Creating Fictional Worlds with Real People: Creating Gollum in LOTR

Stephen Price’s work Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality discusses how the increased use of visual effects in films impacts not only how they look but how people feel about movies. In recent years many movies have taken advantage of visual effects technology in order to create fictional worlds set in barren wastelands, space, and green fields filled with battling armies. There is a tendency to associate movies with a lot of visual effects with a lower quality script. In his introduction, Prince quotes a colleague who laments the rise of these types of films. He explains, “For her as for many people, visual effects call to mind gaudy spectacle, overstuffed blockbusters, or adventure fantasies catering to young audiences. Visual effects are sometimes viewed as having taken over Hollywood blockbusters and overwhelmed good storytelling” (Prince, 1). There is a lot of evidence that supports this claim including the rise of movies set in the future such as Snowpiercer, Maze Runner and Divergent to name only a few. To some extent, I do agree with Prince’s colleague, it can be frustrating to compare old Hollywood movies and the films in theaters today. However I want to press back on this idea and look at how The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film franchises balanced a complex script with visual effects.

Screenshot from video by The Daily of Freeman and Serkis on set.

Screenshot from video by The Daily (featured below) of Freeman and Serkis on set.

In addition to the concern that the presence of these types of movies threaten quality cinema, there is a looming concern with the technology’s threat to actors. Prince’s third chapter “Actors and Algorithms” addresses this concern. The ability to create digital humans makes many wonder if actors are really needed in order to bring a character to life. Before I go into more detail about what Prince has to say, I want to look at a specific example. The Lord of the Rings handled this situation in a really unique way and stressed that the character, Gollum, a digital hobbit wouldn’t be the character he is without Andy Serkis.

His presence on the set became essential to fleshing out Gollum’s character. The film below goes into more detail on how this character came to life on screen.

Gollum’s role required that he be made with visual effects but the physical dynamic that Serkis brought to the set added dimensions to the strange creature. In this way Serkis became more than just a voice for the character; he was Gollum. The filmmakers learned quickly from their experience and made sure that each character featured in The Hobbit film trilogy had an actor influencing the character.

This film franchise shows a lot of attention to detail in their animated characters’ development. Prince argues that “actors provide the human element in cinema” (100), which supports what I’ve said here but he shows a lot of concern over the role of actors in cinema as a whole. He is careful to distinguish between acting and performance with regard to the screen and notes that the medium and its use of editing allows for performances to be reconstructed and reinterpreted. To some extent this is certainly true, however I see actor involvement with a little more positivity. I think that the character of Gollum is a testament to the actor himself who brought a lot of the human aspects of the hobbit to screen, much to the delight of fans everywhere. While Prince’s reading is very critical of the role of actors in film and animation, I believe that the success of this franchise shows that with attention to detail and emphasis on human behaviors, a film can create a complex character that stands apart from the rest.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: