Most Of The Lord Of The Rings' VFX Team Had Never Made A Movie Before

Though it has contributed to some of the highest-grossing movies of all time, including "Avatar" and "Avengers: Endgame," Peter Jackson's visual effects company, Wētā FX (formerly known as Weta Digital), was still in its infancy when it set to work on "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Jackson had co-founded the company with Sir Richard Taylor and Jamie Selkirk in the 1990s, when it handled the effects for his films "Heavenly Creatures" and "The Frighteners," along with the Robert Zemeckis sci-fi adaptation "Contact." However, neither Wētā nor Jackson had attempted anything on the scale of "The Lord of the Rings" before, and the majority of its VFX team had no prior filmmaking experience.

In a 2010 interview with, Taylor — who also serves as Wētā's creative director — was asked to pinpoint the thing he was most proud of when looking back at the legacy of "The Lord of the Rings." The British emigrant and knighted New Zealander said:

"This is a little less tangible tha[n] just one thing. The first is that we were able to empower this young group of New Zealanders to achieve at a level that would fulfill an audience's expectations. Only one-eighth of our staff had ever worked on a film or TV show before. The group came together driven not by their experience or knowledge, but more by their artistic passion and their inspiration. That makes for a challenging outfit, but ultimately makes for a far more enjoyable journey, because people are unbridled by the knowledge attained, and they go in with a complete conviction that anything they throw themselves at will ultimately come out okay."

From The Fellowship of the Ring to The Return of the King

All three "Lord of the Rings" movies won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and looking back at the trilogy, you can see how the effects evolved and became more prominent in the last movie, "The Return of the King," versus the first movie, "The Fellowship of the Ring." This is something that Viggo Mortensen, who starred in the trilogy as Aragorn, was later critical of, since he saw it as part of an overall trend toward CG grandiosity in Jackson's filmography.

"The Fellowship of the Ring" used in-camera techniques like forced perspective and sets built to different scales to give the illusion of the hobbits' small stature among the other fellowship members. The film's VFX crew was still working out the kinks of a new simulation system called MASSIVE, which software engineer Stephen Regelous created to help fill out the armies on the battlefield in the opening scene.

By the time they got to "The Return of the King," the number of required VFX shots had tripled to almost 1,500, according to the Extended Edition DVD documentary on Wētā. They were learning as they went, and the fact that they were able to produce Oscar-winning effects for one of the greatest film trilogies of all time with a staff of artists, most of whom had never worked on a movie before, is a testament to the Wētā team's early creativity and can-do spirit.