The first installment of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s fantasy novel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was finally brought to the silver screen after over half a decade in development.

Gollum The Hobbit

The film follows the escapade of Bilbo Baggins, a very respectable and unadventurous hobbit of the Shire, who gets roped into joining 13 dwarves on their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain as the company’s burglar. Like Bilbo himself, The Hobbit embarks on a whole new level experience. The most notable feature of all is its ground-breaking 48 fames per second technology which startles both fans and critics alike.

Despite mixed reviews on the reception of the technology, audiences are still wagering on The Hobbit for this year’s Academy Award for best visual effects, in the hope that, like its predecessor (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) the exceptional computer generated imagery (CGI) will win out. Peter Jackson’s trademark CGI development (“performance capture” technology, which is used in The Hobbit) is evidently more advanced than when it was first developed for The Two Towers.

In a nutshell, performance capture is what brings Gollum to life. The process of creating Gollum involved Andy Serkis acting in a skin-tight suit peppered with censor points, with special cameras tracking his performance from every angle and translating his motions into a computer, where a CGI Gollum puppet mimics his performance in real time. This puppet is then used to generate the movements of the actual CGI Gollum model.

In The Hobbit, “facial motion capture” is also used. Serkis now also has dots peppering his face and a camera in front of his nose. With facial motion capture, key-framing animation is no longer required. Muscle movement on the face is detected and used to develop the finished product.

“We have advanced the art of motion capture quite substantially on The Hobbit”, said Peter Jackson, “including the detail of motion-capturing individual hairs of each dwarf’s beard.” 

Unlike in The Lord of the Rings, Gollum is no longer the only character to be generated by performance capture. The three trolls played are also CGI creatures, as are the goblin king and Thorin’s arch enemy, Azog.

In other words, the miniatures once favoured by Peter Jackson in The Lord of the Rings are now entirely out of consideration. Fans are ensured that more spectacular visual effects will be brought to the screen in the sequels arriving this December and the next.