Visual FX Supervisor on The Challenges of The Hobbit

Joe Letteri The Hobbit Lord of the Rings Visual FX Supervisor
Joe Letteri

Joe Letteri, the Visual FX Supervisor of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as well as The Hobbit trilogy is talking about the unique challenges provided by The Hobbit films in a new interview with Coming Soon!

This interview contains minor spoilers!

Here’s a taste:

CS: I spoke to Andy Serkis earlier and I asked him about the goblin cavern scene specifically because I thought that might be hundreds of extras running around, but a lot of it was constructed based on what they did on set.
Letteri:
Yeah, we did some small pieces of the set that the guys could run around on and do some of the action especially that bit where they’re brought before the Goblin King because a bit of the action happens on that well-lit platform in front of the throne but most of what you see in there is digital. In fact, a lot of what was shot, we wound up replacing, just because of the complexity of the camera moves and the stereo. We shot goblins with partial suits on, but we were going to be adding their heads. A lot of what we were really doing that for was for a couple shots where it was practical. Most of the time it was easier to just replace them with completely digital characters then to try to match heads onto partial bodies. Sometimes we ended up just replacing everything that shot including the actors, because it was just easier to construct the big shots that way. Yeah, we’ve gotten to the point where we can make characters and digital doubles. As long as you’re not talking about nuanced emotional dialogue performances, you’re talking about action scenes, sometimes it’s just easier to go all digital with it.

CS: I also wondered about the dwarves. In the previous movies, you had a way of turning full size actors into hobbits and you used some on-set trickery to do that, but here, you were shooting 3D and you had 12 dwarves played by 12 actors of different sizes. So wouldn’t that make every shot an FX shot because you had to make them look dwarfish?
Letteri:
Yeah, for the most part. There were a couple of shots where you could just get away with putting Gandalf up on an apple box or having the dwarves down on their knees. As long as you maintained a fairly correct perspective spatially because stereo obviously picked up the difference, you can get away with that, but when you go wide or when the camera started moving, that’s when you really needed to go in and look at either rotoscoping Gandalf off of the plate and you scale him up and lock him back in 3D or you replace him with a 3D character all together, like a digital double, or you go with this dynamic forced perspective using synchronized motion control rigs.