VFX Producer Ron Ames: LOTR Rings Of Power Episode 6

WARNING: This article includes SPOILERS from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1, episode 6, « Udûn. »VFX producer Ron Ames breaks down The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1, episode 6, « Udûn, » and teases the final two episodes. Things are starting to come full circle on Amazon Prime’s Lord of the Rings adaptation, with only a few episodes left to air in season 1. This week’s episode, « Udûn, » served, in many ways, as the first hour in an unofficial 3-part season finale. As the last few episodes have been building up the battle for the Southlands, episode 6 brings it to fruition in one of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’s most action-packed hours thus far.

While Galadriel and the Númenóreans made it to Middle-Earth to aid the Southlands, the victory was only temporary. Towards the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, episode 6, Sauron’s blade gets planted and causes the eruption of Mount Doom, putting everyone in the Southlands in grave danger. Not only does it set up the final two episodes in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1, but it serves as a game-changer for all the characters.

With only two episodes remaining, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power VFX producer Ron Ames, who broke down the technical makings of episode 6. Since this is one of the most ambitious productions in television, there were a lot of moving parts that had to come together to pull off the massive action beats with a combination of practical and visual effects.

Screen Rant: Before you joined the show, did Lord of the Rings have a big role in your life? Was this a franchise you were already in love with?

Ron Ames: That’s a good question. First of all, let me just quickly set the table and introduce myself and my role on the show. I was one of the producers, and I produced the technical parts of the show. Everything from camera capture to exhibition, including visual effects, music, sound, post-production, and prosthetic makeup, those were my domains.

In regards to Lord of the Rings? Yes, certainly. I was a fan of the Tolkien books as a young man. I love science fiction and fantasy. Those books in particular were extremely meaningful to me as a young man. In terms of the movies and all the rest of it, I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s work and respected it technically and in every other way. But when I was invited into this, there was a whole new world of learning that arose. So, it was fantastic. I entered a new world, I can tell you that! [laughs]

I think it goes without saying that every episode really feels very cinematic. Every week I keep forgetting I’m watching a TV show, but episode 6 really takes it to a different level because of the massive battle for the Southlands. Can you walk me through the VFX side of things of bringing it all to life with the technical aspects?

Ron Ames: Yes, and I would like to add to your comment. We never considered this a television show, we always considered this a cinematic event over eight hours. What’s interesting, I think—and we’re not the only ones doing this, there is a whole movement towards a hybrid form—is it wasn’t a série for série sake. It’s just, how do you tell the story in any other way?

We knew that the story needed this kind of approach. If you look at it, episode 6 is really the beginning of the third act. I think you’ll see…[laughs] It continues, is all I can tell you! This whole episode was really a great episode thanks to our director, Charlotte Brändström, Alex, our camera person, and our second unit director, Vic Armstrong. He is the most famous stuntman in the world, and he is a British gentleman, [a] classic! He was Indiana Jones, for God’s sake! He’s a great filmmaker.

The battle scene was designed and worked out from beginning to end, all the way from the arrival of the Númenórean horse tack driving up the valley into the town, all the way through the final battle; the jousting session in the woods that takes place as Galadriel chases Adar. It was designed in a number of ways. Every single action beat happens for real. When someone falls off a horse, when the horses are riding across the plane, all of that is real. But what we added—and this was really a Michael Bay trick; this is something we’ve learned over the years—was to not make the things that you think are visual effects a visual effect. Make the things that aren’t the visual effects. In this particular case, it’s the additional people on the ground.

A lot of this was because of safety. In this day and age, neither animals nor human beings can be hurt. We really have to be scientific and practical about that. It was a muddy ground and there are sharp weapons, so all of it was choreographed and rehearsed for weeks. Every single beat was planned and then photographed with multiple cameras, and sometimes doing multiple passes. If a horse jumps over a group of people, we will shoot the people on the ground, and then the horse jumping over them, or vice versa, and then put those things together. But every actual event in it really did take place and the battles and the fighting and the hand to hand, all real deal stuff. All classic British horse charge, designed by Charlotte and Vic. It was so much fun.

The show was produced during the pandemic. I’ve talked to various artists and talents over the last two years about their own respective challenges of having to participate in production during these circumstances. Given the large scope of Rings of Power, and everything that goes into it, how did the technical side get affected by the pandemic?

Ron Ames: Again, that’s a really interesting question, thank you for asking! There was something about this show that was unique from the very beginning. Because we were working with Amazon, we wanted to do this production as a cloud-based production, meaning everything from camera capture to art department would be stored and shared through cloud-based production. That was just a challenge we wanted to face. We had the opportunity to have basically unlimited cloud storage and interconnectivity.

