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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Movie Discussion: The Hobbit:
Miniatures/Bigatures...the real problem?
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Misty Mountain Hop

Sep 9 2013, 2:48pm

Post #1 of 48 (1924 views)
Miniatures/Bigatures...the real problem? Can't Post

I remember Peter discussing this topic at the beginning of filming for The Hobbit. He said that, because of the huge detail they are shooting in (48fps, 5k), they can't use miniatures. They had to do everything on the computer because they couldn't capture that detail in miniatures like they did in LOTR.

I just finished watching all of the special features on LOTR again and those guys that made the miniatures were unbelievably talented. The detail that went into them was out of this world.

Now I know that there aren't many moments in AUJ that could use miniatures, but I have a feeling that we might be missing out on a huge aspect of filming that we had in LOTR. I just remember some of those shots in LOTR, such as the Argonath, Helms Deep, Minas Tirith, Rivendale, Orthanc, etc. that used miniatures/bigatures, and how absolutely amazing those looked on screen.

They were able to use them to get panning shots, close ups, and background sets, as well as overlapping them with other shots. I just feel that the use of that vital tool was essential to getting some groundbreaking shots and visuals and that not having them in the Hobbit is a huge loss.

I'm not sure how close they can match the detail on the computers. I remember Peter saying how he would love to do more stuff on miniatures after LOTR. Those guys were world class miniature makers by the end.

What are your thoughts on the use of these in LOTR and the lack of them in The Hobbit?


Sep 9 2013, 3:04pm

Post #2 of 48 (1330 views)
Don't take my word for it [In reply to] Can't Post

but I think he used miniatures on King Kong. SO he did do some post-LOTR but they obviously wouldn't look as good in 48 frames. I miss them too Frown.

I simply walked into Mordor.


Sep 9 2013, 3:28pm

Post #3 of 48 (1276 views)
I thought the miniatures in LotR were fabulous... [In reply to] Can't Post

.. and the skill of the makers beyond words.

But there are some problems with miniatures that are hard to get over - things your eye doesn't see, but the camera does. Remember the piece in the EEs about the vibration in the model of the Black Gate? And as Peter Jackson is a great admirer of miniatures himself, I don't think he would have taken the decision to do without them unless he was certain that they wouldn't stand up to high definition and 3D. He's not the only film maker to have reached this conclusion. At Leavesden studios they have a breathtaking model of Hogwarts which was used in the Harry Potter films, except the last; when they also decided that it would be more effective to replace it with a computer model.

As far as missing the physical models in the actual film, I have to be honest and say that it doesn't occur to me as a loss while watching. I don't believe that Rivendell, Dale, Erebor, the goblin tunnels were any less effective as computer models. I'm old fashioned and I'm also a model maker, so I do lament the fact that there won't be the chance to see the hand skills on display that we saw before - in the EEs and in any exhibitions they may have. But I can also see that the computer can do every more amazing things, which take equal though perhaps very different skills. I understand that it would make no sense - artistic sense as much as financial - for a filmmaker today not to use computer graphics. It's sad, but it's the way things happen.


Sep 9 2013, 3:41pm

Post #4 of 48 (1243 views)
My thoughts [In reply to] Can't Post

I think the reason why they couldn't use miniatures this time, was because the 3D cameras were too big to move through them. The CGI environments allowed them to move a lot more freely through the environments.

The lack of miniatures doesn't really bother me to be honest. I used to hate the fact that they wouldn't use them anymore when i first heard about it, because i know how great they looked in LOTR. But after having seen AUJ i'm not so worried about it anymore. Let's be real here for a minute, the only reason people would want miniatures now is so they can say "Look, it's a real thing rather than fake CGI". Everything that's CGI automatically seems to be labeled as lazy or fake these days, even when sometimes it could take more work or look better than practical effects.

