By Eoin Kelleher
THURLES native and special effects sculptor Mark Maher returned home recently after a spellbinding time working in what has to be every child’s dream job: crafting figurines and sculptures for Peter Jackson’s upcoming film version of JRR Tolkien’s literary classic The Hobbit.
Working in the Art Department under Dan Henna with some 28 other artists, Mark told the Tipperary Star that he made miniatures for about 120 sets with his own hands using imported Balsa Wood.
It’s a labour of love for Mark, who learned his craft on a PLC course in Thurles’ Colaiste Mhuire Co-Ed, before earning degrees in Model Making for Film from Dun Laoghaire IADT, and Production Set Design.
Thousands of artists send their portfolios to head of prosthetics Gino Acevido every week in the hope of being hired, but it takes a special artist to stand out of the crowd, and gain work behind the scenes at The Hobbit, where magic and fantasy are made real by the artist’s hand and the latest technology.
“It was all made out of Balsa Wood and different kinds of plastic,” says Mark. Working behind the scenes at The Hobbit was like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory every day. “Crazy things happen every single morning. You walk into the Art Department which is crazy enough. There could be somebody walking past you with a swords and spears, Goblins passing you, Hobbits walking around having cigarettes and lunch breaks. It was just weird, really surreal.”
Living in Miramar, the ‘Hollywood of Wellington’, Mark went to New Zealand to pursue his dream having heard that The Hobbit was due to be filmed as a prequel to the blockbuster trilogy Lord of the Rings.
It was a great honour to work with Peter Jackson, says Mark. “For me as a Model Maker, that’s about the highest you can go, to work with him.”
Mark has plans to exhibit some of his own work around Thurles, and Dublin, with painter and Wexford native Deborah Reidy. With an interest in all things Oriental, these will include miniatures of Japanese villages, architecture and design. “Put them on box and Perspex display. They’re really highly detailed, but it shouldn’t’ take more than two to three weeks per building.”
Mark also has plans to set up some fantasy workshops for the next generation of budding artists, and has met with some Irish filmdirectors regarding some upcoming home-grown cinema. “I’d like to exhibit in The Source, but it costs a lot of money.” The specialist materials and balsa wood are prohibitively expensive, and Mark is hoping some local Tipperary businesses might sponsor his work.
Young sculptors hoping to get their foot in the door of the industry should remain be persistant, but don’t pester.
“You can hound people, but you can’t over-stalk them,” jokes Mark.
“Because then you will become really annoying to them. They get 50 to 100 portfolios per week. You get people who dress up as Hobbits and hang around the studios hoping for work, holding their portfolios up. But they’re looked on as crazy people.”
Mark hopes people can help with his Source exhibition in the next three months. The exhibition is a joint audio visual exhibition/installation for the Source, matching Mark’s art with sounds to Deborah Reidy’s paintings.
Sound Engineer Jason Purcell, who travelled to New Zealand with Mark, is also working on the project. Mark also thanked local artist PJ O’Connor who was a huge influence on him in his formative years.