Hey folks, Harry here... it is fine to be completely envious of the following person. I understand the feeling... The idea of waiting to the 29th is killing me. I want to see it all now. NOW. God I hope ATTACK OF THE CLONES rules my ass in May, along with SPIDER-MAN.... I need a distraction to thrill me and get my mind off of LOTR. The wait is insane. Here ya go.....
I visited Weta Workshop in February at the invitation of a person of great style and grace. They were working on a pretty severe deadline to make several scenes ready for a March teaser trailer. I was treated to the following scenes in various stages of prep:
Frodo and Gollum are fighting (presumably on the slope of Minas Morgul).
Gollum was acted for rotoscoping by a heavyset Kiwi gent. The animators were having a bit of trouble making him thin, and texture maps were not complete, so the evil one had fairly translucent features. Gollum is under Frodo, and is biting his neck as Sam attempts to drag him off. Animators were having the devil of a time elongating his feet and manipulating the shadows around the pair, as background dirt and gravel had to be painted back in behind the characters. Green blotchy skin, big eyes and hairy ears were dominant characteristics. At this point, the studio had not converted day for night, so this was a daylight scene I saw.
CG hordes are girding for the assault on Helm's Deep.
This was so exciting... The creatures are completely convincing as they crawl around the bowl of the Deep. There are thousands of them. In one scene we see Legolas and dozens of other warriors string and unleash a flurry of arrows into the horde below. Cinema trickery: They goofed part of the shot, and in the scene we saw, there is a bare second of speeded-up action (where bad footage was cut) as the archers shoot. It goes by in a blur. We also saw Riders from Rohan clash with Orcs in a night scene; backgrounds and CG people were being painted in from blue screen. These are real horses riding into real orc fighters.
Frodo and Sam climb up the mountain to Mordor.
We can plainly see where the compositors are drawing a rough line in the print to drop in the matte painting of dark-skied Mordor. The actors had a blue screen behind their heads (some yards away) so they could be eased into the new scenery. They look weary.
Gollum finds the ring underwater.
An utterly real fish swims in front of a clothed CG Gollum as he swims under the surface of the river Ithilien with the One Ring. Amazing water effects...plants...ripples...light beams...beautiful. This is one of the most finished scenes we saw.
Finally...the very coolest...Gandalf and the Balrog falling in the depths of Moria.
The CG Gandalf, engulfed in flame, spiralling into a huge cavern underground. Whoa. The only way to describe it is to picture pitch black, with light appearing at the top of your view, brightening until flames and the outlines of the characters explode out of a hole in the roof and drop, slowly, until they are mirrored in a vast silent lake below, then - splash, and contact with the water, geysering up and then darkness again. We also say rough renderings of the fall from the sides, and, I seem to recall, some swirling water effects. This was in rough stages, as they were plotting textures and effects, so no smoke or atmosphere.
Last but not least, Treebeard.
This one's not going too swiftly for the animators. They've barely got a look for the character: Square face, huge nose, tons of tendrils for the beard. We saw a wireframe rendering; they haven't gotten to texture mapping yet. The best feature for this character: great eyes with bushy brows.
Addendum: We saw some really cool props which the animators use to replicate in their CG work: swords, armor, helmets, etc. There are machines and workers flung all over the Weta building...it's a warren of dark alcoves, workstations in hallways, and closets filled with designs. Unfortunately, security was tight, so I didn't see the render-farm of PCs. The most interesting aside: they proof their work in Netscape for Unix, and view rendered output on Macintosh G4 towers. (Note: the software primarily used to animate the LOTR films, Shake, has just been acquired by Apple Computer.) Needless to say, we didn't bring any photos out. But you'll see it all onscreen real soon now!