Posted by Steve "Rifflo" Fitch on Nov 14, 2012

EXCLUSIVE Interview with Steve Saunders of Weta Workshop

Steve Saunders is the Collectibles Sculpture Supervisor for the legendary Weta Workshop.

Originally from South Africa, Steve made a powerful entrance at the New Zealand workshop with his first Gandalf and Strider creations for the Lord of the Rings collection. Working closely with all collectibles at Weta, and as The Hobbit nears its world premiere release, Steve created his new Gandalf the Grey for The Hobbit line.

Middle-Earth News connected with Steve in an exclusive interview to talk about his work in sculpt and with Weta Workshop.

Can you tell me about yourself and how you started in sculpting?

I was born in South Africa during the 80s. As a kid I lived very much in my own imaginary world. At a very early age, I decided to one day pursue a job in either film making or toy sculpting–today I do both! I started sculpting creatures and props for film and television in Cape Town without any real sculptural training; I just utilized a demand that existed in the industry at the time.

Gandalf the Grey – The Hobbit

Do you find it difficult to make your own unique stamp on a character of Tolkien’s given the immense amount of art, including the films, that is devoted to his works?

Initially it is intimidating, but I am a respectful fan and try to trust my own judgment. Peter’s films have set a distinct style, this makes it a lot easier when planning new projects for this world.

If you hadn’t become a sculptor, what do you think you might have been?

Adventuring field paleontologist or rogue philanthropist.

Other than working with Weta, what would be your dream project?

I hope to fulfill most of my ambitions in collaboration with Weta. Would love to do more museum display work.


Out of all the sculptures you’ve created, which is your favorite?

Hobbit: Gandalf The Grey, I poured all of my love for middle earth into this one. Having said that, I hope to still do much more sculptures that are similarly inspired!

What other art mediums do you work in?

I am a sculptor through and through; I occasionally dabble in drawing and painting.

What do you think it is that attracts so many fans to the lore of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth?

It is a fantasy world that is still governed by rules; this makes the stories feel more real and sympathetic.

What artists inspire you?

Lucky for me I am surrounded by them every day!

Is there a particular project/piece you’d like to work on in the future?

There is an immense amount of things I would like to still do, I would be lucky if I get to a fraction of them.

What advice would you give a new artist starting out and what do you think is the most effective way you market yourself and your work?

Be persistent! Do your 10 000 hours, chances are good you will be a master after that. As an aspiring sculptor: for the love of all things good, do not sculpt Frankenstein for your portfolio!

See more of Steve’s work on his Facebook page.



Weta Workshop and Middle-Earth News have joined to create this amazing contest!

How to win:

Make a comment below in the comments section about the artist, his work, or both! Three random winners will be chosen for first, second, and third place prizes.

The Prizes from Weta Workshop!


A Thorin Oakenshield Statue

Weta continues the legacy of producing finely crafted, highly detailed 1/6 scale collectible polystone statues from Middle-earth. The essence of each character expertly captured in every piece. Thorin Oakenshield was sculpted by Scott Spencer.


A Key to Erebor Sterling Silver Pendant

The Key to Erebor Pendant is a miniature of The Key to Erebor as designed by Concept Art Director John Howe. Made from Sterling Silver that has been oxidised to achieve an aged look, this piece is both a beautiful miniature prop replica and gorgeous piece of jewellery. The Key to Erebor Sterling Silver Pendant comes in a beautiful gift box made from natural Cherry timber.The inside bottom of the box is lined with burgundy velvet and has a pin for the pendant to hang off.


A Thorin’s Map Parchment Art Print

Every great adventure needs a treasure map and in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the map was created by Thror, grandfather of Thorin Oakenshield. It contains not only the lay of the land, but also detailed instructions. Some clear as day, some concealed. Designed and drawn by Daniel Reeve of the 3 Foot 7 art department who created the original prop for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Contest Entry Ends: November 24th – ENTER NOW!

