No Troll through the park

Posted on Monday 27 February 2006


Part of Jean-marc’s class at ITP “Marriage of the Virtual and the Real” is to not only gain some skills with Maya, AfterEffect etc. but to also examine the judicious uses of technology to bring alive our ideas. My assignment to examine the First Lord of the Rings “making of” DVD and come away with some lessons that I could take away and hopefully apply to my work going forward.

Much of the visual language and flavor of Lord of the Rings comes from not only the WETA team and the mind of Peter Jackson, but the artists Alan Lee and John Howe. Peter Jackson did superb planning for this film and was sensitive to the visions of artists that had been working for nearly 40 years on art work from the novels.

The portion the first Lord of the Rings movie that I want to break down and talk about was the scene of the cave troll fight. As was immediately apparent upon watching the “making of” DVD was not only the intense planning but also the innovation by the different team members.

Initial drawings of the Cave Troll were executed by artists to depict a character that had monstrous ferocity but also a human type of pathos. Peter Jackson was very specific in his vision of a monster that was sort of dumb and childlike but also lethally dangerous.

View a clip of Peter Jacksons vision for the troll here:

The production pipeline of the Cave troll was an ideal example of early planning. As one of the first CG characters planned WETA did extensive near full size models and drawings from Lee and Howe. The CG work was very thorough as well. The construction of the Troll character within the computer included a full skeletal and muscular system as well as the “skin” of the beast. What this afforded was a beautiful expanding and contracting of the surface skin because it was actually being pulled by inside just as if the character existed flesh and blood.

View a clip of the construction of the troll here:

Costs for the beast must have been running high because the animators referred to the creative of a test to show and probably appease nervous producers that the costs would justify the inclusion of the scene. As a story element the scene was really nice because it brought the group together to defeat the Cave troll. Also the audience is brought to the edge of their seat with what seemed a mortal wounding of the main protagonist.

View a clip of the screen test of the troll here:

After constructing and testing the Cave troll the animation supervisor had the task of putting the CG together with live action in a believable way. The director Peter Jackson also wanted more control in the way the “virtual and real” melded together. As neccessity is the mother of invention the WETA team came up with a great tool for both themselves but more importantly for the director.

View a clip of the virtual development of the troll here:

Contructing a virtual set the motion capture people wired up a dummy camera and goggle for Peter Jackson and allowed him to move around the virtual set viewing all of the actions with a kind of dummy steady cam. They recorded his movements in space and used that for the planning of the CG camera work.

The other element that had to enhance the vision of the troll character was the sound effects. Other than the standard effects of bangs, chains and stone smashed the WETA team thought alot about tying the sound of the characters voice and breathing to stages of the fight. In the beginning sounds of tigers roars etc. gave and agressive feel to the animation, the monster was more theatening with these sounds. After the mortal wounding of the Cave troll the sounds were replaced with seal cries and moaning. The audience is signaled to the wounding in an artfull and empathetic way.

View a clip of the sound effects of the troll here:

The coming together of all the teams, from the artists Lee and Howe to WETA to Peter Jackson all the while keeping common vision and consistency is what makes the scene successful.

I am sure all the of same teamwork and due dilligence happens at places like LucasFilm, but Peter Jackson lets us in for a peak at the process that you don’t always have access to.

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