How The Lord Of The Rings VFX Team Realized Andy Serkis Was Their Most Valuable Resource [Exclusive]

In an exclusive interview with our very own Bill Bria, “Avatar: The Way of Water” VFX supervisors Joe Letteri and Ritchie Baneham spoke about the surprisingly critical role that their work on Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy played in fleshing out the visual language of James Cameron’s latest blockbuster. Letteri and Baneham told Bria that:

Letteri: When you’re doing an animated character, animators will often refer to themselves, because it’s the closest reference they have. And when we started doing Gollum, it’s like — every animator traditionally has a mirror at their desk. And every shot that we looked at for review, you could see who the animator was …  and at some point we had to say, “Stop. We have Andy [Serkis]. Why don’t we just use him?”

Baneham: I can even define the moment, which is the soliloquy sequence where Andy is playing two characters … I’m like, “I don’t want any of Mike. I don’t want any of Atsushi. Get Andy.” And we were able to [pull it off] … I do think that’s a building block for all the way to today, which is value the performances the actors give you, and protect them. It’s [the animator’s] job to shepherd them to screen.

It’s been just over two decades since the “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” first introduced the world to Andy Serkis’ motion capture performance as the cave-dwelling, emaciated monster, Gollum. Since then, both Serkis and the medium of motion capture acting have become Hollywood mainstays. In a very real sense, Serkis’ performance paved the way for James Cameron’s “Avatar” movies to be the technological titans that they unquestionably are. 

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