Azog, Bolg … and Yazneg: The trio’s tangled design history

– Azog is Bolg, then Yazneg is Azog, then Azog is Azog …

To the general movie goer, not interested in the comings and goings that occur during the production of a film, or the juicy tidbits and rumours that trail along till the cinematic release, will undoubtedly shrug off any knowledge concerning the complex changes that two characters in ‘The Hobbit’ went through.

Avid fans eager for any piece of information during the last two or three years since the Trilogy sprung to life, will certainly have come across (or at least, heard) of the “yo-yo” design process in bringing to life the terrifying orcs better known as Azog and Bolg.

A process so volatile that it produced a completely new, non-canon orc character in the mix: Yazneg.

– It all starts with a 7-foot tall actor …Jackson & Stevens

Conan Stevens may not have been on the radar of most movie audiences, however, his towering height and muscular build were the perfect match in portraying the brutal character of Gregor Clegane in the first season of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’. Not only that, but back in May 2011, Peter Jackson hired him to bring to life the character of Azog in his trio of ‘Hobbit’ films.

Fans rejoiced (at least, I for one did) at the thought and confirmation, that we would be seeing this character on screen and played by someone who’s physical qualities were the right match for the great Orc during the battle of Azanulbizar against the Dwarves.

Bolg

No casting news was received regarding the character of Bolg … for a very long while; and many people started to think that his role would be scrapped and instead be completely replaced by Azog …

– John Rawls enters the scene

In early 2012, a new rumour began to spread that actor John Rawls had been given the role of Azog. Whatever happened to Stevens’ version was as yet unknown and still there seemed no official mention regarding the character of Bolg – until a few weeks later, through product descriptions released for the characters’ action figures, it appeared that Conan Stevens’ original role (and design) for Azog, was now destined to take over as Bolg.

Meanwhile, the name “Yazneg” popped out of nowhere and was thrown in amongst Bridge Direct’s line of products – Yaznegalong with other characters that were destined to become action figures. The mystery of this orc was peculiar, however, it was immediately noted that this character would form part of Jackson’s imagination within the Trilogy – considering there is no mention of the name anywhere in any of Tolkien’s works. Eventually, John Rawls was yet again announced to be playing this particular orc, Yazneg.

Back then, when we were all ignorant to the design changes, there was yet another question to be asked. If Conan Steven’s Azog now became Bolg, and John Rawls’ Azog was now Yazneg, then who would be Azog?

– Manu Bennett steps in … 

In August 2012 (a few months before the release of ‘An Unexpected Journey’) it was revealed that actor Manu Bennett Azogwould be portraying the orc by means of motion-capture. In October, the design of Yazneg (formerly, Azog) was finally revealed – tightly wrapped in hard plastic and a piece of cardboard. We finally got our image of what would have originally been Azog. In appearance, he certainly was not as daunting as Stevens’ Azog originally was; and now, having seen ‘An Unexpected Journey’, we know all about Yazneg’s story and his terrible faith half way through the film.

Meanwhile, there was no clue as to Bennett’s final Azog design until the release of the film itself. Impressive, daunting and boosting swag skills beyond anything human, Bennett gave a thrilling rendition of the brutal orc’s exploits.

However, as revealing as both Azog and Yazneg’s characters were, there was no sign of Conan Stevens Bolg – nowhere. It was therefore, somewhat misleading to fans who were Bolg AUJeagerly expecting to see this character (me included), especially after the studios released a poster of the first film clearly portraying Stevens’ design. Then again, could that poster have been an early creation when Stevens was still in the role of Azog? We may never know until we see the the behind the scenes features of all three films.

Another mystery was due to the fact that Stevens was credited at the end of ‘An Unexpected Journey’ and it soon emerged that a quick cameo of Bolg could be seen during the Battle of Azanulbizar – fighting against Dwalin who immediately strikes a seemingly mortal wound to the orc.

Bolg in AUJ

Yet another set of questions were being asked as to how Bolg could have been slain in Film 1 when he was clearly going to be part of Films 2 & 3. Quick-thinking and witty fans immediately came to the conclusion that this had to do with a particular Necromancer and his capability of bringing back the dead …

– Almost a year later, a new design change seemingly takes place

During most of 2013, Conan Stevens was pretty much confirmed as portraying the offspring of Azog in the upcoming ‘The Desolation of Smaug’. Fan site theonering.net even posted an interview with the actor a few months before release and all seemed to be going pretty well.

Naturally, rumours began to spread once again (probably around October), that Peter Jackson had decided (in the light that Azog was a completely CGI character) to re-shoot Bolg’s performance entirely as a computer-generated character.

What this meant for Conan Stevens’ portrayal was yet left as another mystery.

September 2013 seemed to be going through a period of ups and downs. Once Stevens’ Bolg seemed altogether rejected, their came another “tidbit” of his reaffirmation. This seemed to be the case with the release of another poster for ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ – clearly showing a silhouetted shape of the orc, brandishing his massive club and distinctive bone-armour structure.

