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Saruman's Stronghold

The Making of Orthanc

© Lotrscenerybuilder 2010

IV. 'A tower of marvellous shape'


By completing the four main faces we were over the worst of it. Or so we thought. Then it dawned on us that there were still eight more faces to dress. We felt sympathy for Doug Bachelor who underwent the gruelling process not once, but two times:

"Having gathered together as much courage as I could,
I began the thoroughly rewarding, but mindnumbingly boring,
task of detailing the beast.
Beginning at the ground I started counting detail spines,
replicating them approximately and gluing them into place.
I made my way progressively up the tower,
cutting out windows and doors as I went.
Spines, lines, hooks, barbs and claws all feature
on the vast faces of the tower.
Days passed and then weeks drifted by…"

… not an encouraging prospect at all!


Our next aim was to complete the entire front side. After that, we would made a copy for the back. To finish the tower's shaft we would then join both halves by adding the left and right main face to the structure.


We produced two cardboard strips with the same length as the height of our tower. They were to become the corner faces. Like the MDF panels they were cut to pieces to keep in step with the building process.


According to J.R.R. Tolkien, there mounted a flight of twenty-seven broad stairs all the way up to Saruman's doorstep. Alan Lee remained true to the text: his masterly painting of Orthanc for the LOTR Centenary Edition does indeed show a total of twenty-seven stairs. In PJ's movie however, Christopher Lee has to descend no fewer than forty-two steps when he comes forth from the Weta bigature. On the contrary, the Weta Sideshow environment counts thirty-eight steps, while Doug Bachelor made only eight-een. Therefore, with twenty-one steps, ours is closest to the truth - after Alan's, of course.


The flight of stairs was glued to the tower's base at an angle of exactly forty-five degrees.


Cardboard 'fins' were then added on both sides of the stairs. According to Richard Taylor, the painting of Alan Lee made it look as if the tower walls were chipped out of black obsidian (a kind of volcanic glass). In the FOTR Appendices he explains how the miniature technicians of Weta built up their model by carving every single element out of micro-crystalline wax. Eventually, the 13feet high movie tower was cast into resin with the aid of a massive silicon mould.

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