When the pandemic hit, we were weirdly situated to be able to move to a hybrid form of production because everything with our vendors all across the world, from Wellington, with our friends at Weta, to ILM in Singapore; San Francisco, Sydney, the various Montreal companies; DNEG in London who did the horse battle. That was their big scene and they did a fantastic job. We were able to quickly adapt. It works to our advantage, and it gave us more reason to use those tools and find ways to make that a standard. I think it really is the future of filmmaking, and it saved our bacon.

This episode really is a game changer and puts our characters through a lot as we go into these final episodes. I feel all of the characters have their own moment throughout all the action beats. Did you have a particular favorite one that stuck with you?

Ron Ames: Yes, and I love it for a number of reasons. At the end of the episode, when the plan that we’ve seen hints of actually takes place, and the lake overflows its boundaries and flows down the waterfall, into the valley onto the ground, all of that into the volcano. That is some of the most complex storytelling visually, to actually pull off and make it feel real and integrated. Jason Smith, who was our visual effects supervisor, designed all of it—including a lot of the prosthetic makeup as well.

Then my favorite part is that it was an interconnected production between Weta, ILM and Rising Sun Pictures visual effects. The battle earlier was all DNEG. Each of these comp anies were cast, but during this particular segment where all of this stuff happens, one false note would just completely take you out. You’re following a water path and then paying it off with a giant environmental explosion. To pull that off and make it not cringe worthy was super complex. Then to do it with multiple vendors when one shot leads right into another, you would not know where those vendors change. It was all of those hands all working together with a singular vision. As I actually say it to you, I really am very proud of that sequence.

I felt almost like the volcano became a character in its own right. We see everyone having horror in their eyes about what’s about to happen. Everyone who worked on this episode should be very proud of the hard work that you’ve accomplished. Was there anything that got cut for whatever reason, whether it was something that you guys had in mind while shooting and creating visually that just got a little bit too ambitious?

Ron Ames: No, actually, what you see was precisely what we designed. It was fully intentional, from beginning till end. There wasn’t anything that was cut, there was no gag that we said, ‘Oh, this is too hard.’ Never, and it was really an interconnection between everyone; the water coming out of the ground was a practical effect done by our special effects department actually blowing that water at very high pressure out of the ground. The bombs falling were all CG. But there was handoffs between real fire, real smoke, real explosions on the ground, Arondir shooting dust and dirt, the actors falling on the ground or rolling about selling the gags.

It was really, really well done, orchestrated, planned and pulled off in a relatively short time. We shot all of that stuff with multiple cameras. And again, Vic Armstrong and Charlotte, working together with a bunch of camera crews. It was really, really orchestrated. I don’t think we missed anything. I can’t think of something we have. Because it was so beautifully planned. The one thing we also did was we had editorial at all times on the set. While we were shooting it, Charlotte and Vic were cutting it so we would shoot a shot, cut it and say, « Yes, move on. » It was really a useful thing. We had both a trailer on set and an editor actually sitting right there out in the open, capturing the footage shooting cutting as we went

This show has a huge reach all over the world from all different ages and cultures. How has it been for you as a producer to see the response to Rings of Power now that we’re getting closer to the end of the season?

Ron Ames: There’s things that surprised me, the fact that the fan base is so knowledgeable and that they are following all of the Easter eggs that we’ve placed, I love that. It is so much fun to see all of our work and we always wonder, « Are they going to get this? » That’s always the question, is the audience really going to get this, and to see that they do is fantastic.

And look, there’s some negative press about the things that I’m most proud of, [which is] the diversity and the goodwill of the show. It really was intended to be something that brings us together. The idea that fellowship, friendship, goodwill, and honor are important in this world. I’m proud of all that. And I think the audience is getting that. We don’t rely on any cheap tricks. It’s all hard earned and I think the language in the writing is dense and beautiful. So yeah, it’s actually one of my favorite projects in my life among some pretty cool projects.

I will say that this particular member of the press couldn’t be happier about the inclusivity of this show. As a Persian man seeing someone like Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) come into play, I love being able to see myself in this world. I’m happy that inclusivity is something that you guys are really putting at the forefront of the show. As we go into these final episodes, without giving away spoilers, what can you tease our readers?

Ron Ames: As we’re moving into the third act, I think what the audience is going to find is all of the things that we’ve set up in episodes 1 through 5, and really start to pay off in 6 will all weave together in a way that I find extremely satisfying. None of it is completely on the nose. But it is satisfying and a lot of the questions will be answered. Not all of them, but a lot of them. It is really a third act. This is where we’re getting towards the near end of the movie, which is how really it’s constructed. That’s what’s coming up but I will tell you, it never lets up, [laughs] not till the very end.

Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness.

Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.

Check out our interviews with The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power cast at SDCC 2022, as well as with:

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1 drops new episodes every Friday only on Amazon Prime.