Other Interesting Articles

  • Weta Workshop Contest WINNERS!Weta Workshop Contest WINNERS! The winners of the Weta Workshop contest featured in the Steve Saunders interview have been chosen! The contest was a success with many entries! Unfortunately, only three were […]
  • EXCLUSIVE: From Middle-Earth With John HoweEXCLUSIVE: From Middle-Earth With John Howe Best known for his role as conceptual designer for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, John Howe first got “a real spark” from the Hildebrandt calendars and […]
  • Weta Workshop Releases “The Hobbit” merchandise!Weta Workshop Releases “The Hobbit” merchandise! October 1st marks the day fans of The Hobbit and Weta Workshop have been waiting for - the release of the merchandise for the upcoming Peter Jackson trilogy, The Hobbit! Whether you're a […]

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69 Responses to “EXCLUSIVE Interview with Steve Saunders of Weta Workshop”

  1. Grant Bolopue says:

    Wow, it’s amazing how realistic he makes all of his art; if I didn’t know better, I would say it was a freeze frame of the actor!

  2. Luke Morgan says:

    I’ve always been a fan of Steve’s LOTR work, & by the looks of it, his Hobbit sculptures are even better! I hope to see a lot more from you, sir.

  3. AgzyM says:

    Oh, to be lucky enough to get my hands on that AMAZING Thorin Oakenshield statue! I’d treat him ever so well as he’d stand proudly on my desk :)

    These are stunning works of art, so thank you for creating them, even if most of us will only even get to look at them online. They are amazing!

  4. Joy McLaughlin says:

    Beautiful work . . . very realistic. I almost expect to see them move.

  5. Bloodspill says:

    I am so impressed by Steve’s work, they look so life-like that they might get up off their bases and go off on an adventure. I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was younger, takes a lot of painstaking and fiddly work which could be right up the street of someone who has the patience and dexterity to produce these sculptures.

  6. Lisa says:

    You can see the love he has for his work in each of the sculptures. Beautifully done.

  7. Felicia says:

    Immensely talented artist! I wish I could express my thoughts as clearly as this artist.

  8. Mandy says:

    Steve is fantastic at sculpting, and we are the lucky fans who get to appreciate and admire his work on our shelves.

  9. Tristan says:

    I have all 3 of Steven’s sculpts (pictured in the article) and love them all. I hope he’s the one sculpting Radagast because he has a knack for wizards!

  10. Conchi says:

    When you are persistent you always do a great work. That should be your motto and I see it is. Keep working as you do and we’ll see amazing art. I loved the details of your sculptures, and my favourite is Thorin’s. I’d be very glad to see it in my hands.

  11. Delia says:

    He is so talented! but the talent is not enough, he worked really hard to achieve his goals. And his works are fascinating: every little details, the colors…directly from the Middle-earth!

  12. darion says:

    i love all his work because i love the lord of the rings and the hobbit because it is my life

  13. Sydney says:

    This is really stunning work! I’m always impressed by people who can do this type of work! I can’t wait to see what else you create!!!

  14. Andrew says:

    awesome work, very detailed.

  15. Thuindir says:

    Would love to win any of he three. They are all amazing and great looking pieces of art! Keep up the good work Steve!

  16. Merrydew says:

    I wish I were as talented! Wonderful work, the love for the subject can be seen in every stroke of the carving tool.

  17. Elvishmouse says:

    I am especially fond of his answer for the final question. Start clocking hours everyone, but make sure they’re productive hours… ;)

  18. Giovanna says:

    I’m really impressed by Steve’s works!! His love for the subjects can be seen in every single sculpture.His works are very detailed and they seems to be real directly from the Middle-earth.

    He is really talented!!! It would be wonderful to be one of the winners!!!

  19. Melanie says:

    Wow. Now I really want to try my hand at sculpting again. I used to do it in highschool for art class, and I wasn’t too bad. I wonder what medium he uses? It doesn’t look like clay.

  20. Jordon King says:

    Can’t wait to buy them all! I’ll have the whole cast sitting in my room!

