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Creating a Hobbit’s world
by Tyler Orton and Kevin Mills
Gandalf’s staff — check. Goblin lanterns — check. Elven keys —check.
Crafting such mystical accessories was all part of a typical day for Chelsea Mainwaring, who spent eight months at a props studio for The Hobbit while the fantasy trilogy was filming in New Zealand in 2011.
The 25-year-old former Nelson resident and student at the Kootenay School of Arts, had a great time helping to create props for the characters inhabiting Middlearth.
Her uncle, Chris Kolmel owner of Kolmel Silver and Gold in Nelson, said the opportunity came up fast.
“She did the Kootenay School of the Arts and when she graduated, she just high tailed it to New Zealand because she heard they were filming the Hobbit. Everyone said she’s crazy and ‘there’s no way they are going to hire you,’ and she showed them all,” explained Kolmel.
He said Mainwaring was responsible for some key pieces in the film, including the key needed to enter the mountain, containing Smaug’s lair.
But she wasn’t involved in the second film in the series.
“She is in London right now.”
Mainwaring took the experience she gained and journeyed into another magical realm.
She flew to Northern Ireland at the end of October to seek work on the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones.
And while The Hobbit features the dragon Smaug, Thrones is known for a trio of young fire-breathing dragons under the care of an exiled princess.
Mainwaring said she has a tough time picking a favourite character from the hit HBO series, which has a reputation for killing off its significant players in rather capricious manners, but she’s ready for even the toughest conditions following her stint in New Zealand.
“Work on The Hobbit was one of the best, and also the hardest, experiences in my life,” she said via email.
“Apart from geeking out 24-7 and figuring out how to make these complicated things, was the pressure to get the work out on time. If not — or not done perfectly — then the scene would not get shot.”
Her first day working on the film series consisted of being plunked in front of her own steelwork table. She had never welded before in her life.
But the prop maker eventually fell into a groove, and would often come to work in the morning to find conceptual drawings of various objects sitting before her.
“From these, I would have to figure out how to construct them, followed by making them in all scales: human scale, dwarf scale and hobbit scale,” she recounted.
“A prop would then appear relative size to the character that held it.”
It’s a long way from when she went to Nelson, BC, to study silversmithing for two years beginning in 2008. After taking an 18-month excursion in the land of the Kiwis, Mainwaring said it was a “dream” to get work experience on the set of the The Hobbit.
In the midst of her work in film, she’s opened her own jewelry studio at her dad’s home on Bowen Island. There, she looks to that community for a creative trigger.
“It’s really the peacefulness, and raw beauty of this place that allows time for the imagination to ignite. Finding that gnarled root or walking between those spindled spider leg-like cedars definitely enhances inspiration,” she said.