Bolg in poster

But yet another blow was dealt to the seemingly ill-fated interpretation of Stevens, as someone confirmed the casting of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ orc & ringwraith veteran, Lawrence Makoare. Would he be playing Bolg? It seemed so. Then again, others still suspected that Conan Stevens had yet the final say over Bolg’s design.

Lawrence MakoareThen came a much anticipated production video, recounting the cast and crew’s race against time to complete the pick-ups in mid-2013. An interesting shot of Makoare in mo-cap suit, whilst making a threatening gesture and uttering the guttural tongue of the Black Speech, (with a pre-viz shot of him in orc-shape) was displayed on screen. All characteristics synonymous with Steven’s design were there. The piece of iron nailed to the head, the facial features, the height – but most damning evidence of all seemed to be the exact same design of the orc’s club – indicating that what we were seeing on screen was Bolg himself and not some other of Azog’s minions.

The only difference in this design was the lack of facial hair and bearing a closer resemblance to the Pale Orc – a fitting image considering their father-and-son relationship.

NewBolg

Yet again, questions were asked as to whether this was simply a “quick job” done by Makoare to enhance or fill-up any missing scenes with Conan Stevens’ portrayal or whether the latter’s design and performance was completely scrapped and was being made anew.

But then, Games Workshop, the company responsible for producing table-top wargaming figures for the films, changed the product name attached to Conan Stevens’ design – from “Bolg” to “Gundabad Orc General”, which seriously seemed to suggest that changes had been made to the overall design. Furthermore, Bridge Direct had (a month or two before that) removed any products associated with Bolg from their website.

Gundabad Orc General

Things weren’t looking very good for Stevens once again …

The trailers and tv spots coming in for Film 2 were nowhere near to indicating the presence of Bolg’s design and only the release of the film itself would eventually reveal whether Conan Stevens would ever making it on screen for more than 4 or 5 seconds …

Indeed, the mystery of Bolg’s design seemed to take precedence over Smaug himself!

– ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is released and with it, the truth …

With the 13th of December come and passed, we have finally come to the resolution of the matter once and for all (hopefully).

It is now confirmed that Lawrence Makoare’s motion capture sessions were in fact done due to Bolg’s redesign into a completely CGI character – most probably, to be more in tune with the rest of the digital orcs (not least, Azog himself).

BolgWhilst I praise Makoare’s performance in the film (he seems to be a natural talent when playing orcs – think of Lurtz in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’), this means that Conan Stevens’ design will never see the light of day – except for that very brief scene in the battle of Moria flashback in ‘An Unexpected Journey’.

A true pity, for his design surely embodied something of the brutal Middle-earth race which was so synonymous with ‘The Lord of the Rings’; not to mention the absence of Conan Stevens’ performance – which would have been a very interesting addition to the films.

Cherish the images of the “original” Azog/Bolg in Dol Guldur, for they are a piece of history in making this films; a reminder of the characters that could have been, but never were (Ugh! That sounds a bit too poetic and nonsensical – though it DOES come from part of my brain so I guess that’s inevitable … pardon me!)

[Much of what is written here has been collected through various sources and information of books, action figures and other merchandise related to these films. I have not yet seen the books  ‘Chronicles: Creatures & Characters’ and ‘Chronicles: Art & Design’ related to ‘An Unexpected Journey’ or ‘The Desolation of Smaug’- however, I believe they contain a few illustrations of both Azog and Bolg’s early designs which might conflict with what is written here. If you have access to these books, please do not hesitate to share the information here on this post :)]

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35 thoughts on “Azog, Bolg … and Yazneg: The trio’s tangled design history

  1. […] Azog, Bolg … and Yazneg: The trio’s tangled design history (atolkienistperspective.wordpress.com) […]

  2. In the slc comic con Manu Bennett said that he (the other guy)had shot the entire entire film, and then Manu came in and redid it all cgi. He knows the other guy personally, it actually made things kinda awkward. Manu had been avoiding talking with him about it, because he had basically stolen the guys part.

      • They met before Manu got Azog though, when Conan did an episode of Spartacus. But Manu didn’t take it from Conan directly, I’m guessing it would be more awkward between Conan and Lawrence.

      • Conan was cut out for good reasons. His ego is through the roof with a history of methamphetamine abuse. He is extremely aggressive and has issues with just about everyone on set unless he is treated like a prince. He is extrememly unpleasant to be around and to be honest, he was acting in two bit Thai productions as a stunt man living in a US$200/month one room apartment. Him getting this part was due to extremely good sales tactics by his management…..the same people he screwed out of their commissions. Although Conan thought he was above all of that, Peter Jackson and the producer made it very clear that this guy was not going to get to use this role to further his career in any way due to his greed and lack of respect for the system. For all you actors out there who think you are the stars, wake up and realize that the people who hold the money and the people who negotiate to get some of the money are the ones who control the situation. Especially if you are a low level actor like Conan…..obviously not talking about the Clooneys and Pitts of the acting universe.

  3. I can’t say it’s a pity that his design never saw the light of day. I can only say it’s a relief. That design was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen and I was horrified to see it associated with a Tolkien movie. The character would have fit much better as a Power Rangers villain, battling giant plastic robots.

