The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is one of the most visually exciting television shows running today, and season one of the series is full of rich and detailed worlds that feel huge in scale but always keep the focus on its characters. When production designer Ramsey Avery joined the show and initially discussed with showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, he explained how they wanted to ensure that each world felt as real as they could, as he talked about designing the first season with Awards Radar on Zoom:
“They wanted to make sure that it felt very real in the sense that there’s a real sense of specificity in Tolkien’s writings and even in the Peter Jackson movies. There’s a sense that these are actual places. Tonally, they also wanted to ensure that every culture was clearly distinct and that they came from a solid basis of what represented the culture. They wanted to make sure that anybody who tuned in at any point in time would be able to recognize exactly where they were without having to think about it any further. They also didn’t want to do many visual effects on the world. They wanted anything the actors were inhabiting, touching, or working within to be real. They wanted us to be able, to be honest, and respectful to J.R.R. Tolkien‘s world, very distinct to each culture, and to build as much as we possibly could.”
Avery also discussed his collaboration with the show’s three directors, J.A. Bayona, Wayne Che Yip, and Charlotte Brändström, who all had a different style in how they approached their episodes.
While working with Bayona, Avery explained that he “had a very strong visual sensibility that he wanted to explore. He wanted to lean into the epic characteristics of our storytelling and find a way to get the personal stories embedded within that epic sensibility. He asked me to do something which I have never encountered on any other project. He wanted at least one or two pieces of key art for every scene in those first two episodes, which is a tremendous amount of art to work through. However, that process allowed us to become very specific about what we tried to say in each shot and how it told the visual and narrative stories. So we worked with we worked very carefully through a lot of artwork to help come up with what those first two stories were about.”
When Wayne Che Yip came in, Avery already knew he would inherit what Bayona established, but he also established the world of Númenor.
“We had lots of conversations with myself and Wayne, back and forth about what Númenor was, how he wanted to reveal that, and what our process was. Through all that, we wanted to figure out our historical references. Wayne had a distinct vision of how he wanted to present a world that is so exciting and epic and still had those bases of reality and personal individuality in it.”
In working on the show’s action-heavy episodes with Brändström, there were many logistical challenges in figuring out how to craft the battle scenes.
“One of the biggest components was figuring out what the aftermath looked like and how we approach pure horror after the volcano has exploded but still keep that sense of epicness of Middle Earth. We were trying almost to find a way to make that volcanic eruption beautiful and the aftermath of it strangely attractive, even though it was horrible. That was a series of explorations with her in those types of specific uses of sets and designs we’d already created. Of course, every filmmaker is working for the showrunners. We’re all working for the showrunners, and all of that happens within the umbrella of what Patrick and J.D. are trying to create.”
As with every conversation on The Rings of Power, there was much to discuss. We also discussed Avery’s familiarity with the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, his collaboration with the visual effects department (check out our interview with VFX producer Ron Ames and costume designer Kate Hawley, who briefly mentioned working with Avery here), distinguishing each world through the designs, the process of crafting Mordor, Númenor, and many more worlds. It’s a wide-ranging conversation containing FULL SPOILERS for the first season, so be warned.
You can listen to the full conversation below and stream all episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Prime Video.
[Some of the quotes in this article were edited for length and clarity. The audio conversation has also been slightly edited.]