It turns out that TORN had the SFX conference in Wellington pretty well covered. Two more people wrote in with slightly different details from the talk given by Adam Valdez, the WETA SFX guy.

This report thanks to Jim Wellington:

“Hello interested parties,
3December was an interesting event in Wellington (of course!!). I was disappointed that WETA were unable to show any clips during their talk, but Animation Supervisor Adam Valdez was funny and compelling. There was also some guy standing behind Valdez who must have been some publicist or something (“John” I think – likely name!!) – everytime someone asked Valdez something tricky he turned to “John” and then turned back and said “Sorry I can’t answer that”. Valdez looked genuinely disappointed and sorry that he was unable to show us any models or clips, and apologised anytime he had to be secretive. He would not comment when asked by someone “how are you uilding the models – bones, then muscle, then skin or vice versa?”, which really bummed me since this was the question I wanted to know!!

Interesting details:
*** I have complete confidence in Valdez to deliver – he’s not a software nerd, he just wants the computer to do what he has in his head. He didn’t seem like the type that just wanted to show off the effects, and he said that he would prefer it if people didn’t say “wow that’s the best cgi character I’ve ever seen” but rather “what’s he going to do next?!?!”.
*** He said that the “fell beasts” were cool and that they were basically dragons with longer, more snake-like necks and bat-type wings.
*** He said that the effects were not going to be typical Hollywood, but would rather be quite unique, and that he truly believed they have raised the standard.
*** He said that he preferred to animate pose-to-pose and that listening to music while working is the best thing any animator can do.
*** When asked about the continuity issues between films (ie. sfx will get better over the next two years, will we notice the difference in the progress of the films?) – he said they were lucky that the films gradually got more and more sfx as they progressed, so they can save a lot of their detailed work till last I guess.
*** They will be using both FK (Forward Kinematics) and IK (Inverse Kinematics) when modelling, and must be able to transfer between the two methods quickly.
*** James Cunningham’s “Infection” short film stole the show – fortunately for all of us he is now
working on LOTR.

That’s all for now.
Wellington Jim

P.S. It was obvious that he wasn’t going to answer anything that was even remotely related to what they are developing out there, so I didn’t bother asking any questions sorry.”

Well, as it is, that’s plenty enough. Thanks!

And Anonymous of Wellington remembers some variations:

“(1) Animation supervisor Adam Valdez isn’t the kind of person that just wants to show everyone he can do cool effects – in fact, he said he’d prefer people to be so convinced that the character was real that they weren’t even saying “this is the best cgi I have ever seen”. This is reassuring after so many cgi characters and shots of them have been just thrown in for the hell of it in the past (read: Jarjar Binks in The Phantom Menace). I think it’s safe to say from the way he was talking that Gollum will be 1000 times better and more believable than that stupid Jarjar Binks. Thank God.

(2) He mentioned the “fell beasts” and said they were really cool – they are basically dragons with longer, more snake-like necks and bat-type wings.

(3) One person asked how they will manage the continuity in the films concerning the rapid eveolution of special effects. Valdez responded that they were lucky in that the films naturally lay out so that more special effects is needed in each successive movie. This means that there won’t be heaps of cgi in film 1, which means they have more time to work on finer details for 2 and especially 3 (esp. concerning Gollum).

(4) Valdez did seem genuinely sorry that he couldn’t answer certain questions and that he had no footage to show – he said that next year there would hopefully be some (and that at the 3December next year the first film will be only “a matter of weeks away”). The main reason they could not show any was because it was over a year before the first film is out, and it would be just too early for any public appearances of footage.

“Valdez also said that the Balrog was “a half apparition, half monster thing” and that the Ringwraiths (and Frodo when he has the Ring on) see things differently to us: “We see light and colour, and they (the Ringwraiths) see … oh, well, I shouldn’t go into that”. Damn, he was so close!!!!

Hope that adds to the last report!!”

It certainly did. Thanks guys!