The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power features the island kingdom of Númenor, a long-lost civilization from J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings that had never been depicted on screen before the show. About Amazon spoke with Ramsey Avery, the production designer who brought Númenor to life in the series, to learn more about the never-before-seen island kingdom.
Here are eight inside secrets Avery shared about Númenor:
1.From incense to plants, the set of Númenor was filled with real smells and textures to feel fully immersive.
Avery set out with the goal of making everything on set as real as possible. “We wanted to rely very little on green screen or VFX for elements around the actors,” he said. “Where we could, we used real plants, flowers, and fruits, so the texture and smells were right. We burned incense to evoke a sense of a faraway place.”
2.A giant pool was used to create many of the scenes featuring Númenor’s waterfront.
As an island Kingdom, Númenor is a civilization centered on water. That meant creating a controlled environment to film waterfront scenes was a key priority for Avery and his team. Their solution? A very large pool. “It's about the equivalent of two Olympic-size swimming pools, more or less,” he said. “When you’re looking at many of the waterfront images from Númenor, all the foreground is actual scenery and the water is a part of the pool. I tried to bring as much real water into the set as possible—even when we featured things like fountains and pools.”
3.The crew discovered an unnamed beach in New Zealand.
Scenes depicting Númenor’s beaches were shot at a location so remote it was only accessible by boat or helicopter. “The beach didn’t even have a name. We called it ‘Pinnacle Beach’ for its amazing rock formations,” Avery said. The crew found the beach while riding in a helicopter over the coast of South Island. “It felt exactly like Númenor. It even had a cliff that had eroded to look like a giant head, like our concept art of the King Stones lining the entrance to the harbor.”
4.The back alleys of Númenor feature cement made from oyster shells.
In J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings, he described Númenor as a civilization that developed over thousands of years. With this in mind, Avery took inspiration from cultures with deep histories, like the Romans and the Greeks. “We discovered that Romans had a type of concrete they developed that was made with oyster shells,” he said. “We implemented that idea in our back alleys, creating rough concrete where you could actually see the seashells the city is built on.”
5.The set was built from real plaster, wood, and stone.
Most structures you see on film sets aren’t built to be lived in or used in a real-life setting. This was not the case for the set of Númenor. “We used a lot of real wood, real plaster, and even real stone,” Avery said. “The surfaces all felt real and not ‘Hollywood hollow.’ It was usually quicker and cheaper in New Zealand to use real materials instead of the movie fakery typically used to save time and money on sets in Los Angeles.”
6.One of the most challenging parts of bringing Númenor to life was the size of the set.
According to Avery, the size of the island kingdom presented the biggest challenge in bringing Númenor to life. “The city set was planned to be almost 300,000 square feet,” he said. “There were also multiple sets and locations showing all different parts of the city and its surroundings. The ship probably took the longest of any single set in the whole series to figure out.”
7.Rulers in Númenor did not sit above their people. They sat surrounded by their people.
While discussing the image above—depicting the Court of Númenor—Avery noted an important aspect of royalty in the series. “Conceptually, we did not want the rulers on a throne above their people,” he said. “We wanted them down amongst their citizens, so we created a sense of egalitarianism in this golden age by having the throne low in the space, all within a circular plan where everyone could hold a place of equal stature.”
8.Númenóreans love horses.
Much like the Elves, Númenóreans love horses. “They've got a strong horse culture going on in this kingdom,” Avery said. “When you see some of the wide shots of the set, look for a hippodrome [a stadium for horse and chariot racing].”