I loved the miniatures in LOTR and i'm glad they used them, because i still think they look great. Things like the Argonath really look amazing, but do they really look that much better than the dwarf statues outside of Erebor? Or is it just people hating the fact that they're CGI? People also often compare Goblintown to Moria (probably because both have goblins in them), but i think a more fair comparison would be comparing Goblintown to the caverns of Isengard, simply because they look a lot more similar in design. In the caverns of Isengard, it's very easy to notice when there's usage of greenscreen and miniatures and when it's a real set. In Goblintown, i find it a lot harder to see where the real sets blend into the CGI environments. Moria is i think, my favorite usage of miniatures in LOTR, especially Dwarrowdelf looks stunning. But in Moria, they really had the benefit that it was a pretty dark place, which is i think the biggest reason on why it looks so realistic. Most of the other miniature shots in LOTR aged pretty badly, but people just seem to tolerate them "because it's real".

Basically, i understand why people love miniatures and why they would prefer them over CGI, but the CGI isn't all as bad as some people make it out to be.

Misty Mountain Hop

Sep 9 2013, 3:59pm

Post #5 of 48 (1187 views)
I would have to agree. [In reply to] Can't Post

I did really love the miniatures, but CGI has come a long way in the last 10 years and it's really taking place of miniatures. I still do like the "realness" of them, but I also think that with CG they can really go above and beyond.


Sep 9 2013, 4:00pm

Post #6 of 48 (1222 views)
The technology has caught up with miniatures [In reply to] Can't Post

The DOS trailer has made this apparent with its showcasing of several CGI shots that could only have been done with miniatures12 years ago, but could not have included the same amount of detail. Compare the Argonath to this shot:

The detailing, the shadows and lighting, and the camera panning all make you feel that you are seeing the real thing. The only limitation these days seems to be the time required for such 3D rendering.

Don't mess with my favorite female elf.


Sep 9 2013, 4:44pm

Post #7 of 48 (1159 views)
Agree 100% [In reply to] Can't Post

I am a bit confused sometimes how some critics of the look of AUJ have stated how everything would look much better with miniatures.

Watching LotR on Blu-Ray has convinced me that technology has caught up with miniatures and it simply shows when they are used.

Same goes for painted backgrounds, which are nice to look at but become very obvious in HD, especially in Fangorn.

“A dragon is no idle fancy. Whatever may be his origins, in fact or invention, the dragon in legend is a potent creation of men’s imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Words of wisdom that should be remembered - both by critics, purists and anyone in between.


Sep 9 2013, 5:02pm

Post #8 of 48 (1190 views)
the artistic look is gone [In reply to] Can't Post

Between the lack of miniatures, facial prosthetics, physical matte paintings, and other traditional film techniques - the handcrafted aesthetic of the original trilogy is gone.

I'm not against CG and digital matte paintings but they are supposed to be one of many tools used to craft a film.


Sep 9 2013, 6:08pm

Post #9 of 48 (1139 views)
But surely.... [In reply to] Can't Post

The people working on the digital models, the digital matte paintings are still artists - aren't they? A lot of them are the same people - even John Howe and Alan Lee work on computer these days when it's called for, as well as with paper and pencils.

And there is still hand work as fine as ever in the costumes, the props and the sets. None of that has gone. And they've made extensive use of facial prosthetics too, and wigs and make up.

I know where you're coming from. I'm a model maker myself and also paint miniatures - I love the feel of clay and wood and fabric, the movement of pencil and brush. Standing spellbound in front of someone else's work (and wishing you'd done it) - that will always be very special. And the computer will never produce a physical original work of art. But I don't think it would be true to say that handwork is art and computer graphics isn't. It's just another form of art; something today's artists are adapting and learning to use, and which is proving especially suited to some purposes. Like film.

There isn't really any supposed about it, is there? Won't filmmakers always use whatever techniques they think will achieve the effects they need? Isn't that what they've always done?


Sep 9 2013, 6:22pm

Post #10 of 48 (1105 views)
absolutely [In reply to] Can't Post

The people working on the films are surely artists.

I'm not saying that digital work is not/cannot be art. I'm saying that the LOTR had a very specific hand-crafted aesthetic that is largely gone in the new films and I think that is a shame.