  21. Erin says:

    I just finished looking through all the photos on Steven’s Facebook page. His work is amazing! I’m a fan.

  22. David Ward says:

    Saunders is a true inspiration! Not only does he excell at his craft, but he encourages artists to put the time and passion into their own work in order to further their capabilities. Beautiful sculpting, I hope to one day own one of his pieces!

  23. Now that’s what I call art! Such detail, such craftmanship!

    Whoever wins these works of art… you are a lucky sod ;)

  24. knowfere says:

    I love seeing great artists get acknowledged! As a previous poster said, for those of us not talented, we get to admire and show off such collectibles. Nothing I currently own even compares to these creations.

  25. Culuril says:

    They are all wonderful pieces!

  26. Angelo Oakenshield says:

    He did an awesome job at these pieces of work, especially the Strider one. I am a total LotR geek and would love to see any of these wonderful pieces of artwork in my room. Keep up the good work Steve!

  27. if only I was so talented as to make anything that AMAZING to sell on my own crafts store, Im a fan of his work and pretty much anything having to do with LOTR, The Hobbit, or anything having to do with tolkien!

  28. I’m a huge fan of anything having to do with J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-Earth!

    Steve is an outstanding artist and has made the characters from Tolkien’s stories come to life. I would love to add his work to my collection. Unfortunately, my collection lacks the amazing and talented work of this man. It would be an absolute honor to say that I own a piece of his work.

    Keep up what you’re doing. You’re impressing LOTR and The Hobbit fans everywhere!

    I love Weta Workshop. :)

  29. tupalev says:

    Really nice work. Thank you for the interview folks. And thank you to Steve for providing some background and insight on how he came to craft such wonderful sculptures!

  30. Myla says:

    Wow, Steve does absolutely amazing work! Everything is so beautiful.

  31. Rain Czine says:

    Steve inspires me so much, his work is absolutely phenomenal. I admire the way he portrays his art and his own love for Tolkien’s world. Just the thought that a fan like him is able to work on the set he loves, gives me hope that perhaps someday I can do the same.

  32. Pete says:

    such an enormous amount of skill – great understanding of the figure too.

  33. Carolyn Vicary says:

    I am so envious of someone with such talent. How great it must feel to look at the finished product and say “I made that”. Well done Steve we are priveliged to be able to gaze upon your incredible work.

  34. Matthew says:

    It’s amazing what he’s done without much formal training, the opportunities he’s had are astounding, good sense of humour too :P

  35. lauren dryburgh says:

    Amazing! I’m so jealous, some seriously skilled fingers Fantastic way to express your love for Tolkien.

  36. Autumn Twilight says:

    Extraordinary & Beautiful work, I love the detail that goes into each piece, if it is the color of the cheeks or detailed craftsmanship on clothing you can tell the care he takes in each one. Mr. Saunders is a very talented person and can’t wait other characters he has done for the movie.

  37. Scott Boudreau says:

    Steve captured two of my favorite characters (Gandalf and Strider) in incredible posses. The man has an incredible talent and I look forward to seeing what else we get from him from The Hobbit.

  38. Shelby says:

    Steve Saunders you are my hero!

  39. Gloria says:

    Love the detail,a great collection any LOTR fan would be proud to own.

  40. Maija says:

    Wonderful work. As much as I love paintings and photographs, I really enjoy sculptures for their true 3 dimensions.

  41. Buckethead says:

    Your works are good.

  42. Andrew Scholl says:

    Awesome detail, and a talented artist. Love the earthy feel of his sculpts.

  43. I’ve only just begun recently to get into painting miniatures, and that’s difficult enough; I can’t imagine how complicated and frustrating it must be to create something quite this detailed – but it must be an incredible feeling finally to look at the finished product and know you made it… wow.

    (In other news, that map is delicious. Mental tastebuds are tingling….)

  44. GC says:

    I’ve tried sculpting in the past, and I can’t begin to fathom how much talent and dedication this guy has. Awesome work.

