The software lineup is equally extensive, with 51 GUI licenses and 100 render licenses of Nothing Real’s Shake compositing system, 60-plus seats of Alias|Wavefront’s Maya for character animation, and 10 seats of Side Effects Software’s Houdini. In addition, Weta’s small army of artists, key frame animators, modelers, digital paint artists, motion editors, compositors and software engineers have seats of Softimage|3D version 3.9, used principally in the camera/matchmove department and the matte painting department, Pinnacle’s Commotion for rotoscoping, and discreet’s inferno.
Labrie stressed that, “We have the odd license for just about everything.” Shot on Super 35mm, the film is being scanned on two Imagica XE film scanners that Weta has in house. "2k is our nominal working resolution, but we do some shots in 4k when necessary," said Labrie.
The Post House, Germany, has set up a digital color grading facility less than 500 feet from Weta’s main facility in Wellington, and the site is rumored to have served as one of the initial beta sites for 5D’s new digital grading and finishing system, Colossus. (Representatives from 5D declined to comment).
"A substantial portion of the film is being digitally color graded. Even stuff that is not being treated by Weta directly for visual effects, is seeing some sort of digital color grading," said Labrie. "And a fair bit of the drama work is actually seeing some sort of tweaking by The Post House. Jackson was obviously heavily involved. He’s trying to give it a look that you couldn’t have on the shoot."
Some of the film’s wide aerial shoots were captured with Wescam’s stabilized camera systems.
Principal photography for the film wrapped last December. The shoot spanned 274 days spread out over 15 months, with as many as seven units shooting simultaneously at up to 350 locations spread out over New Zealand’s North and South Islands. In total, the shoot called for 26,000 extra man days. 50,000 props were built including 900 suits of armor, 2,000 rubber safety weapons, 100 hand-made weapons, 20,000 individual household and everyday items handmade by artisans, and more than 1,600 pairs of prosthetic feet and ears, individually sized and shaped all built in the Weta Workshop.
There are over 60 hero miniatures (which were still undergoing principal photography when Film & Video spoke to Labrie). By the time they are done, two crews will have been shooting almost continuously for three years onto the miniature plates alone.
Dialect and language coaches were brought in to teach the actors to speak Tolkien’s Elvish language and to create various accents for each of Middle-earth’s nine primary cultures. And swordmaster Bob Anderson was called upon to develop fighting styles for each culture and train actors to fight like orcs, elves and dwarfs. Those fighting styles had to be translated into code for the CG characters.
“At one point, the New Zealand army actually came in to help us move a fair bit of earth so that we could achieve the Hobbiton sets,” said Labrie.
He said that the shoot turned out to be one of the worst of Jackson’s career. “We had horrendous weather and all kinds of problems in the production… At one point, production had to be stopped when they were shooting in Queenstown, because there was so much torrential rainfall that the entire crew had to help sandbag the town so that it wouldn’t be washed away.”
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