WETA Digital director and senior visual fx supervisor Joe Letteri conducted an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit a little earlier. Letteri has, of course, worked on a slew of films such as Lord of the Rings, Avatar, The Hobbit, King Kong, and Planet of the Apes.
Here’s just a few of his answers. Click the link at the bottom to see the complete thread.
Q: How is Peter Jackson in person?
Peter’s great in person. He’s really collaborative, really open to ideas. And he’s got a LOT of energy. And I think one of the things that motivates Peter, which I think applies to everyone at Weta, is that you don’t give up on the film until you have put every ounce of effort you possibly can into it, to try to make it as best as possible before it goes out the door.
Q: What’s your favorite pre-cgi movie? Have there been any movies that you thought, “Wow, I wish we thought of that?”
There’s 2 that really stand out, pre-CGI – they would have to be 2001 and STAR WARS. Because 2001 was just visually stunning, with its portrayal of space and how you could use FX to take you INTO space, and STAR WARS just applied that with a whole idea of an action movie sequence that just really opened up a whole world of storytelling.
Q: How was your experience working on the hobbit:battle of the five armies movie?
The experience working on those films was great, because we got to really spend another 3 years in Middle Earth, which is a fantastically open environment for us. We had the ability to not only walk through this fantastic landscape of Middle Earth, but help to create large parts of it, and as the series went on, we got to create more and more interesting characters. So it was great in the first film, to be able to bring Gollum back again, because he’s a favorite character of mine. It was great to be able to create Smaug, because he’s such a fantastic character. And, in the end, we created about 130 different characters for those 3 films.
Q: You mentioned that gollum from lotr and hobbit is your favourite character; how did the idea come about to use an actor for the portrayal of gollum rather than use cgi? And what did you think of Andy Serkis as gollum? I thought he was amazing, really brought the character to life!
Well, Gollum is a CGI character. What happened is that Andy was brought in, to record Gollum’s voice. But Andy, being an actor himself, worked with Peter to come up with this idea of having him perform in front of the camera with the other actors.
And that brought a whole new level of drama to the performance, because that meant that the actors could work with Andy as if Gollum were really there with them.
And so we then recorded Andy’s performance, and used that as a guide for creating the Gollum character, on top of the performance he gave on the set.
Now, when we did RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, we made a technical breakthrough where we could use the performance capture at the same time that Andy was performing onset.
And so that really allowed us then to do Gollum the same way for Hobbit, which was fantastic because it really kept Andy’s performance in the moment. And then we were able to take that one step further with DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, because then we were able to take all the recording gear to a remote location. So it’s given us the ability to work with actors to create these characters anywhere in the world.
And obviously, a huge fan of Andy. He’s a fantastic actor, and we’ve been fortunate to work with him all these years.