  45. Jordan J says:

    That’s an awesome story and that’s some awesome sculpture! It takes a very creative craftsman to create sculptures from the mind of a very creative author -J.R.R.Tolkien! You have captured it very well, thank you!

  46. Chris S says:

    The full size gandalf sculpted for the Hobbit line is probably the best gandalf done to date. Well done!

  47. Gerald Miller says:

    wish i had that kind of talent, the detail is amazing!

  48. Emily Wert says:

    Love Steve’s attention to detail, Beautiful work!

  49. What a talented man. We love that his favourite is Gandalf and that he poured his love into making this, as we’ve also been doing the same thing (pouring love into taking the very special Gandalf scarf). What a great artisan.

  50. Robert Howard says:


  51. Katherine Jenkins says:

    Wow. These are absolutely phenomenal! The detail, effort and time is apparent in each sculpture. I’m envious of your skill!

  52. Denise says:

    “Gandalf the Grey” looks amazing!

  53. Catie says:

    Wow those are amazing! I wish I could do that!

  54. Farrah says:

    Absolutely in love with Gandalf and Strider! Great work!

  55. Libby says:

    All of the work is amazing, I wish I could do something as good as that! Love Strider, he looks so mysterious :)

  56. The Gandalf and Thorin sculptures are breathtaking! They beautifully convey the hearts and souls of these characters!

    And the warrior king Thorin sculpture has such a feeling of movement to it–almost as if he could finish swinging his sword before my eyes!

    I truly covet the Thorin statue. I would put him in my glass display case right next to my Royal Doulton figures. Sighhhh!

  57. Baktiridion says:

    Amazing job! I wish I could make some too, but I’m too clumsy for such an art! They are so realistic, he must have put a lot of effort for these. Keep Middle-Earth alive!

  58. graham leng says:

    Fantastic sculpture nice to have a bit of tolkien for the home

  59. Jarmo says:

    I’m sitting here right now behind my laptop in The Netherlands, and I just red the whole story of Steve Saunders. After I read it, I was so inspired, and started drawing inmediatly. I also want a job like that, but I always thought that something like that was impossible. But now I do believe that (almost) everybody could do a job like that, you just need to have the feeling and the motivation. And Steve definitely have both of them, because his work is just fantastic and I love it! I always say: “If you want something in this life, reach out and grab it.”

    (and sorry for my bad english… :( )

  60. Etienne says:

    Steve made the best Gandalf statue to this day…Its the Grey Pilgrim as it should have been from day one…Well done once again Steve …. Can’t wait to see what more you have in store for us :)

  61. César Rojas says:

    I admire he is a respectful fan, and trusts his own judgement, and doesn’t simply copy how the characters are depicted in the movies!

    Imagine having that Gandalf sculpture in one’s room!! Awesome! ^^ :)

  62. robyenne says:

    Amazing work! I really wish I could be that good at something one day.

  63. tricksy says:

    Truly amazing work. It’s not sculpture, it’s perfection! *runs off to clear a place on the mantle for my potential prize*

  64. There are too many to chose from! I’m particular to the one of Strider sitting at the Inn in Bree and of Gandalf sitting with his pipe in hand, but they are all remarkable works of art. One day I will have collected them all! Steve Saunders is an amazing artist!

  65. Iris says:

    As a fellow artist, I can relate a little to the work and love that must have gone into each sculpture. They look absolutely amazing! Fantastic work, no doubt about it.

  66. Ninjakittay says:

    WOWIE! :O absolutely stunning work here, bravo!!! Love Strider one especially, really captured them well :)

  67. Ashley says:

    I have always admired your work!!! I would purchase it all if I were allowed to!! =) Keep up the great work! I hope you are able to fulfill your goals!

  68. Thanks to all that entered!

    WINNERS have been chosen!

  69. CP says:

    The Strider bust is awesome, but even more amazing is how the huge scale models – like the dark rider, or Gandalf sculpture attached to the Embassy for the premier are of the same level of detail. They are mind-blowing.


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