I'm an architect and there is a similar shift going on in my field and across the design world in general. Digital modelling and rendering are powerful tools and as computer technology becomes more and more powerful and accessible it is being overused to the detriment of the quality of work around the world.

I dont want to go off on a tangent but another issue with digital modelling - when you have to build a physical model (as you know being a model builder) you have to deal with physical realities and solve real world problems that, while subtle, transfer onto film and are essentially more believable.

We might even recognize a model for being what it is, or a matte painting for being what it is while we view a film, in the same way we recognize CG, but when CG is overused it comes off as a cartoon and I don't think thats appropriate for an epic fantasy that we are all supposed to believe is real.

In any case yes I agree 100% that AUJ is a work of art, I just dont think it has the same substance that the first three films do and I believe that is partially due to the shift to an almost all digital methodology.

To me it is almost like watching a video game.

The Shire

Sep 9 2013, 6:29pm

Post #11 of 48 (1077 views)
.. [In reply to] Can't Post

"To me it is almost like watching a video game."

I had this feeling when i watched the Star Wars prequels, and i had that again when i saw the AUJ :(


Sep 9 2013, 6:52pm

Post #12 of 48 (1090 views)
A medium rooted in technology. [In reply to] Can't Post

Great point, dormouse.

Cinema is the medium founded on technological innovation. It started with geniuses like Edison, the Lumieres, and Mélies (apologies for missing accents). These artists kept pushing the technology of their times, and inspired later artists to do the same. First there came sound. It was not accepted well at first (could very well have the same fate as HFR. We don't know yet). Then, Technicolor. Who would have thought then that millions of people would have seen the color transformation witnessed in The Wizard of Oz (using it as an example for effect)? Then came widescreen technology, 3D, and home entertainment. And now we're in the era of performance capture, 3D modeling/sculpting, and entire feature films in a HFR different than the norm.

These new tools are enhancing their visions, in the way that Mélies took us on A Trip to the Moon in such a way that most could not envision in the early 1900s. In the way that The Jazz Singer gave a voice to a medium many considered to be recorded theater. In the way that Technicolor gave us the brilliance of Oz, without which we'd have seen in black and white. Could Victor Fleming & Co. have created such beautiful landscapes, filled with a Yellow Brick Road, had an artist not considered something like Technicolor? Sure, it would have existed in some state. But would it be deemed one of the greatest films--and by many greatest fantasy film--without innovations?

George Lucas, for all of his supposed faults, gave the world his vision of a universe in space. Whether he used real sets, puppets, or green screens, it was achieved because he wanted that. From Edison and Mélies, to Ray Harryhousen and Stanley Kubrick, to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, to James Cameron and Peter Jackson, film has always been a medium rooted in both technology and innovation. Each era's innovative filmmakers have had their share of detractors, naysayers, and critics. But, over time, their work becomes a part of the film process. These tools adapt, of course. Cinerama was the IMAX of its time in the '50s, for example.

I find the conservatism on topics such as these to be quite confusing. Film history is a thing of change. The cinema is change. Gone were the days of theater performances for the bourgeoisie-only. We all could go to the movies. This is an industry for community and for the communal experience. (I love the example of Gone with the Wind, with lines wrapping around blocks and people waiting hours upon hours to see the epic film.)

It began as a "demo" event one could find at a carnival/expo type of event. Now, it's one of the major cultural industries on the planet. Film markets are expanding at great rates all over, in such places as China and Latin America.

Film artists create their visions based on what the moment's technology allows them. Their efforts are in the pursuit of fulfilling the filmmaker's vision, whether it be hand drawings of Mickey Mouse and Snow White by Disney staff or WETA Digital animating the Great Goblin.

And as dormouse has said: that is what they've always done. And, thankfully, always will.

^ all of this coming from an artist.

Edit: Not trying to come off as pompous with a film history lesson or anything like that. But it's hard not to cite examples when something like this comes up.

