Part 2: Motion Capture and Keyframe Animation

During and after principle photographing for both King Kong and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, both of Jackson’s large monsters – Kong and Smaug – were motion captured and generated through computer animation. “Motion-capture technology allows an actor’s physical movements to be transferred to figures created through computer-generated imagery (CGI).” (Corrigan and White, 29).

[Fig. 2.1] Andy Serkis motion capturing Kong (criticalcommons still)

[Fig. 2.1] Andy Serkis motion capturing Kong (criticalcommons)

In King Kong, the large gorilla’s facial expressions, in particular eyes and brows, and movements were mimed by Andy Serkis, and recreated into the fearsome creature we all came to love. [Fig. 2.1]. Jackson saw the film “as opportunity for technical innovations in motion capture” (Wikipedia, King Kong), and thus studied hours of gorilla footage to ensure a realistic image. The realistic appearance of Kong in the film enthralled audiences, adding to the appeal and excitement.

[Fig. 2.2] Still taken from

[Fig. 2.2] Still taken from “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug”

Similar to this, Smaug the dragon from The Hobbit was also mo-capped, but it was slightly more challenging with the differences between human and dragon. [Fig. 2.2]. Voiced and motion captured
by Benedict Cumberbatch, the animation of Smaug was completed by hand; including detailed scales, scars and features. [Fig. 2.3]. “[Smaug’s] crocodile-shaped snout and lack of humanoid mouth-shapes were an interesting challenge for animators who used reference footage of full body movements as he delivered his lines as a guide.” (Eric Saindon, digitaltrends).

[Fig. 2.3] Cumberbatch motion capturing Smaug (digitaltrends)

[Fig. 2.3] Cumberbatch motion capturing Smaug (digitaltrends)

Both the giant gorilla and dragon were created with key frame animation, in addition to motion capture. Smaug in particular was considered one of the highlights of the second The Hobbit; critics even proclaimed him “cinema’s greatest dragon.” (Wikipedia, Smaug). In both King Kong and The Hobbit, the viewer experiences fully realised and realistic personalities for both creatures, even though they are both categorised as fictional monsters. The viewer acknowledges this, whilst making connections towards real gorillas and our own personal images of dragons; making them seem more realistic.

[Fig. 1.3] Andy Serkis is his bodysuit on set for “King Kong” (Wikipedia, King Kong)

[Fig. 2.4] Andy Serkis is his bodysuit on set for “King Kong” (Wikipedia, King Kong)

Whilst filming King Kong, prior to the motion capture, Serkis would perform on set to ensure a realistic relationship between the characters of Kong and Ann. [Fig. 2.4]. “…It really worked between us … We really had an extraordinary bond. As if you [Serkis and Watts] were playing a normal relationship.” (Serkis, criticalcommons) With Serkis in the position of Kong, the other actors were able to establish more defining connections and realistic emotions, as if they really were working with a 25 ft. gorilla.

[Fig. 2.5] Still taken from the “Production Diary 13” – Martin Freeman (“Bilbo”) had to envision the camera as Smaug

[Fig. 2.5] Still taken from the “Production Diary 13” – Martin Freeman (“Bilbo”) had to envision the camera as Smaug

In contrast to this however, in The Hobbit, Cumberbatch didn’t portray Smaug whilst filming; leaving the cast to envision the mighty dragon completely. [Fig. 2.5]. Gino Acevedo, Creative Art Director for the film stated that, “During principle photography, Pete really didn’t have a full idea of what he [Smaug] was gonna look like.” (“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Production Diary 13”). The crew had to work in unity, creating eye lines and movements for something that wasn’t there.

In both King Kong and The Hobbit, the editing and visual effects created added to the experiences felt by the viewer. The amount of research, work and detail that went into the creations of Kong and Smaug are expressed immensely in the films. This attention to detail added to the appeal and realism of these creatures; giving the audiences experiences that are hard to forget.

For a behind the scenes look at how Smaug was created, visit this Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVVqELJh5qE

Also, to view behind the scenes footage on King Kong, follow this Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iGQvER6Tns


References:

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