The production of The Lord of the Rings film series under Peter Jackson's direction was an enormous challenge, starting in 1997 and ending in 2004. Many earlier attempts had failed; most that had reached the screen were animations, and many filmmakers and producers had considered how to achieve the task and then set it aside. The film series as realized consists of three epic fantasy adventure films based on J. R. R. Tolkien's eponymous novel. They were produced by New Line Cinema, assisted by WingNut Films; the cinema versions appeared between 2001 and 2003, and the extended edition for home video in 2004. Development began in August 1997. The three films were shot simultaneously, entirely in Jackson's native New Zealand, from October 1999 until December 2000, with pick-up shots from 2001 to 2003.
Storyboarding began in 1997; the Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe worked as conceptual artists throughout the project, Lee mainly on architecture, Howe on characters such as Gandalf and the Balrog. Extensive sets were built, including the village of Hobbiton. Weta Workshop created armour, weapons, prosthetics, creatures and miniatures. Some of the miniatures, such as of the city of Minas Tirith, were very large and extremely detailed, becoming known as "bigatures". The work was driven by Jackson's desire for realism, to give the effect of history rather than fantasy. Animals were studied to make the creatures biologically believable; weapons and armour were based on appropriate medieval or classical era peoples. Some 48,000 pieces of armour, 10,000 arrows, 500 bows, 10,000 Orc heads, 1,800 pairs of Hobbit feet serving as shoes, and 19,000 costumes were created for the filming.
The composer Howard Shore saw the set in August 2000 and watched the assembly cuts of the first two films. He created around 100 leitmotifs to represent themes (such as the Ring), cultures, and characters, a record in the history of cinema, resulting in a long, complex and award-winning film score.
Special effects broke new ground in filmmaking, from prosthetics to almost wholly digitally-realized creatures such as Gollum. The Hobbits are represented as 107 cm tall, and the Dwarves as 137 cm tall, requiring sets both at normal scale for Men and Elves, and at larger scale for Hobbits and Dwarves — these were able to use the same scale of sets by virtue of the casting of shorter actors for Hobbits, taller actors for Dwarves. Monsters such as trolls, the Watcher in the Water, the Balrog, and the Ents were created entirely with computer-generated imagery, requiring months of design work from sketches to maquettes and finally computer work. Many scenes were created by filming natural scenery or miniatures, and combining these images with those of actors on a green-screen studio set.

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