Peter Jackson Talks About His Crowning Achievement
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No. We spent most of our time storyboarding and previsualizing the first film, and even though we were shooting them all out of order, we obviously knew the first one had to work. The whole feeling at the time was that even though we were doing three, it obviously depended on the success of the first. So a lot of our early planning went into the first one, and we built up that whole sequence where Frodo and the others are chased in Moria and the staircase collapses. That was very heavily previsualized with Andrew looking at it while we did it and suggesting ideas. So most of the first one was storyboarded. Then we did a pass through the other two, but less intensively, and that worked fine as we quickly developed a shorthand on set and didn’t need all the planning.
How many camera crews did you end up using?
We had 26 cameras, including the miniature department, which totally blows me away. In terms of crews, it depended on what we were doing. If we were doing huge battle scenes we’d bring in extra crews, and have five different teams all shooting. Other times we’d scale back and just have one or two crews.
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Gollum is obviously a tour de force. Can you talk about the technology used in creating a fully-realized CG character for the first time?
First, all the technology is leapfrogging ahead so quickly. We couldn’t have done every single shot of The Two Towers two years ago. At the time we were doing The Fellowship it just wouldn’t have been possible. We had a little piece of Gollum in the first film. That was our prototype. We basically threw him away at the beginning of last year because we were able to do so much better. We used new software that our guys had written and improved him a lot. We knew that Gollum was going to be a computer-generated creature right from the beginning because there was no other way to do what we wanted to with him — make him skinny with big eyes. We were aware that he was going to have to deliver a performance that was on par with what Sean and Elijah were doing. So we decided to take Gollum out of the realm as a special effect because we’re used to having computer-generated creatures being special effects. We decided to have an actor involved in controlling Gollum. So we cast this wonderful British actor Andy Serkis as Gollum and he did exactly what any other actor would do on the set. He rehearsed the scenes and shot the scenes. He was wearing this tight skin leotard. What was important was he made all the decisions an actor would make on behalf of his character. He dictated how quickly Gollum delivered his lines, what the pauses were, what the reactions were. He walked on all fours just like Gollum. We shot the scenes. The whole version of the movie exists with Andy, and then we painted him out. Then the animators basically put the computer Gollum over the top of Andy so every nuance and subtlety of Andy’s performance was duplicated. We did the same thing with his face. We actually designed Gollum’s face to be based around the same bone structure as Andy. It’s a caricature. It’s exaggerated. If you meet him you’ll see he looks like Gollum to some degree. When Andy was doing his dialogue we had a video camera on his face. The animators were able to study what he was doing with his face and replicate that. It’s an interesting technique. Andy’s role in creating Gollum is certainly as valid as an actor like John Hurt who’s under the elephant prosthetics in The Elephant Man. Andy’s performance has essentially driven the pixels.
Another tour de force is Shelob. How did you come up with the spider sequence?
That was all storyboarded but not previsualized. Storyboards are tricky things as they’re always done in pre-production and before the sets are built — or even designed sometimes. So you’re imagining a tunnel, but by the time the art department’s built it, it’s a totally different shape. So you have to rethink and adjust once you get there. And the spider sequence represented my chance to do something really scary as I’m a serious arachnaphobe. Most movies use tarantulas and shoot them in slow motion, but to me what’s really scary is just how fast they move.
So we designed the whole sequence around Shelob being quite fast and then freezing the action. I loved that scuttle-and-freeze. It’s creepy. And most of it we worked out on the day.
I’ve seen a version of Return of the King at over four hours long, so there’s an extra hour there and probably half will be worth adding. I’m really doing the extended cuts for the fans so they can get more insight into the characters and developmental backstory.
Did you shoot anything specifically for the extended cuts version?
We didn’t know there’d be an extended-cuts. Most of the film was shot in 1999 and 2000 and back then there was no plan to do that. You always go into a film thinking everything you’re shooting is important and you assume it’ll all make it in. It’s only in editing that you realize it’s too long.
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