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The Digital Characters
Because of Gollum's crucial role in the journey of Frodo and Sam toward their destination where the Ring must be destroyed, Jackson was determined that the character must be entirely authentic, a presence that would carry as much reality and emotional weight as a live actor. "The character of Gollum is a completely digital creature, but I was determined that I wanted an actor to actually create the character, which in this case is Andy Serkis," says Jackson.

The collaboration between creative teams and Serkis has resulted in the first character of his kind -- an entirely performance-based digital creation that "acts" as much as any actor in the film.

As Jackson and Oscar-winning director of photographer Andrew Lesnie supervised actor Andy Serkis's performance on set, the animators at WETA Digital studied the resulting performance to remake it digitally, using his movements and facial expressions to animate the Gollum that would ultimately "act" in the scene. "I am so in awe of the skill, effort and technical wizardry of the rotoartists," says Serkis. "The skill of the animators to bring this off, and have such passion for it, is quite staggering."

His body and voice design was then taken further into an animated world through motion capture photography, computer generated imagery and digital sound mixing. The resulting synthesis is a totally new visual effect. "Obviously, Andy creates the character through the voice," explains Jackson. "But also, we're doing a lot of Gollum as motion capture, which is when Andy wears a suit covered in these little dots, and he performs Gollum. He says the dialog, he plays the scenes out just as he would, and the computer is able to capture his movement, and translate that to the digital version of Gollum."

Starting with sketches by conceptual artists Howe and Lee along with the art, Jackson's vision for Gollum was ultimately sculpted into a plasticene maquette which was then scanned into the computer. "There are around 300 different muscles or more on Gollum," says creature supervisor Eric Sainden. "He has a full skeleton and a full muscle system that's all driving what you see on his skin. One of Gollum's greatest challenges is his face. He has to act with the other actors. The facial system we're doing has about 250 different face shapes that we're working in between."

Gollum's famous voice, one of the most memorable elements of both Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, became Serkis's touchstone and key to the character. "I had an emotional root to that sound," he says. "For me, it is where his pain is trapped. That emotional memory is trapped in that part of his body, his throat. In just doing the voice, I immediately got into the physicality of Gollum, and embodied the part as I would if I were playing it for real."

His performance was so strong as Gollum that the initial digital character has evolved throughout the production to be more like the actor. "Gollum is probably the most actor-driven digital creature that has ever been used in a film before," Jackson adds.

Tolkien created an ancient culture of trees, called Ents, in The Lord of the Rings. To bring these "living trees" to life, Jackson called on WETA workshop. The greatest challenge of the Ents was the notion that trees are not creatures of the imagination – their characteristics are known and recognized the world over. "Ents are a challenge beca

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