Epic Animation
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 1 (Jan 2004)

Epic Animation

A: These films don't try to be Mad Magazine at the same time they're telling a story; there aren't wisecracking sidekicks. Peter took a classical and traditional moviemaking style that is highly kinetic and reinforced a notion, which had been out of favor, that a story can be told with complete sincerity without worrying that you'll lose the audience unless you inject cheap humor.

A: We grew from a crew of 12 animators at Weta Digital on the first film to 45 on the third one. We delivered 590 animation shots, many with multiple characters.

A: I learned a lot of things from special people: Ray Harryhausen, Tex Avery, Eric Larson at Disney, and others. I felt that I was a bridge between that generation and the next one, and I tried to infuse into the animation crew a unity of taste and performance that they might not have found elsewhere.

A: This is act three of the story, the climax, so many things had to come together. The scope is far greater and there are more characters in this film than in the other two combined, so it became, dramatically and from a showmanship point of view, grander, more intense, and faster than the others. And, Gollum's emotional arc had to be intensified. His character had to reach a peak that was only hinted at in the second film. We strove to keep the quality and better it, but also simultaneously, we had to top ourselves on every level in terms of spectacle and emotion. It was always the plan; that was the job: Make part three bigger, better, more emotional, more epic.

A: We did motion capture for Gollum on the set, and that was quite successful for action/ interaction moments. But, the advancements were more in developing the craft of the team than in the actual technical advancements. We had some of the best animators on the planet at the top of their game, and they needed to be.

A: I think he's a successful character first and foremost, which makes the technical side easier. If Gollum had not been compelling, all the technology in the world wouldn't have made him interesting or watchable. Fortunately, he was successful on every level, from the writing to the acting by Andy Serkis to the performance by the animators under Peter's direction to the synthesis of his skin and flesh and eyes and hair...everything.

A: The scene was very complicated. It was a very big performance, a big spectacle shot, and it had to be played just right and composited just right. There was a lot of lava involved, a lot of camera work, and a lot of elements that went above and beyond the animation problem. It's operatic and quite breathtaking. It's a fitting end to the trilogy.

A: We tried to put real acting values into a character who happened to be animated, but also we tried to put the Ray Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien-esque spectacle of the past into the present day. Whether the character was as complex as Gollum or as simple as a cave troll, we tried to think of them as characters, not animated characters. So any problem of staging was solved by movie solutions, not animation solutions. We made acting choices, not animation choices. We tried to do a different kind of more heroic acting than the musical comedy stuff that seems to be the norm for animation.

A: There's a school of animation that is analogous to Broadway musical comedy acting, and it has become a standard in animation acting. So many animators have been affected by this overstated style of acting, which is appropriate for a children's picture or musical. However, we tried to stay away from that sort of approach. It might seem that when you're watching the movie it wouldn't be a consideration, but when you're working with animators, and their default response to a problem is to do an arched eyebrow or an anticipatory movement, it becomes a talking point.

A: I haven't come to terms with this thing being over yet. When I delivered the last shot, I completed a five-year chunk of my life. Many people thought this was a mad quest; that such a feat could not be achieved. It took a huge collaboration of talent to realize this impossible dream. I've participated in a movie classic that will live long after us, and for that I feel humbled and privileged. I'll have a slow decompression between now and March, while we work on the DVD. New Zealand is a nice place to be in the summer.