“These cows are small, Dougal. The ones out there are far away.” We all remember that famous line from the Father Ted TV programme but who knew it was actually key to how they made the hobbits look small in the multi-award winning The Lord of the Rings films? Throughout the three films, they used a number of techniques to make the hobbits appear smaller than the elves, humans, etc. including having smaller people as ‘scale doubles’. These people, slightly weirdly, wore masks of the actors’ faces to look like them from a distance and, of course, they also used CGI to make the hobbits appear small. That’s not what we’re about here at Paradox Place though. We’re much more interested in the fact they used forced perspective tricks, just like our pub table illusion, to create the small hobbits effect in some scenes.

What is Forced Perspective?

A forced perspective illusion is one where one person (or object) appears smaller than another because it is further away from the person viewing it. The trick, of course, is to make it appear that they are actually the same distance away. One way of doing this, like with the classic Beuchet Chair illusion, is to give the person in the background something that connects to the person in the foreground but is much larger than it would normally be. For example, with the Beuchet Chair (or our pub table), the seat of the chair (the top of the table) is much bigger than a normal one. The rest of the chair (table), in the foreground, is a normal size so when you look at the two parts of the furniture from a certain angle, it looks like they are one thing and the same size. Put a person on that chair seat (table top) and it looks like they’re very small in comparison. Why are we telling you all this? Because they used this exact trick to make actors like Elijah Wood look hobbit sized in the films.

Still Camera Shots

From The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by New Line Cinema, 2001.

With the still camera shots in the film, the illusion worked just like it does above. An example of this is the scene where Gandalf is talking to Frodo on the cart at the beginning of the film. It appears that Frodo and Gandalf are sitting side by side in the driving seat of the cart. In reality, when viewed from a different angle, Frodo is actually sitting further back on a much bigger seat. The actors, Ian McKellen (Gandalf) and Elijah Wood (Frodo) were told where to look to make it appear they were looking at each other when, in fact, Elijah was sitting a fair way back from Ian so would have been looking at the back of his head and Ian couldn’t see Elijah at all.

Move the Camera and it Gets Complicated

From The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by New Line Cinema, 2001.

The above method works well and just requires the technicians to get the camera angle and the scale of the set or props right to create the illusion. If you want to have a moving camera shot, however, things get interesting. Remember the scene a little later in the film where Gandalf is sitting at the kitchen table in Bag End telling Frodo about the One Ring and Frodo pours him tea? Frodo appears smaller there because Ian and Elijah are sitting at two different halves of the kitchen table with different scale props etc. It’s just like the cart scene except the camera pans around while they are talking. Imagine that! How do they maintain an illusion that is so dependent on perspective while moving that perspective? Well, they did it by moving one of the actors at the same time as the camera. The camera was on the usual moving camera dolly they use in films while Ian was sitting at a small table also mounted on a dolly. This meant that as the camera moved around, Ian moved slightly to maintain the perspective needed for the illusion. It meant that poor Ian had to learn about 3 different places to look to make it appear he was still looking at Elijah and it must have been quite tricky to act like he wasn’t moving when he was. Look out for this scene next time you watch the film and it’s quite amazing they did all that for a shot that is a fraction of a second long!

To experience forced perspective illusions up close and personal, come to visit Paradox Place and prepare to have your mind boggled. If you have any questions about our illusions, please get in touch on 01273 964000 or email info@paradoxplace.co.uk.