Friday, March 28, 2014

Behind the Scales: Smaug, Benedict, and Motion Capture

Okay, so as a Lord of the Rings fan, I was discussing The Hobbit (both movies), with a few friends this week. During our discussion, we brought up how amazing Andy Serkis is as an actor bringing Gollum to life through motion capture. I have always been fascinated by motion capture and the capabilities that animators have when it comes to making a character come alive. However, I always suspected that the only way motion capture worked was with humanoid forms. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the character of Smaug in the Hobbit, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was brought to life on the basis of Benedict's performance in a motion capture suit! The endless possibilities that motion capture has opened for an actor's performance is incredible. This link is to a video about Peter Jackson's and Benedict Cumberbatch's opinions on the character and performance side of things.

What really took my breath away was the description of the animation from WetaDigital. Not only did they have control over the smallest details in the dragon's face (the throat, eyelids, nostrils), they had to take the time to bring Benedict Cumberbatch's human performance and translate it into a believable, fierce dragon. Seeing as human anatomy and physiology is very different from what a dragon's would be, I can't even imagine the challenge this created. Yet, they pulled it off splendidly. One of the things I love about the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is the incredible detail that they put into creating these films. Everytime you watch them, you encounter something new that you never noticed before and it is because they take the time to create those details most people would just shrug off. For example, there are one million scales on the character of Smaug and each one was created unique. They aged Smaug with flaking skin and scars that added to the depth and believability of the character. We may not catch all this detail consciously when we watch it, but subconsciously we realize that this is not just an animal, but a clever being with a past because of the detailed and careful animation. Right down to the reptilian eyelids and the preemptive glow of spouting fire, Smaug is a completely defined character and creature. This link is a video of their description of how they created Smaug. Notice how they started with the bone structure and built all the way up to the skin layer by layer. Amazing!

Amber Capogrossi

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