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  • 05.22.17

The Lord Of The Rings’ Weapons Designer Invented This Cool New Material

From Viggo Mortensen’s chainmail to architectural facades.

On the set of The Lord of the Rings, actor Viggo Mortensen had a nickname for the chainmail he and his costars wore: Kaynemail.

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It was a reference to Kayne Horsham, the film’s creature, armor, and weapons art director. Though you might only see it on screen for a millisecond, each chainmail shirt that Horsham and his crew created contained 80,000 rings–which had to be linked and woven by hand. Over the course of three years, they interlocked millions of rings for chainmail suits worn by Mortensen’s Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and crew–not to mention hundreds of Orcs–in the series of films’ epic battle sequences. Once a shirt was completed, it was coated in pure silver to strengthen it and make it ready for the cameras–and all the fake blood.

Kayne Horsham and Viggo Mortensen during the filming of The Lord of the Rings. [Photo: courtesy Kaynemaile]
Horsham knew there had to be a better way than the tedious process of hand-weaving the chainmail. Fast forward six years, and Horsham had created a injection molding process to mass produce polycarbonate chainmail–which he dubbed Kaynemaile, in honor of Mortensen’s nickname for the stuff.

But these days, Horsham isn’t making chainmail for movies. He’s making it for architects. The material is incredibly light, only uses 20% of the energy needed to produce steel, and is 100% recyclable. Ten years into Horsham’s business, Kaynemaile has been used in everything from carpark facades to privacy screens in tech offices. An installation of different colored types of Kaynemaile is currently on view in the middle of New York City’s Times Square as part of NYCxDesign, where it won best new architectural product at the NYCxDesign Awards.

Chainmail is thousands of years old, and traditionally it was made by casting small metal rings with a small gap in them by hand, linking them to each other, and then soldering the gap closed. The first type of metal armor made, it was so expensive that only kings and nobles could afford it–it was more valuable than their castles because of how time-intensive it was to make, but it meant they had a chance of walking off the battlefield alive.

As the art director for creatures, armor, and weapons for The Lord of the Rings, Horsham saw firsthand just how difficult it was to make the material, even though his chainmail shirts were made of plastic rings so they wouldn’t weigh down the actors. On set, the cast and crew were all fascinated by the material. “It’s very tactile,” Horsham says. “I was quite attracted to that. I saw almost everyone who touched it wanted a piece and wanted to wear it. All the actors wanted to keep their own suits of chainmail.”

Richmond Road Building Facade. Ponsonby, Auckland. [Photo: courtesy Kaynemaile]
So after the film wrapped shooting in 2001, he started experimenting with ways to manufacture it, thinking there could be a great material for use in film and fashion. “I first tried to design a machine that would assemble rings, thinking like everyone has for the last 2,000 years,” Horsham says. “It was while I was trying to debug the first machine when I had a moment of epiphany.”

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Instead of building a machine that would link the rings together, why not focus on finding a way to manufacture the rings already assembled? After doing research on injection molding, Horsham realized it was possible. After years of research and trying to convince injection molding companies to experiment with him, he finally found an engineer willing to try out his idea–assembling the rings while they’re in a liquid state, rather than a solid state. It worked, and he started devoting himself full-time to Kaynemaile, which he targeted at the architecture and design market.

NYCxDesign. [Photo: Kayne Horsham]
Horsham doesn’t just sell Kaynemaile–he’s involved with designing and implementing each project, making his company more of a bespoke design firm than a pure manufacturer.

He’s discovered that Kaynemaile, which is made of the same material as astronaut helmets and bulletproof glass, has some remarkable qualities as an architectural material. When used as a facade, it dramatically reduces the solar energy entering a building by 80%. In a parking lot in southern California, Horsham says that the Kaynemaile facade reduced the temperature by nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s been used as a protector for external staircases on buildings–it’s so strong that you can hang a single piece that’s 16 floors high without the kind of structural support you’d need if the mesh was made of metal. Because it moves with the environment, Kaynemaile is also ideal in areas with seismic activity.

It also looks really cool–though the modern look it gives to building facades is somewhat ironic, given the material’s historic use–and it’s being used in several art and lighting installations. In New York, Governor Cuomo has commissioned the kinetic artist Ned Kahn to create art installations on New York’s bridges and tunnels–using Kaynemaile. The installations haven’t been set up yet, but a video of a testing prototype installed on the Queensboro Bridge shows the material rippling in the wind as trucks and cars drive underneath. And for NYCxDesign, Horsham has created an installation in Times Square composed entirely of Kaynemaile. Until May 22, you can walk through it, touch the material, and watch as it moves in the wind.

Despite Kaynemaile’s focus on architecture and design, Horsham hasn’t forgotten his material’s roots: 10 years after he wrapped up work on the trilogy, he returned for a big screen encore–in The Lord of the Rings’ prequel film The Hobbit.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Follow her on Twitter @kschwabable.

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