(This post was edited by cats16 on Sep 9 2013, 6:55pm)


Sep 9 2013, 7:27pm

Post #13 of 48 (1038 views)
Excellent post, cats [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that part of the problem is that for most of the lives of most people alive today, including critics, there has not been huge technological change in movie making. The advent of sound, the introduction of colour are all history to most of us and we didn't experience them.

Sure there have been advances but nothing like those major milestones until fairly recently, with the coming of things like IMAX, the new 3-D and HFR. And of course ever more inventive and complex CGI.

So what we are used to becomes the norm, the ideal, the golden age and anything else is alien. That's fair enough, but it's sad when it destroys our pleasure.


Sep 9 2013, 7:55pm

Post #14 of 48 (1020 views)
Thanks, and very good points yourself, Noria. [In reply to] Can't Post

That golden age idea really hits the mark.

It would be fascinating to get a chance to go, say, to 2075, and just look at films from 1990-2020. That would be around the same temporal difference as 1930-1960 is to today. I would love to see the way film evolved, and that period's acceptance/denial of innovations from our current era.

Tol Eressea

Sep 9 2013, 8:05pm

Post #15 of 48 (1029 views)
Quite so....the artistic skill or value is not in doubt, [In reply to] Can't Post

rather the merit of either technique when one looks at the resulting effects...

As a comparison, two shots of Rivendell, the first from FotR, the second from AUJ


In this shot of the Fellowship leaving Rivendell, IMO, all the buildings and bridge look solid and blend in well with the background...


In the scene of the Dwarves arriving, the only thing that looks solid and real, apart from the actors, are the statues in the foreground (because they are actual props,) the floor and the stairs. The rest, particularly the trees, look painted and flat, IMO.

"Choosing Trust over Doubt gets me burned once in a while, but I'd rather be singed than hardened."
¯ Victoria Monfort

Grey Havens

Sep 9 2013, 8:21pm

Post #16 of 48 (1029 views)
Dwarrowdelf in LotR [In reply to] Can't Post

I loved it too, the moment Gandalf decided to turn up the light of his staff, and we saw that seemingly endless hall of pillars and heard the awesome music Shore wrote for it, is a favorite from the entire series for me.

However - it was a computer-generated environment!Smile They realized that to get that vast, endless look they would need a miniature so big it would not be affordable to build. Other parts of the Moria sequence did use miniatures, though.


Sep 9 2013, 9:14pm

Post #17 of 48 (977 views)
Ah yes, forgot about that [In reply to] Can't Post

But didn't they use both miniatures and CGI in Dwarrowdelf? If i remember right, they used the bottom of the pillars of a miniature aswell, but don't quite remember to what extent.


Sep 9 2013, 10:09pm

Post #18 of 48 (962 views)
agreed [In reply to] Can't Post

the difference is subtle, but the overall effect is quite powerful..


Sep 9 2013, 10:17pm

Post #19 of 48 (971 views)
This is the end of cinema! Again! [In reply to] Can't Post

"The soul of film - its eloquent and vital silence - is destroyed “
-Ernest Betts (1928)

"I think that colour has done as much damage to cinema as television."
-Francois Truffaut

"The day they can imitate nature precisely, there will be no more cinema."
-Jean Renoir

“That hobbit has a pleasant face,
His private life is a disgrace.
I really could not tell to you,
The awful things that hobbits do.”


Sep 9 2013, 10:18pm

Post #20 of 48 (968 views)
... [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't doubt the importance of technological advancement in the evolution of any medium but some methods and tools are appropriate for a particular piece and some are not.

I don't have a conservative attitude when it comes to art. I just think the CG is overdone in these films - plain and simple.

IMO the first trilogy worked so well because it was rendered in a romantic, historic and believable way. These films really aren't and that is not a subjective observation it is a fact that they have a very different feel to them due to the overuse (in my opinion) of digitally generated sets, lighting, characters, etc.

There were other reasons the first trilogy worked so well such as pacing and a wide range of things but when it comes to the production design these are the primary issues I noticed with AUJ.


Sep 9 2013, 10:26pm

Post #21 of 48 (961 views)
as an analogy [In reply to] Can't Post

try googling zaha hadid and then google say antoni gaudi...

