Ten years after the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, New Zealand director Peter Jackson returned to make the cinematic version of The Hobbit. As a Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit is a single book, but filmmakers decided to divide it into three movies, leading to plenty of behind-the-scenes moments and surely a few bloopers. The Hobbit films, subtitled An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), featured the return of such characters as Gandalf, Legolas, Gollum, and the Elves, with a focus on title character Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman.
The Hobbit BTS stories suggest that plenty of effort, and lots of new digital tricks, went into making the series a fitting prequel to one of the greatest film trilogies of all time.
Peter Jackson Admitted He Was Winging It Due To A Lack Of Preparation
Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth) originally took on directing duties for The Hobbit. However, after del Toro had to leave the project and Peter Jackson needed to quickly take over, the latter didn't have any time to prepare. Jackson told The Guardian:
[W]e didn’t wind the clock back a year and a half and give me a year and a half prep to design the movie, which was different to what he was doing. It was impossible, and as a result of it being impossible I just started shooting the movie with most of it not prepped at all.
This chaotic situation carried on throughout The Hobbit sequels and eventually came to a head during filming of The Battle of Five Armies. Jackson got some breathing room after he told the studio, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing now." The release date was moved back five months, but the end result is still not what Jackson had envisioned.
Because The Films Were In 3D, The Visual Effects Team Couldn't Use The Same Perspective Tricks That Were In 'LOTR'Photo: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey / Warner Bros. Pictures
In the original LOTR trilogy, released in 2D, a lot of the impressive special-effects shots for the world Peter Jackson created were done with miniatures, but such camera trickery was more difficult for a 3D feature. Senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri told TechRadar:
A lot of the things we got away with on Rings, such as the miniatures, proved a lot more difficult to do in 3D. It's possible to use miniatures, but the scale, mood, and lighting is tougher to pull off. In 2D, it's easy to manipulate individual elements, but in 3D the perspective tends to break.
The visual effects crew had to instead create cities digitally, and also had trouble with perspective shots. For instance, in the opening scenes of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the majority of the smaller Frodo’s scale alongside the much taller Gandalf was achieved simply by having Elijah Wood (Frodo) stand farther back from Ian McKellen (Gandalf).
Although Jackson wanted to achieve a similar look in the opening of The Hobbit, the intricacies of Gandalf walking around Bilbo, as well as 13 dwarves, with the added complexity of 3D, rendered this trick impossible.
New Technology Allowed The Production Team To Create Visuals That Weren’t Possible In 'LOTR'Photo: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey / Warner Bros. Pictures
The HFR (high frame rate) technology brought on board for The Hobbit doubled the number of frames from 24 to 48 frames per second, allowing for a much clearer, smoother picture.
This technology probably paid off most for Gollum due to "digital acting": The filmmakers were able to reduce blur, sharpen Gollum's movements, and enhance his facial nuances, showing the character like he’d never been seen before.
Senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri told TechRadar:
We've brought creatures off the page as Tolkien described them, in a way that 10 or 12 years ago would have been almost impossible. The fact that Peter Jackson can write a nine-minute scene with an actor and a digital actor together (the "Riddles in the Dark" scene) to me is a great testament to what you can do with the art form these days.
Hobbiton Was Rebuilt In The Same Place, And Bag End Was Built From ScratchPhoto: Warner Bros. Pictures
For the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Hobbiton, the Hobbits' village in The Shire, was created on the grounds of a farm in New Zealand. After filming, the site became a tourist attraction, although many of the temporary structures were dismantled. The Hobbit was filmed there as well, and this time the set-makers used permanent materials to enhance the site's tourism potential.
Bag End, the Hobbiton home of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, was digitally mastered on a stage in Wellington, NZ. "Building Bag End from scratch was great because we had good reference to use from the previous LOTR set build, but because we were about to shoot these films at a higher frame rate and in super high definition we had the opportunity to make every single detail in that house immaculate," said production designer Ra Vincent.