Tolkien’s maps of Middle-earth translated into interactive 3D model

The breathtaking 3D map on display in Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth at the Weston Library

Catherine McIlwaine, Tolkien Archivist at the Bodleian Libraries, writes.

Visitors to the forthcoming exhibition, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth, which opens on 1 June, will find a 3D model of Middle-earth at the centre of the exhibition room. This exciting collaboration with Factum Arte will enable visitors to see Tolkien’s imaginary world in a totally new light.

Based on Tolkien’s hand-drawn maps (which will also be on display), the topography of Middle-earth will be re-created using a 3D printer. The resulting model, made out of a translucent white Perspex, will be placed on top of a plasma screen, lighting it from below, whilst a projector throws colour and moving images down onto it from above. The technology will enable visitors to view the routes taken by different characters in Tolkien’s epic work, The Lord of the Rings, and will add a new dimension to Tolkien’s vast creation of Middle-earth.

Printed map of Middle-earth, annotated by Tolkien and his illustrator Pauline Baynes, 1969

I recenly took a trip to Madrid, where Factum Arte is based, to view the model in production. This art fabrication company employs over 50 people in a wide range of specialisms, all endeavouring to bring artistic creations to reality. Visiting their enormous studios one feels rather like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. A bewildering variety of work is taking place in this factory of the arts. In one room there is a re-creation of the 13th century mappa mundi from Hereford Cathedral; in another Graham Sutherland’s portrait of Churchill (burned by Winston’s wife Clementine) has been brought back to life using preparatory sketches, oil studies and photographs; in another huge Egyptian sculptures dominate. The energy and passion of this highly skilled team is inspiring and watching them bring their expertise to bear on Middle-earth, I feel sure that this is going to be a highlight of the exhibition.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth runs at the Weston Library, Oxford from 1 June to 28 October 2018. You can book free tickets now.

More views of the animated 3D map as displayed in the Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth exhibition