Zaha is a modern architect who designs everything digitally and typically focuses on the birds eye view - something people (the whole purpose behind any architecture) rarely even experience. As a result most of her buildings are poorly detailed and do not contain any substance.

Again, I'm not against technology I just think that any artist needs to be selective in how they implement certain methods regardless of the medium or subject and when you are dealing with something like architecture or film - either of which can be driven by big money it can be hard not to make decisions based on pressure, etc.


Sep 9 2013, 10:38pm

Post #22 of 48 (955 views)
I feel like we've done this before. [In reply to] Can't Post


Found a good follow up quote:

"The first thing one must remember about film is that it is a young medium. And it is essential for every responsible artist to cultivate the ground that has been left fallow." ~ Orson Welles

Not nearly as good as yours, though. CrazyTongue


Sep 9 2013, 11:00pm

Post #23 of 48 (943 views)
To answer both of your posts... [In reply to] Can't Post

First, I must say that I cannot speak for PJ himself. Only going from observations, I feel that he desired this trilogy to look slightly different, and have a different feel to it. The use of things like HFR and shooting in 3D, to me, suggests that he wanted The Hobbit's to be somewhat different aesthetically, yet rooted within the same world. Seeing Dan Hennah walk us through the sets in the vlogs makes it clear that a lot of work was put into the design. This was the intended result. It was encoded to us in this form, and we all decoded it.

Some (it appears that you feel this way) do not agree with some/many of the choices. Others (myself included) do. And of course it's not black and white. We're all in between on different aspects of the films.

But since you mentioned that the artist needs to be selective in their usage of the technology, I thought I would explain why I feel that PJ has indeed been quite selective in his choices. Although audiences may not be sold across the board, on every shot of the film, it was his intended result. Art is, by nature, a thing of subjectivity.

And thank you for the architecture analogy. I really liked it! And I must confess (not having any training in architecture, of course) that I liked them both. The designs, I mean. I agree that the former does seem to have a lot of birds eye views on google, lol. But they seem to be quite different, both in their purpose and the eras in which they were created. To me, that's sort of like comparing 2001 with the soon-to-be-released Gravity. They're from two distinct artists, with two different purposes. Of course, I can't say anything about the latter before seeing it. I could easily withdraw that here in a month or so. Smile

Also: didn't mean to sound like I was singling you out earlier by saying "conservative". I now realize that my post could seem like it was completely directed at you. But, truly, I was speaking in a general sense, but using both you and dormouse as a springboard for my post. We actually had a similar thread not too long ago (I believe Darkstone can attest to thisAngelic)

Tol Eressea

Sep 9 2013, 11:07pm

Post #24 of 48 (941 views)
OT [In reply to] Can't Post

I know this is slightly off topic, but has anyone managed to pinpoint the general layout of Rivendell as far as comparing the two from FOTR and AUJ?

I looked at both shots, and one could possibly consider lighting as a factor too, but I see what you mean as far as texture vs paint on. I personally still find them both beautiful, and would think that Rivendell would have an "untouched" quality like Lothlorien because of Elrond's ring.

As far as trying to decipher the layout of the valley, I am wondering in consistency, or is Rivendell much larger than thought? And how is one spot in the shot related in terms of placing from the other part? (ie maybe one is the front entrance and one the back entrance to the valley?)

I am awfully tired today so I don't know if I am making much sense.....

Mainly trying to find out their orientation in relation to each other....

Race is meaningless. We all bleed red-no matter who or what we are. What matters is the heart. For each race has those with good hearts and those with bad hearts. You have a good heart. You do not deserve to die.


Sep 9 2013, 11:15pm

Post #25 of 48 (935 views)
thanks for the response [In reply to] Can't Post

I respect your opinion and your right, art is a thing of subjectivity.

With regard to the analogy - I should have compared Zaha to a modern architect like Zumthor but I came up with that on the fly - haha

Anyway, I can totally appreciate that PJ wanted the films to look different. The Hobbit is very different in tone. I guess it's just not working for me personally.

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