Daniel Reeve puts Middle-earth on the map

When Wellington artist Daniel Reeve heard New Zealand director Peter Jackson was making his favourite book into a film right on his doorstep, he grabbed his pen and hasn't looked back since.

Reeve’s artistry and skill with pen and ink is the creative force behind the beautiful calligraphy and maps associated with the Middle-earth of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy - and now The Hobbit Trilogy.

In between working on titles for The Hobbit Trilogy, the freelance artist - who specialises in cartography and calligraphy - tells the story of his own unexpected journey.

How did you first get into cartography and calligraphy?

I’ve liked both lettering and maps since I was a kid, and naturally made treasure maps (as one does). As soon as I could afford one, I bought a calligraphy pen and copied Tolkien’s runes and Elvish lettering. I dabbled with lettering over many years, but only as a casual hobby.

How did you come to work on 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' movies?

When I heard that Peter Jackson was making my favourite book into a film, right on my doorstep, I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss. So I created a sample piece of Elvish calligraphy on a ‘parchment’ effect paper and sent it to the film company.

The Art Department phoned me immediately. I went in there expecting that they would already have 500 Elvish calligraphers, but in fact they had none! So it was a case of right time, right place, right set of skills; and I came away from that first meeting with the job of calligrapher for the LOTR films.

Did you ever imagine when you first started out that you would get an opportunity like this?

No - but nor was I thinking ‘I wish I could make a career in calligraphy’. An opportunity arose out of nowhere, and I plunged into the unknown world of freelance art - it’s a matter of being willing to take a leap in a different direction, and seeing what happens. I’ve got used to the uncertainty of it all.

What is the font you use for Middle-earth called?

There is no single ‘font’, as such. Middle-earth is a natural setting for calligraphy based on ‘uncial’ lettering, of which there are many styles. I’ve added my own look to it along the way, and I have invented many different styles of writing and lettering for the various different races and inhabitants of Middle-earth.

What doors has working on these films opened for you professionally?

It has enabled me to leave a secure 9-to-5 job at a bank and live on the proceeds of my own creativity. That can be a roller-coaster ride, but I occupy a specific niche: ‘That guy that does the writing and the maps’, and because of the internet, the whole world is my marketplace.

Each new project opens new doors and creates new contacts, and eventually it becomes a self-sustaining thing. I’ve been a freelance artist for a decade now, and with these current films I’m busier than ever, not surprisingly.

What is the story behind the ‘Middle of Middle-earth’ logo you've designed for Wellington?

I wanted to encapsulate, in one simple phrase, as much of the essence of The Hobbit films and Middle-earth as I could, and also Wellington’s connection to it. Bilbo Baggins’s circular green door is as iconic as you can get, and is an ‘entrance’ into this whole Tolkien mythology, so that made the perfect backdrop.

The lettering style is firmly established too, thanks to my own work on the films. The golden circle, as well as ‘containing’ the logo, can represent the Ring, which is significant in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogies. The leaf, representing Middle-earth, and the koru, representing New Zealand, combine both graphically and symbolically.

And if we look closely, we find that the brass doorknob is actually a map of Wellington, the home of these films. And it’s right there in the centre of the whole thing: the Middle of Middle-earth.

What is it like as an artist to see your typography up on the big screen?

It’s very satisfying, of course. And not only my typography and maps, but for The Hobbit Trilogy we should see a few pieces of my art, in the forms of illustrations and paintings. Then it all goes to another level when you see all your own work, like the map of Middle-earth, on every piece of merchandise in every shop - and you know that it’s the same throughout the western world. Bizarre.

These films aren't your only high profile project - what was it like to replicate New Zealand's founding document for Te Papa - the national museum?

That was a very special experience, one I will always treasure. I’m glad to have been part of bringing awareness of the Treaty of Waitangi to the people of our land.

How varied is your job?

I’m never bored, that’s for sure! In fact, it’s hard to call it a ‘job’ at all. I just do what I do, and somehow, magically, that pays the bills. I’ll be illustrating one day, writing the next; or painting, or creating a font, or making a map, or designing a tattoo, or creating a prop or a prop replica - you can’t call that ‘work’, really.

Find out more and view examples of Daniel’s work on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong, Narnia, Tintin, Pirates of the Caribbean, Van Helsing and Underworld 3: The Rise of the Lycans at DanielReeve.co.nz.

Parchment maps and prop replicas from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies are on display at the Weta Cave, in Wellington.