ETHAN GILSDORF: I know that there are many new characters and places in The Hobbit, but the basic elements and locations are already there. I can imagine that because the bigger work—the general parameters of the visual look of this world, Middle-earth—were established in Lord of the Rings—you’re not going to go and redesign Hobbiton or go redesign the Rivendell. You build to it, maybe.
JOHN HOWE: But once we’ve left Rivendell, it’s brand new territory and a very different part of Middle-earth than we’ve visited before, much father north and much farther to the east. So there’s an element of exoticism in there that’s very, very different. It’s kind of like heading toward St. Petersburg rather than heading to Rome, if you like. Although it’s a very, very different universe, but nonetheless it still needs to feel like it would plausibly sit with all the rest.
That’s something that was very instinctive with us. We don’t get out spreadsheets and checklists. It’s just really a question of how it feels.
ETHAN GILSDORF: And knowing that The Hobbit itself is a different tale in the sense of its tone and its scope, is it in some ways harder to visualize because Tolkien doesn’t have as much description of what things look like?
Or do you not feel that’s the case?
JOHN HOWE: No, I don’t feel that’s a constraint. I think the feel of Tolkien’s Middle-earth is very, very strong, and instinctively that provides guidelines for what feels “right” and what doesn’t. I know that’s a very hard thing to qualify and to quantify, but it’s very instinctive, and you quickly reach a point where you feel “That’s not quite right.” Beyond that point you don’t even pursue because it simply doesn’t feel like it fits.
(Full interview from Boing Boing: Meet the man who remade Middle‑earth)