THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
The Dragon in the Mountain
In spite of the forces gathering against them, Bilbo and the Dwarves trek the
Mountain to arrive at the hidden door to Erebor in the waning moments of Durin's
Day. And true
to the instructions on the secret map, Thorin is able to open it using his
Boyens feels Armitage brought a "beautiful simplicity" to his performance in
She reflects, "It should be this moment of triumph for Thorin, and instead it is
a moment of quiet
emotion: 'I'm home, and I remember.'"
"When the door opens and Thorin first breathes in the air trapped within this
mountain, his childhood, the Kingdom of Erebor, all of it comes back," Armitage
attests. "It's a
great moment for Thorin, and I felt his joy. But in that stale air is the scent
of the Dragon, Smaug,
who decimated his people, the smell of burnt stone, and the memories of those
who perished there;
it's the smell of death."
A dangerous sentinel may watch over the Dwarven treasure still, threatening
to rain fire and
destruction on any soul brave enough or crazy enough to attempt to claim it.
This virtual suicide
mission is what Bilbo has been brought on this Quest to do. "In this movie, we
come to understand
why they need a burglar because it's really about what they want him to steal,"
Jackson notes. "It's
the Arkenstone--a mystic rock the Dwarves uncovered deep inside the Lonely
Arkenstone doesn't have any real power, but it is of particular importance to
"The Dwarves know how dangerous Bilbo's job is going to be, with the Dragon
still alive," says Ken Stott, who play Balin. "To Balin's mind, there would be
no shame in turning
back, but Bilbo goes through with it because he promised he would, and that
takes a very special
kind of courage."
Venturing down into the chambers of Erebor, Bilbo discovers that within
mountains of gold
and treasure, a Dragon sleeps still. "One thing that defines Smaug from other
Dragons, apart from
his size, is this personality that Tolkien created," Jackson says. "He's not
just a Dragon who can talk
and wants to eat people, he is psychotic and very, very intelligent."
Benedict Cumberbatch plays the iconic role of Smaug the Terrible. Even at his
filmmakers were stunned by the clarity of the actor's embodiment of the Dragon.
"In the book,
Tolkien created a magnificent dramatization of the character," Walsh says. "He's
beautiful character to be given to adapt in a screenplay, and then to have
Benedict do such
extraordinary things with his voice, we knew we had found our Smaug. He knew
Smaug was and how to play him, and it totally matched our vision of the
The British actor has vivid memories of the creature from when his father
read The Hobbit to
him as a child. "My dad is an extraordinary actor, so he brought to life for me
extraordinary world of Hobbits and Dragons," Cumberbatch remembers. "It was a
very rich way to
be introduced to such an incredible book. So, when you can go home and say to
your dad, 'I'm
playing Smaug, and I've got you to thank for it,' it's a very satisfying day in
an actor's life. He played
Smaug as this amazing gravelly, growling creature, so I basically ripped off my
dad for my
performance," he adds with a smile.
Freeman was happy to have his friend and co-star on the acclaimed BBC series
playing his nemesis in the film. "We both auditioned around the same time in
London while were
shooting the first series of 'Sherlock,'" Freeman recalls. "He was delighted to
do it, and I thought it
would be wonderful. Ben's a really good actor. He's brilliant physically, and
fantastic vocally as
Dialect coach McPherson worked with Cumberbatch to perfect his vocal
was impressed with the actor's commitment. "He would physically explore every
work with the different qualities of sound until he found exactly who Smaug was
at that moment,"
McPherson says. "That was an extraordinary creative process to witness. I know
Smaug causes a
lot of terror and heartbreak, but he has brought me nothing but pleasure."
