A decade of technology upgrades are helping to elevate The Hobbit.
Many things have changed in the 10 years since Peter Jackson wrapped up his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Most important has been the advancement of visual effects technology that has since replaced the miniature cities that were built for the original films. “All the big architectural structures [in Rings] were quite large and we were limited with what we could to with them,” says Jackson. “When the big cameras swept past them, they could never get too close otherwise you could tell [that they were miniatures]. [In The Hobbit] there are no miniatures. It’s all computer-generated. Now we can swoop over rooftops and do things we never dreamt of doing before.”
And The Hobbit marks the first time Middle-earth will be presented in 3D, something Ian McKellen thinks opens up Tolkien’s fantasy world even further: “The brilliance about Peter’s use of 3D is it doesn’t come out at you, you get into it,” says McKellen. “In fact you enter the world and as you look around the corner you get even deeper into it and can’t find a way out.”
Unlike the previous films, The Hobbit is also being shot digitally, on RED cameras, and in the already-controversial 48 frames-per-second frame rate versus the standard 24-frames-per-second that has been the gold standard for decades. Jackson wanted to bring a hyperrealism to the film with this shooting style, but skeptical viewers will get a chance to see the film projected in both formats, depending on the theater. “The 48-frames-a-second rate removes the image artifacts we’re used to seeing in the cinema,” explains Jackson. “People will have to get used to it. The fact is you don’t have much motion blur and it feels sharper. It’s more akin to shooting on 65mm the way David Lean did or how Stanley Kubrick shot 2001: A Space Odyssey. Those films had a very fine detail, and you get that with this. Back in 1998, when we started working on Lord of the Rings, I tried to convince the studio to shoot in 65mm, but at the time the cameras were huge and the footage would have to be sent away to America to be processed. It wasn’t possible, so, for me, [shooting 48 frames] is a kind of my way to shoot my 65mm film.”
The look of Gollum in The Hobbit remains predominantly the same, though Jackson says he has “more muscles in his face than he did 12 years ago” and a few other advancements as well, which allowed Serkis to interact directly with his co-stars instead of doing his performance separately on a special motion-capture stage, as he did on Rings. “What’s amazing is you now can get an entire performance in a whole scene entirely live on the same set,” says Serkis. “With [the other actors’] performance captured with digital cameras and Gollum’s performance recorded with motion capture, you can do them at the same exact time — there’s no disconnect. It’s a significant difference, plus it gives us the chance to change a performance on the fly.”