While at Comic-Con for a big presentation in Hall H, director Peter Jackson, along with actors Martin Freeman, Sir Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis, talked to press about the highly anticipated release of The Hobbit films, and whether or not there might be some additional shooting for a possible third film. During the press conference, they discussed how The Hobbit films will fit in with The Lord of the Rings films in their tone, why it was right to shoot in 3D and 48 frames per second, and the biggest advances in technology since Rings. You can read our recap of the Comic-Con panel here.
Andy Serkis also talked about how he came to be the Second Unit director, while Martin Freeman revealed that Season 3 of Sherlock is likely to shooting from January through April, of next year. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
PETER 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, 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.
Because The Hobbit is more of a children’s novel, how will it fit in with The Lord of the Rings films, in tone?
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 fairytale 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 and a lot touch to be gained from those characters, but there’s still some serious themes involved. Hopefully, The Hobbit films will comfortably straddle both worlds.
JACKSON: Well, 48fps 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.
Martin, as one of the actors who is new to this world, what was it like to be a part of this and play a character that is so small?
MARTIN FREEMAN: For me, it became really noticeable when we went to Lake Town.
FREEMAN: 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.
JACKSON: Not as much as on Rings, no.
FREEMAN: So, it’s felt fairly painless, and it hasn’t felt to contrived. 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.
Martin, how does this literary adaptation of Tolkien compare to the experience of making The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?
FREEMAN: It’s even more green screen this time than with Adams. They’re very different. Apart from the fact that they have a fantastical element to them and I’m playing in adaptations, they’re literally completely different worlds. The experience of this is genuinely unlike anything I’ve ever done, and unlike anything I’m likely to do again, just for breadth of scale and time, and being in a different part of the hemisphere than I’m used to. It’s a whole different experience. It’s like a huge chunk of your life. That, alone, makes it different from anything else. The budget makes it different. You’re constantly walking onto sets and soundstages where what you’re acting on would take up the entire budget of any other film I’ve done. So, just the scale of it is quite phenomenal. For me, they’re incomparable.
In taking a character from a book, did either author make it easier to inhabit the character?
FREEMAN: That’s a good question. Not that I’ve noticed, particularly, no. With Arthur Dent, he serves, I suppose, a similar function to Bilbo, in that he’s the nearest thing to an audience member, in the film. He’s the audience’s way in. And to a certain extent, you could argue that they’re archetypes, in the hands of a much lesser actor. Cue laughter. They’re ciphers, in a way, I suppose you could say. And, they’re reluctant heroes who end up being heroes by accident because they’re archetypal stay-at-home people. Also, a lot of the time, it’s not just about whether the author makes it easier because that goes for an adaptive process, and then you’re working with directors as well. It’s the entire experience that determines whether you’re going to have an easy time of it or not. It’s not just Tolkien versus Douglas Adams, both of whom are brilliant writers. It’s who’s directing the film, who’s adapted it, and everything.
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. Hopefully, Andy [Serkis] has made those muscles work in a brilliant way. 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.
SERKIS: When we shot The Lord of the Rings, we shot on 35mm. 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 35mm performance, which was then animated directly to match that performance. What is 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. Therefore, the chances to augment and change the iteration on the fly makes a huge difference .
Peter, why was this right for 3D and 48 fps?
JACKSON: Everyone is used to seeing 3D now. We have 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 artifacts that we’re used to seeing in cinema, and that’s what people are gonna 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 65mm. You get a very fine detail with the 48 frames. It’s weird because, back in 1998, when we first started working on The Lord of the Rings, for awhile, I seriously tried to convince the studio to shoot in 65mm ‘cause 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 65mm quality film.
IAN McKELLEN: 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 eight, nine and ten-year-olds who watch The Lord of the Rings, non-stop, 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.
JACKSON: Hopefully, they’ll tell their parents to take them to more movies and get them away from their iPads.
McKELLEN: 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. Those little kids are going to be so thrilled!
JACKSON: 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!
SERKIS: I’ve been wanting 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 48fps, for the first time. It was just a massive learning curve, really. The idea at the center of it 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.
Sir Ian, what was it like to return to Gandalf, after all these years?
McKELLEN: Peter and I were just so thrilled that Gandalf the White wasn’t in The Hobbit.
JACKSON: Gandalf the White was a bit boring.
McKELLEN: He was a man on a mission, so he had to get on with it. But, Gandalf the Grey has time to enjoy himself.
JACKSON: Gandalf the Grey was always our favorite.
McKELLEN: He can have a smoke and a drink and a chat, and do a few little tricks. It was a great relief! But, people shouldn’t expect to see a different sort of Gandalf. As for being 60 years young, because the story takes place 60 years before, when you’re 7,000 years old, 60 years doesn’t make much difference. When we went back to do this movie, it’s not just the cast. It’s all the people behind the camera, too. They were the same. Every head of every department was as we left them on The Lord of the Rings. We were back with old friends. In fact, the new side of it was the actors, like all the dwarves and this particular Bilbo. But, everyone fit in very well.
Martin, will you shoot a Season 3 of Sherlock soon?
FREEMAN: Yes, in January until about April, I think.
It’s such an incredibly well-written show with great dialogue, and you and Benedict Cumberbatch are just so fantastic together.
FREEMAN: It’s a pleasure for us to do. We love it!
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