Ask Weta Digital
many people worked on Shelob?
If I recall correctly there were about sixteen or so animators
working on the Shelob sequence. The animation director was
Randy Cook of course, and the lead animator was Matt Logue
How long did Shelob take to animate?
It probably took about 10-12 weeks to complete all the animation
for the shots.
they use a lot of artistic licence when developing Shelob?
I do recall a lot of design work going into how her 'face'
looked, which was certainly exaggerated from a normal spider.
The other design oddity was that Shelob had a stinger on her
abdomen like a wasp, which normal spiders lack. This came
from Tolkien’s description of her in the book –
I guess he wasn't much of an entomologist.
Did they study live Tunnelweb spiders
to get the movement right?
We had a variety of clips from nature documentaries of various
large spiders. We didn't specifically work off the Tunnelweb
as a model for the motion.
How closely did the animators
stick to real spider motion?
Once you get into animating a two-ton, six-metre-long movie-monster,
clips of garden spiders get left behind quite quickly.
You can get the basics of spider movement – which pairs
of legs get moved in what sequence as the spider walks and
the way the body mass reacts to that. But the broader behaviour
is driven more by the requirements of the action and the constraints
of what was shot on set with the actors. Plus she’s
a movie-monster and behaves with unnatural intelligence and
Ask Te Papa’s
Phil Sirvid and
| Tunnelweb spider
is Shelob to an actual tunnelweb spider?
It’s perhaps best to think of Shelob as spider-like,
rather than being an actual spider. As you might expect, some
artistic license was taken with the natural form to better
conform to Tolkien’s vision of Shelob. For example,
spiders don’t have stingers and two pairs of fang-bearing
mouth parts. However, features of the tunnelweb
spider such as its sturdy, fearsome appearance and its
long spinnerets are clearly evident in Shelob.
Like Peter Jackson, I was freaked out by
these spiders when I was young, although now I rather like
How realistic is Shelob’s behaviour and movement?
Shelob’s movements are extremely convincing and brilliantly
portrayed on screen. The behaviour is perhaps more complex
than we might expect from most spiders, but Shelob is quite
a unique creature.
She’s a lot cleverer than your average
spider. While different species of spider typically specialize
in one way of catching meals, Shelob seems to be able to employ
a variety of methods. Not only does she use webs to entrap
prey like a sheetweb
spider might, she’s also able wander around hunting,
like a nursery
The way that Shelob spun Frodo around while
covering him with silk is very typical of the way many web-building
spiders wrap their prey for later consumption.
Could a spider ever be as big as Shelob?
No. The anatomy and physiology of spiders become increasingly
inefficient as they get larger. This prevents them from getting
to Shelob-like sizes. Remember, Shelob is perhaps best described
as being spider-like rather than an actual spider, so what
would normally be true of a spider might not be true for her.
Could a spider that big really wrap
up a human being or hobbit?
Assuming a spider could be as large as Shelob and function
normally, then yes. Real spiders are usually capable of wrapping
up prey items that are significantly larger than they are.
Dealing with much smaller prey such as Shelob did with Frodo
is unlikely to present a problem.
Would a giant spider’s web be strong enough
to hold a person?
We can only speculate how strong spider silk of the thickness
depicted in the movie might be. If it were proportionately
as strong as real spider silk, it would be very strong indeed.
For example, measure for measure, spider dragline silk is
considered to be stronger than steel cable.
Would you really be able to cut
through a giant spider’s web?
Despite its strength, cutting through extra thick webbing
clearly wasn’t a problem for small hobbits, but then
they were armed with a magic sword!
How would Shelob digest meat and bones?
Spiders are all carnivores and are all liquid feeders. Rather
than swallowing solid food and digesting it internally like
we do, a spider secretes a wash of digestive enzymes that
start to break down tissues into liquid form. The spider then
sucks this liquid up like soup.
Some kinds of spiders can even prey on birds, fish, reptiles,
and small mammals. In New Zealand, the water
spider often eats small freshwater fish, and the tunnelweb
spider, which Shelob is based on, has been recorded eating
What is the biggest spider known
to have existed?
Until recently, it was thought that 300 million year old Argentinean
fossils of an animal called Megarachne were the remains
of the largest spider to walk the Earth. Megarachne
had a 34cm long body and a leg span estimated at half a metre.
However, more recent scientific study suggests Megarachne
may be some kind of water scorpion. The true identity of Megarachne
is still being debated and probably won’t be resolved
until more complete fossils are found.
What spider is the largest in the world today?
Currently the largest spider we know of is the Goliath bird-eating
spider (Theraphosa blondi) from Venezuela, Guyana,
and Brazil. The largest recorded specimen had a 28cm leg span.
In New Zealand our largest spider by leg
span is the Nelson
cave spider, and the largest by weight is the tunnelweb