3:16 PM PST 2/21/2014 by Carolyn Giardina
Peter Jackson's Weta Digital has released a new video exclusively to The Hollywood Reporter detailing its Oscar-nominated work to create the massive dragon Smaug and meld it with the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
"Our challenge with Smaug was making him every bit as engaging and believable as his live-action counterparts," explains David Clayton of Smaug's Oscar-nominated VFX team from Weta Digital.
Clayton tells THR that to get started, Cumberbatch came to Wellington, N.Z.'s Weta in early 2012. "Using our motion-capture stage, we recorded his performances, which focused on the conversation with Bilbo sequence. Having Benedict in a mocap suit was lots of fun -- for us, and hopefully for him, too -- and seemed to help get him immersed and home in on the character."
The animation team then grafted Cumberbatch's performance onto the CG dragon. "The translation of performance from Benedict to Smaug wasn't a one-to-one match like you'd get from a humanoid creature. They have very different physiologies," Clayton explains. "As animators we had to transpose the elements of Benedict's performance that were critical to the shot, such as head nuances and facial expressions. We then built up the majority of his motion with keyframe animation" --meaning that it was animated by hand.