Shooting so many versions of the same scene in such a short period of time was hard on the actors, particularly due to the extensive prosthetic makeup they wore. Each of the three ‘Slay Your Nemesis’ endings included a different makeup change for actor Charlie Rawes, who plays Talion’s Orcish ally, Mogg. “There’s one where he’s burnt, one where he’s poisoned, and another where he’s scarred up by the gang,” Huxley recalls. “So that was three different makeup changes in just one day for poor Charlie. And it absolutely ruined his skin.”

Huxley explained that under normal circumstances, extensive makeup changes would happen over a period of days, but a tight production schedule hindered their ability to do so. “We wouldn’t have those endings if we hadn’t captured them in the manner that we did,” he said. “And unfortunately when you’re dealing with prosthetics being applied, then taken off , then reapplied, taken off yet again, then another reapplication—the skin can only take so much.”

Huxley elaborated by saying that although the harshness of adhesives used to keep prosthetics in place has lessened over the past twenty years, skin still has a hard time dealing with such abuse. “The next morning, Charlie woke up and he couldn’t see. His skin had swollen up, so we gave him a day off and shot him on the following day. Charlie was such a trooper! I don’t think many people would have been particularly happy about that experience.”

Huxley never fell short on praise for his cast and crew. “The beautiful thing about Charlie is his voice,” he added. “That’s his voice. There’s no change. We didn’t mess around with that in post. He’s got that really deep, monstrous voice. And it’s such a contrast to who Charlie is underneath the creature make-up, because he’s such a sweetheart.”

Charlie Rawes as Mogg

In the director’s opinion, Rawes embodied the character of Mogg in the same way that Spencer Wilding inhabited the role of Noruk, Talion’s nemesis. “Both those guys brought so much to those roles. They really did, especially Spencer. I’d walk on-set in the morning as he was having his makeup applied. He’d be standing with his arms outstretched and his eyes closed. Rogier and his team would be applying prosthetics and make-up, and I’d say, ‘Morning Spencer, how you doing?’ And he’d just be like, ‘ngghhhhhhh’. He was already in character as Noruk on set.”

Huxley laughed, imitating Wilding’s long, drawn out growl. “He basically just lets this creature out. The way he describes it is he’s sort of, ‘Spencer holds on for the ride as the beast is let out.’ He brought so much to that role. He’s a lovely man. So yeah, those guys—great makeup, great prosthetics, great armor, and the ability to inhabit a role. If you hire an actor underneath all that who can’t act through it, then you’re in major trouble.”

Elaborating, Huxley explained that for many actors wearing extensive prosthetics is a grueling experience. Layers of makeup, heavy costumes, and bulky weapons weigh on actors, who tend to withdraw into themselves as a means of dealing with such discomfort. “It’s very easy to just sit there and go to sleep,” he said. “You’ve got all these layers on your face, you’ve got contacts in, you’re wearing false teeth, and it’s all so uncomfortable. Plus you might have an itch that you just can’t scratch because it’s underneath layers of foam latex. So you often just want to go to sleep.”

Not every actor is up to the task of acting through prosthetics. “It takes a lot of energy,” Huxley continued. “You need a certain type of actor who can project character through prosthetics and become one with it. Those guys did such a great job because when I watch this, I feel like the prosthetic skin is their own skin, you know? It doesn’t feel like makeup. It feels like them. It feels like these Orcs are real, and that was a combination of amazing prosthetics by Unreal and the actors performing through all of those layers.”

A huge proponent of practical effects over computer generated graphics where possible, Huxley intended from the beginning to use prosthetics instead of CGI. “Movies with CGI that don’t quite get there take me out of the film as I simply don’t buy it,” he explained. “It feels like there’s no apparent threat if a creature isn’t really there. As a result, I don’t get scared, because I know it’s not real. It breaks that wall of reality.”

Since the Shadow of War trailer was meant to showcase the game’s Nemesis system, it was imperative for viewers to connect with the characters on screen. “It’s a massive part of the game,” Huxley said of the award-winning Nemesis system. “You form relationships with these creatures, whether they are good or bad. That’s the whole point.”

For the director, the Nemesis system was the biggest selling point of the previous game, Shadow of Mordor. “I thought that was so cool,” he reflected. “The fact that I was having a different gaming experience to somebody else. The whole Nemesis system means that every time you play the game, you have a different experience. So we had to have that same connection with the Orcs in this short film as players experience in the game.”

Huxley was adamant he would not have achieved the same level of character connection if he had gone with CGI over prosthetics. “It’s very hard to have an emotional connection with a character,” he explained. “Weta did it exceptionally well in Planet of the Apes with Caesar, but you’ve got some of the best teams in the world working on that character, along with [Andy] Serkis performing those scenes. Weta also had an extremely long schedule, and a much bigger budget than us because Planet of the Apes is a studio picture. I knew it would be really tough to get there with CGI for the lead Orcs on a short commercial schedule.”

In the end, Huxley believes his desire to use prosthetics was the correct choice. “You get so much more bang for your buck doing it practically. You get all these little imperfections that you never get in CG. For example, if you step through the second to last shot where Noruk screams into the camera, you can see Spencer’s tonsils vibrating as he screams, pulsating at the back of his throat with gobs of saliva. It’s so cool!”

Spencer Wilding As Noruk

Still, the use of some CGI was necessary. “We saved the CG for the dragons, Ologs and things of that nature which are insanely difficult to pull off practically.” 

In addition to dragons and cave trolls, CG and other visual effects were used to bring elements of gameplay into the trailer. Of particular note is the appearance of Celebrimbor, the elven spirit who possesses Talion, augmenting his abilities and power.

“So that was quite tough,” Huxley said of incorporating the wraith into live-action film. “In-game you can get away with magic and effects like that. It feels fine in that world. It works. But because this is live-action, what would Celebrimbor really look like? If I made him look like he does in the game, it’s not going to sit right in our live-action world, so some interpretation needed to be done.”

In the end, Huxley was pleased with the results. “MPC did some tests, and what we created feels nicely integrated into our world,” he said. “You believe it. If you compare Celebrimbor in our live-action spot to Celebrimbor in the game, you quickly realize it’s the same character because we’re using the same asset. But it just feels different because we’re in the real world. It’s the translation that’s important in these live-action trailers.”

An avid gamer himself, Huxley is big on faithfulness to the source material. “I love video games, and I love playing them. For me it’s all about authenticity and making sure the fans love what they see. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do here, to have fans engage with these campaigns.”

The director got to take a peek at Middle Earth: Shadow of War‘s gameplay for himself at this year’s E3 conference in Los Angeles. “There was a huge line for the demo,” he recalled. “But they snuck me in. And it’s incredible. It’s absolutely phenomenal.”

Laughing, Huxley described his experience playing the game at E3. “I played it for about twenty minutes, and got my ass handed to me by this giant Orc who killed me three times, and proceeded to be promoted to Captain and then War Chief. The Orc’s responses to you are much more pointed in the new game, and you take it more personally this time. It’s great the way it plays, because all I wanted to do was pick up the controller up and annihilate this guy who had pissed me off so much. I can’t wait to play it for real. People aren’t going to see me for weeks.”

Having that sort of connection with AI-driven NPCs is unusual in gaming. The feelings Huxley describes are far more commonly attributed to online multiplayer and player-versus-player games, where rivalries come naturally. “It’s the AI,” Huxley opined. “And the way they’ve done it is incredible. The whole Nemesis system feels so much bigger.”

“I love stories like this, that expand the universe,” said Huxley, who himself is a fan of Lord of the Rings. “They sit in between the stories that we know and love, and perhaps open doorways into other narratives and characters that you don’t know. Monolith has done such a great job with these games.”

“I guess this was a film made by a fan, in a way,” he mused. “I’m love this stuff. It was a dream job, and something that I wasn’t going to take lightly. It’s so rare to shoot a commercial of this size. It was an honor to be involved in the Lord of the Rings universe, and like Celebrimbor himself, leave my mark.”

Of course, getting the job meant pitching for it, but Huxley never questioned whether or not he would succeed. “It’s just something that I really enjoy doing,” he said. “I love pitching my ideas, especially for projects like this. It’s not like you’re pitching a toothpaste commercial. You’re pitching a Lord of the Rings TV spot!”

Shadow Of War - Talions Choice

In the end, Huxley’s obvious passion for the project won him the job, and he is grateful to have had the chance to prove himself. “Ever since I was a kid, this is what I was meant to do,” he stated. “And as soon as I got the shot to do it, I wasn’t going to miss.”

“Some of the people who have seen it so far have said, ‘holy s**t, how did you pull this off, especially in seven days?”

Ever humble, Huxley concluded with more words of praise for those who supported him and worked with him in the creation of the Shadow of War interactive trailer. “I can’t take credit for all of that,” he admitted. “It was such an amazing team I had working with me, plus incredible support from my production company Ruffian, a fantastic agency, and an understanding client. In the end, everyone pulled in the same direction to make this happen.”

“That’s when beautiful things happen.”

Check out the full-length ‘Friend or Foe’ trailer below, and be sure to bookmark and follow OnlySP on Facebook and Twitter for more news, reviews, and other great content about single-player games!

Jennifer Anderson
Also known as Twist, Jennifer is a gamer, author, and digital artist who spent the early days of her childhood beating her stepfather's friends at Space Invaders and Pole Position on a beat-up Atari console, after which they would promptly complain to her mother. Now a competitive Diablo 3 player, she splits her time between writing, loving her dog Emmie, and putting her monk through nephalem rifts in a quest for the top spot on the seasonal leaderboards.

New Live-Action Trailer for Middle Earth: Shadow of War

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