10 Things You Should Know About Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

10 Things You Should Know About Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

Jul 16, 2012

Director Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen joined reporters at a small press conference last Saturday during Comic-Con, following their Hall H panel, to talk about returning to Middle Earth and reveal that The Hobbit could become a trilogy. Yes, a trilogy.

Here are 10 things we learned during the press conference.

1. Jackson's take on the fps controversy and footage shown at Comic-Con:

Peter Jackson: Well, 48 frames per second (fps) has the potential of being quite an important moment for the film industry.  We have to provide a theatrical experience to bring audiences back to the cinemas.  We’re in an age where there is dwindling attendance, particularly amongst younger people.  I think we have to look to the technology that we have to try to figure out ways to make the cinematic experience much more spectacular and more immersive.  But, Hall H is not the place to do it.  We screened 10 minutes of footage. 

I’ve seen a lot of 48 frames, over the past year and a half, and it’s fantastic!  It’s an incredible thing.  But, I didn’t want to repeat the CinemaCon experience where literally people saw the reel and all they wrote about was 48 fps.  That doesn’t do us any good, and it doesn’t do 48 fps any good.  To accurately judge that, you really need to sit down and watch the entire film, and that opportunity is going to be there in December.  I wanted the focus to just be on the footage, the characters and the performances, and not the technical stuff.

2. How The Hobbit fits in with The Lord of the Rings films:

Jackson: That’s a very good question, and I think the answer lies somewhere in between because we basically used more source material than just The Hobbit.  For instance, in The Hobbit, when Gandalf mysteriously disappears for chapters, it’s never really explained, in any detail, where he’s gone.  Much later, Tolkien fleshed those moments out.  In these appendices, he did talk about what happened, and it was a lot darker and more serious than what’s written in The Hobbit.  Also, to be quite honest, I want to make a series of movies that run together, so if any crazy lunatic wants to watch them all in a row, there will be a consistency of tone.  I don’t want to make a purely children’s story, followed by The Lord of the Rings.  We are providing a balance. 

A lot of the comedy and the charm and the fairy-tale quality of The Hobbit comes from the characters.  You are dealing with Bilbo Baggins, who is a little more reluctant, possibly, to go on an adventure than Frodo was.  You’re dealing with dwarves who have a personality and a comradery, all of their own.  There’s a lot of humor to be gained from those characters, but there’s still some serious themes involved.  Hopefully, The Hobbit films will comfortably straddle both worlds.

3. Why Jackson hired Andy Serkis as the second unit director:

Serkis: I’ve wanted to direct film for quite some time.  During The Lord of the Rings, I was directing short films.  And then, using performance-capture, I went into directing video games.  So, Peter has always been aware that that’s an area I’ve wanted to move towards.  It was a very last-minute thing.  I only thought I was going to be going down to New Zealand for two weeks, to reprise the role of Gollum.  Literally, a month beforehand, I got the most amazing call and the most amazing opportunity, which was Peter asking me to come down and be the second unit director.  It’s probably true to say that it’s unlike any other second unit directing, in the sense that the scale and scope and the variety of requirements for the second unit director is pretty huge.  You’re shooting everything from fighting sequences to map inserts to drama with all the principal cast.  There’s just a huge variety, on a day-to-day level.  You’re working with an enormous crew and using 3D, for the first time, and shooting on 48 fps, for the first time.  It was just a massive learning curve, really. 

The idea was that, because of the size of the cast and because the scenes would be sharing casts, Peter wanted someone he could rely on to take care of performance, as much as the technical side.  And we worked very closely.  Peter briefed me, every day, and was able to watch what I was doing.  We would lay out a plan and a way of shooting, and then Peter would give me notes that were always better.  It was very good to be able to provide a sounding board for Peter.  I went into it, not with any grand designs of, “I’m going to be shooting my version!”  I went in absolutely expecting to be Peter’s eyes and ears.  Hopefully, I satisfied that.

4. What Martin Freeman found most surprising:

Freeman: For me, it became really noticeable when we went to Lake Town. In the book, in Lake Town, there are human beings.  That’s when we became more aware that, “Christ, we’re really small!” because we spend so much of the time just hanging out with each other.  We’re very aware that Gandalf is bigger.  We’re used to looking two feet above Ian’s eyes.  But, among all of us, we’re just the heights we are, so it doesn’t really occur to you very often.  My scale double hasn’t been used that much, really.

Personally, I’ve been surprised by how quickly I’ve gotten used to these ways of filming that I haven’t used before.  The first time that we ever shot a scene with Gandalf, where Ian had to be in a completely different room, I thought, This is ridiculous!  This will never work!  Who are these people?  Why are they doing this to us?  And then, an hour later, you go, “That looks brilliant!”  You rehearse it and rehearse it, and it becomes normal.  Your whole frame of reference for how you normally work on a film shifts.  What, one minute, is completely unworkable and ridiculous, the next week just works.  It becomes very easy, actually.

5. Peter Jackson's thoughts on technological advances since The Lord of the Rings:

Jackson: The technology that advanced the most, in the last 10 or 12 years, is really the fact that we did a lot of miniature shooting on The Lord of the Rings.  All the big architectural structures of Middle Earth were really miniatures, some of them quite large.  But, you’re limited to what you can do with a miniature because you literally have to have a big camera that has to sweep past it, so you can’t get too close to it and the detail doesn’t hold up too well if you do. 

