ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

The special effects for The Hobbit were, for the most part, rather astounding. You can say what you like about 's decision to film in 48fps, but the performances of as Gollum was once again almost unbelievably good. In a recent interview with Stuff magazine, Weta Digital's Joe Letteri answered some interesting questions.

First, he explained how the advancement of technology since The Lord of the Rings allowed for even more ambitious plans in The Hobbit:

We really wanted to cut loose and do things better than we could have done before – with Gollum, especially, we were looking forward to being able to do the motion capture on-set with Andy Serkis. That was our goal ever since we did The Lord of the Rings. Even before we knew that we were going to do motion capture as a technique, we thought, "Isn't that the ideal way to do it?" So it was great to finally be able to do that on The Hobbit with the new rig – and with the 48fps. That's the one area that creatively really helped us, because we can get much finer animation detail.

In regards to 48fps, Letteri also laid out some of its major challenges. He explained:

It means twice as much work overall in terms of rendering! But creatively it didn't offer challenges so much as it offered opportunities, especially with animation. I think you really see that with Gollum, where you've got fast dialogue and fast, fleeting facial expressions – you can capture a lot more of the subtlety at 48fps than you can at 24fps.

But perhaps the biggest change of all was the use of motion capture technology with a non-humanoid character. had the unenviable task of not only voicing Smaug but also physically acting out some of his motions:

What we're doing with a character like Smaug is to really interpret the gestures as opposed to looking for the literal performance. So it's halfway between an animated character and a performance capture.

Really, we could've done Smaug in the traditional way – just ask Benedict Cumberbatch to come into a voice booth and record his dialogue, and do everything entirely with keyframe animation. But when we record what Benedict's body is doing, it frees him up to give us some idea of the physicality and intimate the poses, so that what he's got on his mind can come through in how he's performing it – and we'll take that and extend it into what we do with the dragon.

Were The Hobbit's special effects that great, or did the controversial decision to film in 48fps spoil it for you? Get debating below.


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