Of course, if you are going to put 10,000 characters in a scene, you don’t want them all to look the same. “We have a couple of tools designed to put variation into the actual agents,” explained Labrie. “Orc Builder [Weta’s in-house software for designing orcs] allows us to define enveloping parameters for a particular agent. You can say ‘arms are from half-a-meter to a meter long’ or ‘legs are from a meter to a meter-and-a-half long.’ And when legs get over a certain length you need to put the large shin guard on instead of the small shin guard. In addition, there are about 20 or 30 different types of armor plates and other things that were done before variance.”
When it actually comes to battle, each species had its own martial styles. “We designed different attack, run and defense styles for the five or six army types,” said Labrie. [an error occurred while processing this directive] Gollum and the Ents
With 12 hero creatures that appear across the three films, and five in the first film, Labrie reported that, “we knew that we were going to have a very good pipeline in order to build, maintain and render these creatures. So we began work early on on a skeleton, muscle and skinning system done as a plug-in for Maya. The creature department actually builds a skeleton, attaches muscle primitives to it, puts front and secondary dynamics on top of it and puts the skin on top of that.”
At some point in the second movie, the pitiful, insane, toad-like creature, Gollum will crawl out from under the Misty Mountains, where for ages he has hidden on an underground lake with only the One ring — which he calls “My Precious” — to keep him company. When he appears on screen, Weta will face the challenge of bringing one of the most vivid characters of 20th century literature to life.
“Weta developed vast amounts of code to create Gollum,” noted Peter Jackson in a released statement. “They developed new modeling codes, new skin codes, new muscle codes. He is amazingly life-like and we were able to give him a range of expressions from the evil of Gollum to the sympathy of Smeagol.”
Details of how they would tackle Gollum have been largely kept under wraps, but Labrie explained that, “We are probably about 25 percent of the way to being complete with Gollum. What that means for us is that we are very close to having final textures and shaders. We have basically finished the facial animation system that we need to put in place, because obviously, Gollum is a creature that is very close to camera and has lots of hero lines and has to be completely believable.”
He reported that the company has done “scads and scads” of motion animation tests, both with key frame and motion capture.
“It’s pretty clear now that Gollum is going to be principally a motion capture creature,” said Labrie.
The decision to go with motion capture over key frame animation came about when Jackson was watching British actor Andy Serkis, who had been cast as the voice for Gollum.
“He really does kind of screw himself up and become Gollum when he’s doing the voice,” said Labrie. “And Peter said, ‘that thing you’re doing — we need to get that.’ And so he will be coming back to do a fair bit of motion capture on the set to actually deliver the motion for Gollum.”
In terms of facial animation, Labrie explained that, “We tried to devise a method where we could capture the dialog and the facial animation at the same time, but it wasn’t really working for us, so the facial animation system will be more traditional. It’s primarily built [as a plug in for Maya] by a gentleman by the name of Bay Raitt who has been with us in house for two years.”
Labrie reported that the most difficult creatures from The Two Towers, and Return of the King include Gollum, Treebeard (an ent), and the Balrog. “We will be diving into those right after the delivery of film one.”
In depicting a Balrog, Jackson will be forced to offer his own answer to a question that has haunted Tolkien fans since the book was released. In the book, it isn’t clear whether a Balrog, which is described in passing by Gandalf, has wings or not.
Will Jackson’s Balrog have wings?
Fans will have to wait until 2003 to find out.
But Labrie feels that Jackson has been largely true to the book. “I think that he’s dramatically punched up some moments. And some things that are told off screen — like Saruman’s capture of Gandalf — you’ll see those things. These are things that are visually quite interesting and Peter wanted to get them up on screen and say, ‘Look at this. This is extraordinary,’” explained Labrie. “My own sanity check has been to ask myself, ‘is this what I thought it would look like?’ and ‘does this work for me?” And without exception, every one of those creatures, when they step out from the design phase, it’s like ‘that’s Gollum!’ It’s the coolest thing you could imagine.”
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