  4. I couldn’t applaud this article more. I was also one of the many who lamented not only the loss of Stevens, but the loss of all practical orcs to begin with, including Azog. Such a disappointment in that area, and really one of the only gripes I have with the Hobbit trilogy thus far. Smeagol and Smaug were utterly breathtaking, but the orcs looked to be stripped straight from a video game. Practical ‘Stevens’ Bolg was a character I was very much looking forward to, especially after seeing the first film. When CG Bolg popped on screen for ‘Desolation’, invisible manly tears were shed. Really. Now if Stevens AND Makoare had actually played Azog and Bolg… I shudder to think how awesome it would have been, and how much more I would have cared about either villain for that matter. Again, great article!

  5. I feel really sad for Conan Stevens… He left his job on Game of Thrones to work in a role that will never see the light of day.

    • Same feeling here Demétrius … though some people seem to state that Stevens was simply not called back to portray the character in Game of Thrones (rather than him leaving) – not really sure what actually happened though … and perhaps, we may never know the truth :S

  6. I didn’t like the practical Azog/Bolg design. It looks like a member of that “Lordi” metal band, or like one of the villains from the second Ewok movie, but not like a Tolkien Orc to me. I’m glad they went CG with most of the Orcs in the new trilogy, because Tolkien’s Orcs have a different physique from humans (shorter legs, longer arms) and all the Orcs in the LOTR trilogy just looked like people in costumes to me. The CG Orcs resemble what Tolkien described so much more.

    • I agree that perhaps CGI allows for more “realistic” interaction within an environment, capturing physical movements not possible with a man in a suit.

      But it’s still tantalizing to think of what the original Bolg may have looked like on screen – going beyond the often misleading promotional images before a film’s release.

      • Well, you can see him on the screen, if only for a second or so. There is more to see of him in the 9 hour long making of documentary that is included on the blue ray. It really just looks like a guy in a Halloween costume and in my opinion, it doesn’t really fit with the design of the rest of the Orcs and the movie as a whole. In my eyes it even sticks out in that 1 second glimpse we got in the movie, like somehow a zombified Santa Claus turned up in the middle of a battle between Dwarfs and Orcs.

  7. I was very happy with the characters of Azog and Bolg, I thought the acting was admirable and the CGI adequately seamless and grotesque. I’m just irritated that PJ ousted a fantastic Gregor Clegane from Game of Thrones so the actor could have a 3 second cameo. I know PJ’s a perfectionist, and probably wanted a certain kind of performance from the actor, but I would’ve liked to see Conan Stevens reap the rewards of the sacrifice of the Mountain That Rides…

    • He got let go from GOT because his acting skills are ridiculously poor and he treats people on set very poorly. PJ had nothing to do with Conan leavig GOT.

      • Err, maybe you could reveal exactly who you are, so we don’t all think you’re just some bozo who has it out for Conan Stevens…

      • Hey Jim, I for one was really looking forward to Conan Steven’s appearance in The Hobbit films, especially after his short but (imo) a perfect portrayal of The Mountain in GoT. I would really like to know why he was let go from both of these projects… cause I’ve always supported him and if there is a good reason I shouldn’t, I sure would like to know. Thank you.

      • Hey Jack, I would also really like to know the story behind the changes. So far, the features on the DoS EE have not revealed anything yet (at least, the first two discs. Still have to go through Disc 3). Hoping that we might get some info sometime next year for the third film’s EEs …

      • Well, that Jim guy apparently chose to not reply any further. Either he was telling crap and can’t back it up, or if anything of it was true, he may not actually have been allowed to tell. Anyhow I don’t believe you will find answers in the bonus materials, it is either not true or not official.

  8. I personally thought Bolg was awesome, and waayyy better than Azog. He wasn’t as wimpy and was much scarier and a better fighter. His cg was actually good and didn’t look so cartoony.

  9. This has obviously turned into something way beyond the scope of the article and hence I’m going to have to delete this thread of comments to avoid any more out of the main subject. I appreciate your co-operation 🙂

    • Thank you.
      On a more on-topic side, I think Yazneg may have been created solely to compensate John Rawls for being replaced as Azog.
      Weta have already tried in LotR to make sure people who had nameless camera time would get a character name, for example on trading cards. Arwen’s stunt double became Goldberry and Legolas’ stand-in Glorfindel, those are just the two I know of.
      So I find it a possible explanation for Yazneg that he was made up to give John Rawls a named character to play.

      • That is true – I also believe that that was the case for the character of Yazneg.

        Though I didn’t know that the Glorfindel and Goldberry on the trading cards were actually the actors’ stand-ins. Fascinating! 🙂

      • I met Weta folks (and Glorfindel) at numerous conventions and they said that every trading card face was a stunt person / stand-in / anyhow involved in the filming. I just wouldn’t know more particular examples.

  10. As for the Conan Stevens questions, he was given the part of “Keeper of the Dungeons” in Battle of the five armies. I think that answers the question where he went (like John Rawls to Yazneg) as well as the one whether he was kicked out on bad terms: Apparently not. 😉 Cheers!

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