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CGI Done Right: Gollum in Lord of the Rings

CGI Done Right: Gollum in Lord of the Rings

Nowadays, with major advances in technology CGI is playing a huge role in the movie making industry. Of course sometimes creators can go a little too far with CGI making the realistic looking aliens or monsters not so realistic looking and instead creepy or annoying (see Jar Jar Binks) but when they get it right it is nearly perfect. 

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Each month the Cinelinx staff will write a handful of articles covering a specified film-related topic. These articles will be notified by the Movielinx banner. Movielinx is an exploration and discussion of our personal connections with film. This month we investigate characters in film that are not made of flesh and bone, but bits and bytes born from hours of programming. Join us as we discuss CGI characters both good and bad. 


 

One CGI masterpiece that comes to mind is Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. When reading The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit it's hard to picture what Gollum looks like in real life. Author, J.R.R. Tolkien, describes his looks as either dark, sallow, or bone-white. In book The Hobbit, he is described as thin with only six teeth that are sharpened into points. The only thing we can think of is just an odd slimey creature, and yet Peter Jackson and the WETA Digital team brought him to life as that slimey creature and then some.

When just signing up for the role actor Andy Serkis was relatively in the dark with the entire motion-capture concept in fact most of the movie industry was. But this role was the start of something huge for CGI in films.

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To create Gollum, actor Andy Serkis had to wear a kind of costume which was a tight grey unitard and small little sensors all over his body and face. The sensors would capture his body movements and facial expressions and this allows the computer to create a replicated 3D model of the movements and the creating of the physical appearance can begin. 

But it wasn't just the geniuses at WETA Digital and Peter Jackson that helped create such a great character, one can argue it really could not have been done without Andy Serkis. Andy Serkis is above all things a fantastic actor, we see that in these films. The way he spits out his lines and coughs "Gollum, Gollum," are just incredibly spot on. Even with his shrieks, yells, and cries, you ultimately do feel for the character. Serkis may be the man behind the CGI but if you see him act during the shooting of these films you see his transformation. One could argue the CGI effects are an added bonus because the true transformation lies within Andy Serkis. His normal stature and face shrinks down, his lips curl back, eyes goes wide, it's remarkable how he just becomes this character with the help of nothing but his talent. 

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Audiences and critics alike were not only happy with the end result of Gollum but amazed with him. It was a weird mutant hobbit that came to life and just looked incredibly real. Even in 2003, the MTV Movie Awards created a special category called Best Virtual Performance given only in that year. Gollum was up against some big names like Scooby Doo and Yoda and even with the tough competition, he ended up taking home the golden popcorn.

Not only that but Gollum helped paved the way for such CGI successes like Avatar and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (another WETA Digital film starring Serkis). It is further proof that technology has come such a long way. Gollum will not only be one of the greatest CGI characters in film  of all time but one of the greatest characters in film of all time.