Wachowski’s wanted to make “Lord of the Rings”

Minnesotans were involved in the biggest decisions concerning “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and the tiniest details.

Producer Barrie Osborne (Carleton College, class of ’66), oversaw the three films’ staggering budget and logistics. Minneapolis toy sculptor Steve Kiwus crafted every millimeter of the tie-in action figures.

Although the two never have met, they share a passion for the project and a sense of pride in what they consider the best work of their careers.

Kiwus, 43, owner of Eightball Studios in south Minneapolis, created the Jesse Ventura doll, as well as dozens of action figures for Marvel Comics, the World Wrestling Federation, and the “Xena” television series.

A graduate of New York’s Parsons School of Design, he got into the toy business after a brief, unsatisfying excursion into jewelry-making. “Polishing brass, applying patina, carting it to the plater — too messy,” he said.

As an intern at now-defunct Lakeside Games (best remembered for “Barrel of Monkeys”), he crafted dragon and battering-ram accessories for a medieval game called “Crossbows and Catapults.” Within a few years he had established himself as one of the country’s premier toy sculptors, busily freelancing designs for the biggest companies in the field.

“From there it was toy history,” he joked. “Just look at the shelves.”

Although Kiwus already has completed the figures for next year’s “Spider-Man,” he thinks the “Lord of the Rings” figures are his best, thanks to the amount of money Toybiz agreed to spend on parts and tooling. Unlike most plastic figures, whose outer costume is the only layer of sculpting, Gandalf and friends wear multiple layers of individually sculpted garments.

To ensure photorealistic accuracy, “we got full-body laser scans for each actor in his underwear,” Kiwus said. “Except for Liv Tyler. Just think what those would have sold for on the Internet!”

Engineering an epic

Osborne, 57, who joined the Army Corps of Engineers after falling in love with films at Carleton, has worked as a producer, production manager or assistant director on films including “The Matrix,” “Apocalypse Now,” “The Big Chill,” “Face/Off,” “The China Syndrome” and “Dick Tracy.”

His role with “Lord of the Rings” was to make sure the film triptych came in on schedule and on budget. That meant watching every aspect of the productions, from acquiring thousands of “chain-mail” vests made from lightweight plastic, to overseeing a 2,000-person crew, to creating a satellite system through which director Peter Jackson could watch remote shoots by his battle-filming unit, scenic unit, “blue-screen” unit and four miniatures units.

It required “a level of care and attention to detail unlike anything I’d ever experienced before,” Osborne said. After an 18-month shooting schedule, however, the three “Rings” films will be completed for not much more than their original budget of $270 million. (Parts Two and Three are due in December of 2002 and 2003.)

Taking on the grueling project meant relinquishing producing duties on the highly anticipated “Matrix” sequels, incurring the ire of megamogul Joel Silver, who harangued Osborne by cell phone as the producer trudged through waist-deep snow, scouting locations for “Lord of the Rings.”

Osborne is confident he made the right choice — especially since “Matrix” directors Andy and Larry Wachowski confessed that they wanted to do a “Rings” trilogy for years but couldn’t persuade Warner Bros. to do it.

Source: Star Tribune