Ian McKellen was a formidable presence as the wizard Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy – being, among other things, the only actor in the series to receive an Oscar nomination for his efforts. It took a while for the veteran actor to officially sign on for Jackson’s two-part adaptation of The Hobbit, but that was the least of the project’s pre-production woes.

Principal photography on the Hobbit movies begins in less than two weeks time, and McKellen has already provided fans with an early update that concerns Martin Freeman‘s costume tests as a young Bilbo Baggins.

Jackson and his filmmaking crew are sparing no expenses in realizing J.R.R. Tolkien’s original tale of a grey-haired wizard, thirteen adventurous dwarves, and one flustered hobbit who set out on a grand adventure in Middle-Earth. The two Hobbit films are estimated to have a production budget around $500 million combined and will be shot using state-of-the-art 3D RED EPIC digital cameras, which are far more amiable and mobile than standard 3D camera rigs.

McKellen offered a teaser of what Freeman as Bilbo will look like in three dimensions with the following story, which was posted on his official site:

I was visiting old friends in the Stone Street offices and heard Martin Freeman was just round the corner by the permanent greenscreen, done up as Bilbo, testing his costume in front of the 3D cameras. Indeed, there he was in the open air, mostly oblivious to the camera, though turning this way and that as required. Martin improvised a hobbity gait, padding back and forth, testing his big hairy Hobbit feet, pointy ears and little tum.

Beneath the shade of a tent, in a sun hat, Andrew Lesnie was remotely controlling the two lenses within the mighty camera which digitally records in 3D. His screen showed the familiar 2D image but next to it, above the director’s chair, was a large colour screen in full magical three dimensions, much as it will appear in the cinema — courtesy of the spy-glasses that transform the blurred outlines onscreen to the high definition exactitude of the 3D effect.

Tolkien’s original Hobbit is a charming fantasy yarn full of colorful characters and strange beasts (trolls, dragons) that were not glimpsed in Jackson’s Rings trilogy. It’s nowhere near the grandiose drama or epic adventure story that those three films were, but that’s arguably for the best. Jackson and his fellow filmmakers have already endured enough production issues without having to be concerned about recapturing the same tone and sweeping atmosphere of the trilogy as well.

Recall also that although Guillermo del Toro vacated the director’s chair some nine months ago, he still spent two years crafting the Hobbit screenplays and designing the films’ fantastical creatures and locations. Jackson will certainly put his own visual stamp on the project as a director, but del Toro’s touch should still shine through to some degree in the final product.

The world will at last get to see The Hobbit brought to life when the first film (which may have a subtitle other than Part 1) arrives in December of 2012, followed by the second chapter a year later.

Source: Ian McKellen