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At times there were as many as seven different crews shooting simultaneously, and using a satellite video delivery system run by Telecom New Zealand, Jackson was able to remotely manage up to three crews at one time.

“We had a teleconferencing component so we could do talking heads, but more importantly, it was linked to the Video Assist output on the camera, so that he could, in fact, look over the shoulder of a remote DP and be assured that the framing was what he was looking for. [an error occurred while processing this directive] “We had some early teething pains just getting crews to set up a satellite system in a remote location and making sure it was all working, but we had tremendous support from Telecom New Zealand and I can’t imagine that anybody would not want to do it that way in the future,” he said.

From left: Merry (Dominic Monaghan), Dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Pippin (Billy Boyd).Indeed work on the films followed Jackson wherever he went. “For instance, Peter is going to score in London, and he needs a way to continue to look at our work and do approvals. So we’ve built our own HD playback system, which is a way for us to review work at 2k on a Mac. When an artist is looking for input or approval, he submits to a system. His frames are transferred and put into the right color space, and we built a custom node to export in a squeezed DV format in 16:9, so we can dump it over an FTP connection to Peter in London,” said Labrie. “It’s a quick way for us to exchange material and it doesn’t require any infrastructure beyond the Internet.

“You can imagine what it’s like for Peter, trying to work on the score for film one while he’s trying to work on the edit for film two and there are already things hovering for film three,” said Labrie. “I can’t imagine that anybody who’s involved in the project at this point would ever want to tackle three films simultaneously again.”

Larger, (and smaller) than life.
One of the biggest challenges that confronted everyone from the set designers, to the DP and the visual effects artists was that of scale. Hobbits are supposed to be about three-and-half feet high, and dwarfs are a little bigger. But from the outset, Jackson didn’t want to cast people of small stature in the roles of hobbits and dwarfs.

“We knew we were going to have to figure out multiple clever ways to actually achieve [perspective],” explained Labrie. Those included the old trick of forced perspective, (positioning one actor farther away from the camera than the other), used in Hollywood for years. “The problem with forced perspective… is that traditionally you could not move the camera. If you move the camera, the parallax will give away the gag.”

To enable camera movement, the production crew came up with a trick they called “moving camera forced perspective.” Basically the shorter actor (farther away) is placed on a moving platform that is carefully choreographed to the camera moves in order to counteract the effect of parallax.

“What’s interesting about this particular gag is that it happens on set. There is no compositing associated with it.”

In some cases, sets were built as perspective rooms. Sets were often built in two distinct sizes to accommodate the scale issues and most of the props were created in two scales to serve the variety of characters on the project, from hobbit to Gandalf size. Everything from furniture to vegetables in Bilbo Baggins’ garden were produced in both small and large sizes.

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