The press tour for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” must be nearly as epic as the film itself. Earlier this week, we shared what we learned from Peter Jackson at the New York press conference for the film (and don't forget to read our review of the movie). Later that day, Jackson was joined by his fellow writers and producers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens in a post-screening Q&A moderated by Entertainment Weekly's Deputy Managing Editor Jeff Giles.
With the film shown to our audience in the 3D, 48-frames-per-second version, discussion about the innovative, somewhat divisive format was front and center. The team also went into greater detail about the production as a whole, particularly focusing on Gollum and looking back on pivotal moments in the making of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, including who really directed the fan favorite scene in 'The Two Towers' (hint: it wasn't Jackson). Here's a bunch of highlights from the conversation, but as for the 48fps debate, don't ask Jackson's writers. "I love both the 24- and 48-frames-per-second versions. I’m the screenwriter, so I think it’s all about the story," Boyens laughed.
Peter Jackson: Reality is what I’ve always tried to do with these films, "The Lord of the Rings" as well. I do feel that having it as real as possible actually enhances the fantasy. I don’t really want to make a stylized film or anything too surreal. As a director, I think my natural style of moving the camera around and using wide-angle lenses, which I do with all of my movies, it’s subconscious in a way, but what it does is me trying to involve all of you in the movie. I’m trying to have you participate in the film as much as possible. For my style, 3D and high frame rate is a gift to me because it enhances what I’m trying to do....
Jackson: First of all, Fran and I paid all of the extra costs out of our own pocket. One of the deals was that if they allowed us to shoot at 48, we wouldn’t add anything to the budget, so that was the spirit in which it was done. Fortunately, Fran and I own the visual effects company WETA, the post-production effects company in New Zealand, so we can help mitigate those costs a little. The other thing is that we had to promise that we could have a 24-frame version as well. The studio, they were very supportive, but we had to guarantee them that we would produce a 24-frame, a second version that would look exactly the same as a normal 24-frame film, which it does. The reality is that on the first day we started shooting this movie, we had to set the camera at 48 frames, and we had to commit to that. And you could say that on the first day of shooting, which was March last year, there wouldn’t be a single cinema that could actually play the movie, so [laughs] a few hundred million dollars, and no one could actually play to screen the movie at that time. They could because of the 24-frame version, of course; we had a safety backup plan....
With technology having moved along 10 years, "The Hobbit" filmmakers say Gollum is essentially new and improved.
Fran Walsh: It was live motion capture on the stage. [Martin Freeman's Bilbo and Andy Serkis' Gollum] were interacting and we were recording Andy’s performance as it happened. We didn’t do that 10 years earlier. He had to reproduce it after the fact, literally step out of the frame and Frodo or whoever he was working with would work with an empty space, and then we’d put Gollum in later. So this time they were able to connect.
Jackson: Even though we wanted Gollum to look the same and have that continuity, beneath the surface of his skin, he’s a much more sophisticated digital creature than he was back in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ days. Because a human being has got a lot of very complex muscles around eyes and your mouth, very, very fine, which is how we do expressions, and how an actor in particular gives that sort of subtle type of performance. You can see pain in their eyes without a great deal of obvious expression. There’s a little bit of tension around the mouth that convey a lot with very little. So we tried to build all of those muscles into the digital Gollum that is much more sophisticated than he was 10 years ago. What that ultimately means is that Andy’s performing and he’s got all these dots on his face and he’s got a camera on a helmet that’s pointed straight at his face and the computer is reading the subtle, tiny movements of all these little markers that he’s got glued to his face, and he’s got lots of markers on his face. And the camera is reading and tracking each of the movements of the markers, transferring that to the puppet of Gollum, and it’s activating all the same muscles in Gollum’s face that match Andy’s. So the ultimate goal is that every moment of acting and every nuance that Andy Serkis is doing gets accurately translated to the Gollum puppet. In the ‘Lord of the Rings’ days, it was always a bit of a broken pipeline that we had to help it with some extra animation. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s much more accurate now.
Jackson, Walsh, Boyens discuss a famous scene in "The Two Towers," and expanding "The Hobbit" into three films all on page two.