloring. How did you approach creating such a broad swathe of different orc creatures?

We're in a different age of Middle-earth [from the "Lord of the Rings" movies], but you still have to hark back to them, because at the end of the day, the ages that we've already seen through past productions has created an expectation.

And also there's the reality of filmmaking — it will always be a man in a suit, so you can only go so far. And that person, especially with this production, has some pretty heavy running around and stunt work and action and fighting sequences to do, so you have to make it something they can actually perform in. We have a tiered system — you create your hero lead orcs, and then off the back of that, you have some stuntees [the orcs who take part in orc-related stunts on the show], and then you get into the mass extras.

At the very top end, all the hero orcs are very different. We try to pick different-sized people and also people who look and perform differently as well. That filters down to the stuntees, where there's some unique looks, but we have to fit it to the stuntee's face — we can't choose the stuntee for his looks, we have to choose him because he is the one who can perform. And then you get down into the extras, which is when you get into the repetition, because we are taking elements from those heroes, plus some other generic bits and we're mass producing masks and stuff. So it does get a little repetitive down there, because I can't do a thousand different looks, that's just too much. But at the upper end, which obviously you are seeing and your eye is focused on, is our heroes, and we let the character of the person, the actor inside, come through and not just be smothered in prosthetics.

That also meant that they had plenty of maneuverability in the face and make facial expressions, so that's probably why you're seeing quite a lot of differences. Then on top of that, you've got a myriad of scars and color palettes to add as you wish. So you can actually take the same prosthetic and tweak it with a few extra pieces and different coloration and it'll look like a whole other prosthetic all over again.

'It's like that fond memory you have of your grandpa and his big, dangly ears'

For the hero orcs, even though they were different, was there any throughline you had for them?

We also broke them down into various categories. So there's the leaders, and then there's the crazy serial killer orcs. There are five different categories that we had, and then we worked with the script and the actor that was chosen, and we'd say, "Well, that's actually a leader role, so we want someone that has the features of a leader, which is more upright and more educated, probably — a squarer jaw, that kind of thing. And then there were some we called the Reavers, which are the crazy, fighting orcs and they were skinny and slightly insane.

The Reavers and the serial killers — is that the same category or were those two separate orc categories?

Yeah, they're the same thing.

Was the Reavers a "Firefly" reference?

Oh, that's way above my pay grade. I wouldn't know about that. I've never seen "Firefly."

In episode 4, we also saw both King Durin III and Prince Durin IV. I know they're played by different actors, but I couldn't help but notice when they're seen together that they're clearly related. And I know in the original material from Tolkien, the dwarfs actually were supposed to be identical. When you were approaching the look for both Durins, did you have that in mind to make them almost identical?

We didn't go down the full avenue of ... them being identical, but we did hark back to what was described in the original writing. Take the nose, for example — for the older father figure, the nose and ears are quite similar though we gave him a granddad nose, where it was slightly oversized, and the ears were a bit droopier. But they had the same characteristics. So that's why you can see a similarity, but it's not identical. It's like that fond memory you have of your grandpa and his big, dangly ears and his big nose when you were sitting on his lap.

'I started making hobbit feet in 1999 and I'm still doing it'

And I know we don't see them in episode 4, but obviously the harfoots are a big part of the show and they're the precursors to the hobbits. And we've obviously seen hobbits on screen in the movies, and I wondered when you're approaching creating the harfoot's feet, did make them look any different?

They're not overly different — they are oversized hairy feet. The only real difference is technology and usability. I started making hobbit feet in 1999 and I'm still doing it, and the technology has gotten better to make it more comfortable for the user.

We did that by thickening of the soles and different ways, and we made the toes moveable when they were wearing them to get more animation out of the feet and have it look less like a giant clown shoe that they're wearing. But the actual look is pretty much the same — they're big, hairy feet with mud on them.

You mentioned the technology changing over the decades — what do you think has been the biggest change for you in making prosthetics?

When we were doing "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which is 1999 to 2000, everything at the time was foam latex, which is basically a foamy sponge that has a skin over the top that you can paint. It's quite light, it's very movable, it tears easy. And it also absorbs all the juices that are given off by the body inside it, so it's not so much fun taking it off. And it's also quite dead as far as the paint — our skin is quite translucent, if you have sunlight behind your ear, you can see the sun glowing through it. With a foam latex you don't get that, it's just dead solid.

But when we came to the end of that production, Gimli was the first one that we did with an encapsulated silicon prosthetic. And that is now commonplace. For "The Rings of Power," we used encapsulated silicon, which is a skin of silicon with a more jelly-like silicon in the middle. It allows some light to pass through it and you can tone it to different levels to match skin colors.

It also warms to your body, it cools to the outside temperature, and it moves more and because it's more like skin, you actually get some light depth to it. It's a whole advancement, but on the flip side, it's heavier, it doesn't absorb the sweat, and it doesn't tear quite so easy.

New episodes of "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" drop on Prime Video on Fridays.