Interview with Middle-earth: Shadow of War Live Action Trailer Director
Middle-earth: Shadow of War releases in just a few weeks time, and here at PC Aficionado, we had the chance to talk to the director of the recently released live-action action trailer, Neil Huxley, about the film and the game. We also have some exclusive behind the scene photos from the film, as well as some extended footage with alternative endings to the trailer.
PCA: So outside of Peter Jackson’s movie franchise this is the first live action piece that he has not created, did he have any involvement at all? If not would you have liked him to see it and what do you think his opinion would be?
Neil Huxley: I have no idea if he had any involvement. I certainly wasn’t privy to it. If he has seen it, I do hope that he liked it.
PCA: Now there is a huge amount of controversy regarding the use of CGI in the Hobbit films to represent the Orcs and Goblins. Looking at the footage it looks like the Uruks are all costume and makeup. What made you make this decision, and why? (And thank you!)
Neil Huxley: I’m glad you noticed and that the work resonates with you! Yes, it was always my intention from the very beginning to get as much material as possible in-camera. We needed to connect with these creatures on an emotional level, something that is very hard to achieve in CGI. Very few attempts become successful, and the CGI that does look amazing usually has immense budgets and long schedules, so you never really know if you are going to obtain that level of fidelity.
In my opinion, if you can shoot it then you can always augment it later if you need to. Luckily for us Rogier Samuels and his team at Unreal did such an amazing job. You get those beautiful imperfections when you shoot practical. There’s a shot of Noruk (Spencer Wilding) at the end where he screams into camera, and if you step through it you can see his stringy saliva and tonsils vibrating at the back of his throat. These elements are so important for authenticity, and painful to achieve in CGI. As a result it became my mantra to shoot the featured Orcs practicalget as much material as possible in-camera to extend sets, extend the battle and replace sky’s etc in post.
PCA: Did you take any influence from the Lord of the Rings movies themselves when directing these pieces of footage? If so which one influenced it the most?
Neil Huxley: Not really. These games sit in a place of their own. The movies do set the quality bar extremely high, and so that became my main target – to achieve something that looks as good as any Peter Jackson film, if not better. Anything less just wouldn’t be good enough for me, for the gaming fans, or for everyone involved. I still love The Fellowship of the Ring because there are in-camera prosthetics and practical miniatures. I grew up on films like this during the ‘80’s and they sure left a mark on me, features such as The Thing, The Fly, Terminator, Aliens, the list goes on and on…
PCA: You worked for 18 months on James Cameron’s Avatar, which is no small task. Is there anything you learnt in your time working on the film that helped in the development of Shadow of War? if so, how did you adapt it to fit an entirely different piece of footage?
Neil Huxley: I think you learn from every project that you work on, and Avatar was no exception. It was one of those dream jobs for me. Working with Jim was a childhood ambition, a dream of mine since I first saw Terminator and Aliens as a young boy. His attention to detail is on another level, something I always try and implement in my own work. The ability to keep your eye on the big picture is also important. People get bogged down in the minutia of a shot or sequence. You have to ask, ‘Does it communicate the message you need it convey? Does it look amazing?’ If the answer is yes, put a fork in it and move on, otherwise you’ll never finish the job in time…
PCA: Was there anything that didn’t make it to the final cut that you would have really liked for viewers to experience? What stopped these from seeing the light of day?
Neil Huxley: No. It’s all in there. We didn’t have the luxury, or the time, to shoot anything that wasn’t storyboarded and pre-visualized. We packed a huge amount of coverage into those 7 days of shooting. It was a very rapid and very brutal shoot, but a helluva lot of fun!
PCA: How do you make sure it still feels like we’re in The Lord of the Rings world and not, for example, Game of Thrones or Vikings? Obviously we have all the Orcs and Uruks that we are all very familiar with but does anything else come to mind?
Neil Huxley: I think that each environment is different. You see all this in our opening shot. We have dark storm clouds rolling in, ethereal lightning and Mount Doom in the distance. This places the audience directly into Mordor, right from the opening shot. If you establish environment in this way then you are immersed in this world from the onset.
PCA: What has been your proudest moment when working on this product? On the flipside what has been your least?
Neil Huxley: Too many proud moments to mention – and that is saying a lot because I am very critical of my work. Directing on such a huge scale was something I always knew I could do, I just needed the chance to prove it. I will say that you sure know if you are cut out to be a director when you are standing on the frozen Black Sea at minus 15 degrees Celsius, with an hour of sunlight left and 3 more shots to get, and 20 crew members standing in front of you asking you what do you want to shoot next! But there was never any fear, it was always excitement for everyone on set. Sure, there were stressful times but I’m really proud of the work that we all produced.
PCA: Lastly – is there anything you want to tell our readers directly about Shadow of War?
Neil Huxley: I have to tell you I already played the demo at E3 – and it was an amazing experience! So much deeper and larger than the first game. My friends won’t be seeing me for a couple of weeks when SOW comes out.
Stay tuned for PC Aficionado for more news on Middle-earth: Shadow of War on the run up to it’s release next month on PC, Xbox One and PS4.