In an interview with Jamie Wilson, head of the prosthetics department on The Rings of Power, and Lindsey Weber, an executive producer for the series, we get more details on how the forces of evil will operate in this period of Tolkien’s vast fantasy saga. “We spent a lot of time talking about what it would mean to be an Orc in the Second Age. It felt appropriate that their look would be different, part of a wilder, more raw, Second Age, Middle-earth, closer to where the First Age ends.” Weber said, describing the more desiccated, haunted look of the orcs that we see in the preview images that IGN has been given. “As we meet them, they’re not yet organised into armies, they’re a little more scattered and they’ve been scavenging. So it’s just a different time in their total story.”
Wilson is what’s known as a “Sevener” on set. This means that he’s worked on all the filmed Lord of the Rings productions: the original Peter Jackson trilogy, the Hobbit trilogy, and now The Rings of Power. He’s been around these specific prosthetics and makeup for decades, and has spent a lot of time thinking about how orcs look on screen… and how to make them look that way.
“Time has changed a lot,” Wilson told IGN. “You go back 20 years and we used a basically foam latex, which is like a porous-y kind of rubbery, spongy material with a smooth or whatever textured surface. It was great at the time.”
He mentions that silicon was only in use during the original trilogy towards the end, when they were able to make some pieces for John Rhys-Davies as Gimli. Times, he said, have changed dramatically. “All the ears, noses, Orcs pieces are all made in encapsulated silicon, which is basically two layers of silicon with a moveable piece of silicon in the middle, so when it’s applied to the actor’s face, they can move and it works,” he explained. “It also gets the same temperature as their skin. And you can see the translucency and then you gently paint on the top of it, a bit like doing makeup on a human rather than having to seal and heavily paint like we did in the old days.”
Both Wilson and Weber also noted that while the prosthetics and practical makeup are incredibly advanced, there is still a lot of CGI in Rings of Power. The show, Weber explains, is simply not reliant on it to make the orcs look good — a lot of the digital enhancements will occur in larger ensemble shots. Close up, you’ll get to see the orcs in all their garish, practically-designed glory.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power debuts September 2 on Prime Video.