This time around, there are no miniatures.  It’s all done with CGI.  Everything that we need to build, from a miniature point of view, we build as a CG miniature.  I can now swoop in, over rooftops and through doorways.  I can do things that I never could have dreamt of doing with the miniatures.  For me, that’s actually one of the most profound differences.  Gollum has more muscles in his face than he did 12 years ago.  We deliberately made Gollum look very similar to how he did because we wanted consistency through the films.  WETA Digital, who do the work, have subsequently been working on Avatar and built a very sophisticated motion-capture facial system, and Gollum inherited some of the technological advances of that.

6. Andy Serkis's thoughts on performance-capture:

Serkis: When we shot The Lord of the Rings, we shot on 35 mm.  I would act with Elijah [Wood] and Sean Astin, and then the performances were filmed.  And then, I would have to go back to the motion-capture stage and choreograph Gollum back into the empty plates.  The facial performance was derived from the filmed 35 mm performance, which was then animated directly to match that performance.  What’s amazing now with performance-capture is that you can get the entire performance, all in one hit.  We were able to shoot a scene in its entirety, on a live set, with Martin’s performance being captured on a digital camera while Gollum’s performance used a performance-capture camera, and capture them both, at exactly the same moment in time.  What that does is that there’s no disconnect.  The fidelity to the moment, the choices and the beats that you create, between the director and the actors, is absolutely nailed in one.  That makes a significant difference to the believability and the emotion. 

7. What Peter Jackson sees are the benefits of 48 fps for 3D:

Jackson: Everyone is used to seeing 3D now.  We filmed in 3D.  We’re not doing a post-conversion.  I think what we did is a much more immediate and realistic look at 3D, and it’s been surprisingly easy, too.  The cameras and the rigs that were available to us, even though they were prototypes when we first began, performed really, really well and very, very easily. They were easy to use fast.  It hasn’t slowed us down, at all.  The 48 fps takes away the art effects that we’re used to seeing in cinema, and that’s what people are going to have to get used to.  But, I find that you get used to it pretty quickly, when you sit and watch it.  We’re used to seeing strobing.  We’re used to seeing a panning shot, which is like a series of still frames that shutters its way along. You don’t get that with 48 frames.  And yet, it doesn’t impede our ability to color time the film and put a really creative grade on the movie.  Everything is the same as it normally is.  And, the fact that you don’t have so much motion blur makes it feel quite sharp, as well.  You get something that, to me, is much more akin to shooting on 65 mm.  You get a very fine detail with the 48 frames. 

8. Jackson thinks of this as the 65 mm film he always wanted to make:

It’s weird because, back in 1998, when we first started working on The Lord of the Rings, for a while, I seriously tried to convince the studio to shoot in 65 mm because I really thought that The Lord of the Rings should have been shot in that format.  But, at the time, the cameras were huge, cumbersome and difficult.  The negative that we would shoot would have to be sent away to America to be processed, so we couldn’t even see any of the rushes from New Zealand.  We’d have to ship them to America, and then back again.  So, the whole thing really wasn’t actually possible.  For me, I finally get to shoot my 65 mm quality film.

48 fps is way better for 3D. One of the things with 3D is that it does accentuate the strobing because you’re getting it in two eyes from two cameras that were filming. Once you go to 48, it’s much smoother. There’s no eye strain and no headaches.  The thing that we have to get now are the laser projectors, which are on the horizon, probably next year. The light levels of 3D will be radically increased, two or three times the light levels that exist now. At that point, cinema exhibition will be at a place where it will be great.  It will be fantastic!

9. Why Ian McKellan believes in the power of 3D:

McKellan: For people who are like, “Oh, we don’t need 3D, we’re used to 2D,” bollocks!  3D is life. We’re in 3D now. The brilliance about Peter’s 3D is that it doesn’t come out at you.  You go into it.  You enter Middle Earth.  You look around the corner.  You’re even deeper in, and can you find your way out?  That’s the effect of 3D.

It’s astonishing to think that most of the people at the presentation have never seen The Lord of the Rings in the cinema. We’ve all got 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds who watch The Lord of the Rings nonstop, but they watch it at home. What is going to happen to their heads when they take their parents in to see a 3D movie, maybe for the first time, that’s in 48 fps? It’s going to be much bigger and more astonishing for them. Those little kids are going to be so thrilled!

10. The possibilities of making The Hobbit a trilogy are real:

Jackson: Well, it's very, very premature. We have got incredible source material with the appendices. There's the novel, but then we also have the rights to use the 125 pages of additional notes where Tolkien expanded the world of the Hobbit. We've used some of that so far, and just in the last few weeks, as we've been wrapping up the shooting and thinking about the shape of the story, writers Philippa [Boyens], Fran [Walsh] and I have been talking to the studio about other things that we haven't been able to shoot and seeing if we could possibly persuade them to do a few more weeks of shooting. We'd probably need more than a few weeks, actually, next year. The discussions are pretty early, so there isn't anything to report, but there are other parts of the story that we'd like to tell, that we haven't had the chance to tell yet. We're just trying to have those conversations with the studio, at the moment.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hits theaters December 14, 2012.

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