Ring Masters

The F/X makeup and magic was provided by Jackson's affiliate studio and workshop, Weta (named for a cockroach-like New Zealand insect). Special-effects designer Richard Taylor, a longtime collaborator, created thousands of weapons, armor, miniatures, and prosthetics, many surprisingly homemade. A team constructed hundreds of lightweight chain-mail suits, for instance, from pieces of plastic drainage pipe. For high-tech tasks, a computer program called MASSIVE made armies of CGI orcs, elves, and humans: digital creations that think and battle independently--identifying friend or foe--thanks to individual fields of vision. Jackson's team could click on one creature in a crowd scene of 20,000 and see through his "eyes." Different species even boast unique fighting styles.

It's those futuristic effects--and a collective desire for more of the same--that Ordesky says contributed to the boost in budget, now nearly $300 million by rock-bottom estimates. He maintains the originally announced $130 million commitment was a figure bandied about when the plan called for a two-parter rather than a trilogy. Doing the math with the new equation, however, still shows a $25-30 million budget increase per film. Most projects would have been long picked apart by gleeful Internet vultures at the slightest sign of budget bumps or crew upheavals. Yet LOTR's rep seems as impervious as mithril. That's partly a tribute to the faith of Jackson's followers. But credit must go also to New Line's complicated and intricate relationship with LOTR's ardents.

From his computer-crammed office in Los Angeles, Gordon Paddison manages an information kingdom that would make J. Edgar Hoover blush. As head of New Line's interactive marketing department, the velvet-voiced Paddison (a former actor) is credited with a groundbreaking approach to fansites. "Everybody has my home number, my e-mail, and my cell number," Paddison says. "I talk to fansites at three in the morning." New Line, in fact, launched its official site, lordoftherings.net, back in May 1999--two and a half years before the first film was to bow. More importantly, Paddison's outreach efforts with the top three dozen or so fansites have created a rather snug online community. He and other New Line execs answer an estimated 100 e-mails a day, shooting down rumors (like the one that servant Sam would be sex-changed to give Frodo a love interest) or just shooting the breeze. "Gordon is a genius," Ordesky says. "He's been brilliant at keeping an inclusionary vibe, and it's such a contrast to other big-budget Hollywood movies where the fans and the Internet are seen as things to be kept away." (Paging Mr. Lucas...)

The admiration was not always mutual. During the Kiwi summer of 2000, New Zealand native Erica Challis, of fansite TheOneRing[Registered Trademark].net, nearly got the law dogs sicced on her after planning a vacation around various LOTR sets, posting photos and tidbits along the way. Upon her return home, she received a trespassing notice-cum-restraining order. Challis took her case to the media. "They knew a story when they heard one," she says. "They were already pissed off because they were continually getting pushed around by security guards." Challis was becoming a folk hero--a fallen soldier of the Information Wars--when the studio did a smart 180, and began courting her with set visits and power lunches with producer Osborne.

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