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The Challenges of Visual Effects for The Desolation of Smaug

Last week, the Academy Award nominations have been revealed with three nominations for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in the categories Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing. With the ever increasing technological advances, visual effects are only consciously perceived when they don’t fulfil the technological standards we are used to. In other words, one tends to forget the amount of hard work that is put into creating visual effects. In a recent interview, the Visual Effects Supervisor for The Desolation of Smaug, Joe Letteri, explained how it is one thing to have an idea of how to create a visual effect, but to effectively simulate a scene requires a lot of work and detail. When asked which scene was most challenging, Letteri explains that the scenes with Smaug, especially when interacting with Bilbo, were particularly demanding:

You need the characterisation to be there. You need [Smaug’s] personality to come through … How are we going to do the muscles? How are we going to do the skin simulations? How many scales are on his body? How big? How small? … All the details follow from what the performance needs to be.


Due to the complexity of scenes like the Barrel Riding, the work for visual effects started early on and required new software and new computer power, explains Letteri. In order to create the anatomy of Smaug’s muscles and neck, WETA used its proprietary software called “Tissue,” which has been honoured with a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2013. Another software that was used to create the breath taking end result was the award-winning Mistika DI Colour Grading system. With the help of Mistika, the colour of scenes were altered or enhanced to complement the darker and richer narrative of DOS. For Trish Cahill, the Supervising Digital Colourist for DOS, the biggest advantage of visual effects tools such as Mistika or Tissue is that they help to bring the imagined world of filmmakers to life.

On March, 2nd , 2014, we will see if the Visual Effects team of DOS will be honoured with one of the sought-after Academy Awards.

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