Last night I attended the lecture with cinematographer Andrew Lesnie in Brisbane. It was an incredibly interesting talk and Andrew is a very laid back speaker with a sense of humor and lots to talk about. He greeted us and then immediately suggested we "bring out the little guy". He rummages around in his bag and pulls out his Academy Award and placed it on the box by his chair as the audience clapped, cheered and laughed.
After talking a little about winning the Oscar he played us back the prologue and most of the Hobbiton sequence (until the start of Bilbo's party) from the DVD which he had brought with him. Unfortunately we didn't see any deleted scenes (unless they were shown towards the end - we had to leave a little early; does anyone care to verify that?) but we were shown a fair amount of behind-the-scenes footage of camera tricks etc.
Andrew then talked a lot about scale. A method that the team used a lot was something they called "visual perspective". Place your hands straight out in front of you, side by side. Now bring one hand closer to your face and the other further away. Different sizes, yeah? That's how they often got around the whole scale problem: for example, in the cart as Frodo and Gandalf drive through Hobbiton, Gandalf is actually sitting about a metre in front of Frodo. As you know, scale doubles were also used - tiny people from all over the world, the US basketball team - were used for "over the shoulder" shots. On set, the real actors who played the part would direct their double while Peter directed the other half of the conversation.
Andrew said he found it hard not to get caught up in the technicalities of the movie. "Script and performance" he said, was the most important elements in a feature film. As was "telling the story". He believes that convelying the emotional context was far more important than all the little technicalities, because if the actors can pull that off than the technicalities are not noticed as much. He talked about the extremities of some scenes; for instance in the Two Towers, they found a huge swamp for the Dead Marshes and Frodo, Sam and Gollum actually got stuck at one point and had a struggle to get out.
This talk on scale and performance was followed by a video on Visual Effects, such as scale. Digital manipulation was used quite often, mainly in "handovers", when a large-scale character such as Gandalf hands an object to a hobbit, for example Bilbo. When Gandalf first enters Bag End, he hands his staff and hat to Bilbo to put away. Watch the hat during the changeover.
Minatures of scenes, or "bigatures" as they were sometimes called, were used quote often. The Bridge of Khazud-dum for example - all the wide shots of the fellowship racing down the stairs were merely of a scuplture of the scene with flames and people added digitally. Which brought Andrew to his next point about digital minatures of characters. Each character was digitally scanned and used in several wide shots in many scenes. In the battle scenes in all three movies, such as the one in the Prologue and Helm's Deep (which took the company four months of night shooting to put together) only the foreground fighters were "real people". As they faded into the distance, they became digitised, and the workers at WETA digital spent months scanning in fight movements etc of real people to make them seem as lifelike as possible. In fact, in a few shots of what looked like Helm's Deep, you will notice many of the digital people just run backwards and forwards until they are attacked, or stand on the edges fighting what appears to be nothing. Andrew announced that in a huge battle scene he showed us all he really filmed was grass. He got applause :)
He then showed us a video of how the Cave Troll was created. At first it wasn't lifelike enough so they had to build it, layer by layer, first the skeleton, then a layer of muscles, skin, textures - everything. We were showed again the Battle of Balin's Tomb and The Bridge of Khazud-dum sequences.
He talked again about how important it was that the crew didn't get too caught up in the technical side of things and forgot about the most important element of all - telling the story. Then there were many questions, about the technical side of things: digital screening and blacks, etc. Unfortunately at this point I had to leave, I was half an hour late anyhow; I was so caught up in his talk!
Andrew is a very interesting speaker, obviously quite passionate about his work to do with "Lord of the Rings". It was a wonderful and very informative talk and i'm so glad that we had the opportunity to go.
Thanks TORN! I thought you might like to read about that, as you advertised it on the website a couple of days ago.