The physical manifestation of Smaug is being brought to life by the artists
at Weta Digital,
but it was all hands on deck among the film's conceptual artists, as well as
designers at Weta
Workshop and Weta Digital. "There is a huge amount of anticipation for this
character, which is a
double-edged sword because if we don't deliver on Smaug, we're in big trouble,"
Jackson admits. "I
certainly didn't go into the meetings with a vision of him in my mind. The only
thing I knew from
the very beginning is that I wanted him to be huge--way bigger than you would
because in addition to his intelligence and cunning, I wanted his size alone to
be terrifying for this
Jackson and his team established a sense of Smaug's sheer size in the first
film, for which the
director's mandate was for his head to be "the size of a bus." This mere glimpse
of the creature set
the standard for when he comes center stage in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of
Smaug." "We have
a lot of incredible artists that worked on Smaug, and you want to give
parameters but also a certain
degree of freedom to just go for it," Jackson notes. "That's what I love,
because it gives me a
chance to then look at many different designs and start to piece the character
Renowned Tolkien illustrator John Howe has spent the last few decades
characters of Middle-earth but let his imagination run wild in his initial
designs. "Tolkien doesn't
really tell us much about the Dragon, but then he is the master of evocation
rather than exhaustive
description," Howe explains. "In a nutshell, we know that Smaug is large,
reddish-gold, has wings
and breathes fire. It was very exciting to then develop life-like energy into
his structure, and then,
once those shapes and silhouettes are in place, you can work on the details,
like how the claws look
At Weta Digital, the Dragon was built layer by layer, from the shape of his
skeleton to the
way he moves to the texture of his skin, the latter refined by textures
supervisor / creative art
director Gino Acevedo, whose department worked on Smaug for over two and a half
"Because he is such an enormous character, there's a lot of skin to cover,"
Building a digital Dragon with the awesome physical presence and personality
envisioned required the animators to incorporate not only the design work, but
performance. To bring a sense of the Dragon's movement to his vocalizations, the
his dialogue in full mo-cap gear on a stage, guided by motion capture supervisor
While the character is not being created through performance capture data,
provided a reference for the animators.
"Obviously, a Dragon's face is very different from a human face, but we took
a lot of
Benedict's ideas from his performance and incorporated them into Smaug's
explains. "We also worked with all the design ideas but have to make sure that
he can perform the
way we need him to perform on screen. That meant breaking it down even further
because we had
to be very specific about details, such as the size of the scales around his
eyes and how they blend
into the texture of the skin and the eyelids."
Each of Smaug's scales was digitally hand-painted to better represent
flaws and reflect his age and history. Letteri notes, "When you see him up
close, you need to see in
his face that he's covered in scars, whether from battles with other Dragons or
from his various
Smaug reveals himself to Bilbo in all his glory when the Dragon immediately
after long, sleepy years, he's no longer alone. "He's a predator," Cumberbatch
senses are highly attuned, and the minute he has an intruder, he's intrigued.
There's an element of
game-playing he does with Bilbo, which is beautiful because he's trying to use
human logic to draw
him out and get information about who he is."
Freeman relished every moment of the encounter between the massive Dragon and
much smaller Hobbit. "Rather like the Gollum and Bilbo stuff in the book, which
is lovely, Smaug
and Bilbo is pretty legendary stuff as well," Freeman reflects. "It is that
battle of wits, though it is
less about the wit for Bilbo and more about trying to stay alive. He's not
feeling very witty, but he
does what he needs to do, at great expense."
Over the course of their game of cat-and-mouse, all of Bilbo's loyalty and
is put to the test by the psychopathic Smaug. "No matter how smart you are,
Smaug is smarter,"
Jackson reveals. "You can't spin a line on him because he will see through it
straight-away. He can
be charming on one level, but then you feel the edge beneath the charm. There
are moments when
he can barely hold in his psychotic rage, which makes him unpredictable and
scary. That was the
fun and joy of writing this character, and Benedict plays that to the hilt."
Amid his vast empire of gold, Smaug becomes enraged at the thought of losing
even a single
piece of it. "And that reveals his level of greed," Cumberbatch states. "Smaug
is the ultimate
symbol of the corruption of power. He's a sleepy serpent on top of his pile of
gold. It brings him
nothing but a damp, dank retirement, no joy or humor. He's vainglorious and
proud of his own
power and wealth, but it has essentially ruined him."
For Jackson, this fateful encounter represents a turning point in the story
that only heightens
his anticipation for the Trilogy's grand finale. "That's the fun of charting a
singular journey with
these characters, who are tested and must confront so many pressures and
influences across three
films," Jackson states. "The dynamics of the story are beginning to steer them,
not just in terms of
what happens to them, but in what it does to them. That ability to shape these
across three films, and to push the narrative constantly forward through each of
them, is the real
privilege of making 'The Hobbit' Trilogy."
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