In HN Entertainment’s interview with Alita: Battle Angel visual effects supervisor Eric Saindon, he previously talked about Alita and Avatar. Nick and CJ then moved on to asking about his extensive work at Weta Digital on Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth Saga, mainly The Hobbit movies. Eric happened to be the visual effects supervisor on all three Hobbit movies as well and dished about the challenges of the motion capture for Smaug The Dragon played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
“I think the big one there was just getting his movement to feel snake-like, right. Cause that’s what the reference is in the book, he moves through the gold almost like a snake but on his legs. It was really trying to get that feel of being snake-like but still feeling like this huge creature that’s very menacing and moving through.”
“And I mean that was a very different way of doing performance capture cause we did have Benedict on performance capture stage and captured his face obviously which really comes through and I love, but there is only so much you can capture from his body in a case like that because he’s limited on what he could do, he doesn’t look like a snake or move like a dragon. There’s only so much you can actually use and in cases like that you take his head from his shoulders up and that’s really the majority of what you can actually take from the performance. But you do need to connect it all, right, like you always want to take the facial motion and the head motion and the neck motion, they all have to ride together cause once they separate it never feels right.”
Eric also explained that behind the scenes footage of orcs costume tests that eventually saw those characters end up CG instead. As director Peter Jackson wasn’t feeling the designs, scale or the range of motion the actors could give. Although reaffirming there was a fair mix of practical orcs in the film and some that were combinations of CG/practical.
“We actually used both, right [CG and practical orcs]. Some of the orcs we used as fully realized as CG just because Peter felt like he wanted motion that real actors couldn’t get or he wasn’t feeling the size and the motion wasn’t quite right or in some cases, the design wasn’t quite right from what the prosthetics were giving him. But a lot of the ones we dressed up and some of the other characters we actually use the prosthetic version just because you get all the facial and the extra detail for the performance without having to replace. We obviously only want to do CG characters where necessary or for whatever the director’s vision is.”
We also asked about if Eric has heard about Amazon’s Lord of The Rings series coming to shoot in New Zealand and if Weta Digital/Weta Workshop is going to be working on that series.
“I actually have no idea. I’ve heard the same rumors but I haven’t heard whether Weta will be involved or Workshop will be involved or anything.”
You can see Eric’s recent visual effects work on display in Alita: Battle Angel, which is currently out in theaters.