the vfx show #177: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Mike Seymour, Matt Wallin and Jason Diamond discuss and review the visual effects in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.


Show Notes:

Director: Peter Jackson
Cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie
VFX Supervisors and Companies:
Joe Letteri -- Weta Digital
Robert Gillies -- Weta Workshop

Thomas Kincaid painting style

Dave Madden

Robert Altman's Popeye -- Trailer

Current Boxoffice numbers

Dragonheart -- image

How Much is a Dragon Worth? -- Forbes magazine article

fxpodcast #268: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Magic of Making Disney's Snow Look Real in 'Frozen' -- Siggraph talk

Promist Filter

The Brontosaurus Scene

the rc Christmas present: Rob Legato on The Wolf of Wall Street

In the cutting room with Catching Fire editor Alan Bell

fxphd Gift Certificates

@StarWipeMyAss - A small assembly of post workers with comical aspirations.


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  • Alec Miller

    Peter Jackson gave an explanation why he split it up into three films here:
    http://insidemovies.ew.com/2013/12/13/hobbit-peter-jackson/
    You can doubt as much of it as you want but I think it makes sense.

    • It makes sense, but it hasn’t worked on a cinematic level. Could still have been a much stronger three act single movie. Three movies of nearly nine hours feels more like a bad case of hemorrhoids rather than effective cinematic communication/entertainment.

      • chris delfosse

        Couldn’t agree more. The narrative clearly suffers from this decision.

      • Alec Miller

        I agree about it not working as well as it could. But I thought people should hear that it wasn’t just money motivated.

  • NEO

    The vfx show is one of my favourite podcasts but this episode was probably my least favourite vfxshow so far.

    In this episode there were so many missed opportunities for great deep discussions and analysis in areas where you guys disagreed. Instead it felt like the discussion was too quickly steered away from that and I couldn’t help to feel like you’re not allowed to, or are afraid to, put out something negative about the Hobbit. When listening to the show I’m more interested in hearing your personal opinions and analysis than hearing stats and fact that I can read in an online article or plugs for the other sites/shows.

    I agree with Matt on many points and he shouldn’t have to apologise for his opinions, they are very valid. I didn’t see as many technical flaws as Matt but my eyes, and the rest of me, are far more inexperienced so I would have loved if that had gotten some more room in the show. More and deeper analysis of what you guys, personally, think worked and didn’t worked and with arguments to why/why not.

    Too me Hobbit 2 feels more or less like a technical masterpiece. As a movie though it’s probably the most boring and silly movie I’ve seen since Hobbit 1. For real, I had to pinch myself so hard for the last 1.5 hours to not doze off. I never felt real engaged in it and I think the fact I don’t like the look of HFR is part of it.

    My biggest technical issues are the smelted gold, the flying/running Wargs and the barrel theme park joy ride.
    I’m not sure what it is about that smelted gold but the simulation and the overall look of it looked really really bad to me, almost like something from a music video from the 90s. But if it looks like that in the movie I’m sure rivers of smelted gold would look close to that in real life? Because I’m sure they’ve done their research and compared with real life smelted metals and gold, right? But that gold for sure confuses the heck out of me and I can’t stop thinking about it.

    The Wargs running on the plains once again looked like they were flying, just like in H1. Maybe it’s like Mike said in the show that they’re covering too much ground. For sure something is way off with them.

    The barrel joy ride was just painful and felt like something cut together to please the kids in the audience. And what’s up with the GoPro(ish) shots in it? That whole sequence was way too long and silly and i just wanted to scream “KILL YOUR DARLINGS!”. Well, at least there wasn’t a fart joke in it (…they’re probably saving that for the extended edition).

    Even though I don’t like the movie I think it’s a technical masterpiece because of Smaug and the spiders. Eeeauw, those spiders! I hate spiders like A LOT and those volkswagen sized spiders gave me real goosebumps and they made me cringe in my seat. They triggered everything in my brain that triggers when I see a real spider and I thought animation, texturing, all details and everything down to the feel of real mass when they die, fall and hit the ground was awesome.

    I also think that they nailed S3D and it’s great to see that it’s not a gag-fest anymore. Very subtle and nice. If you’re into HFR they probably nailed that too. I had really hoped that you guys would talk more about and analyse HFR on the show. I’m sad that you didn’t and I would have loved to hear how you thought it evolved from the first movie to this movie.
    For what it is, I understand why they want to go there and if you like the look of HFR you will probably love this, much better than in H1. Personally I don’t like the look of it though. Everything looks too real and too much like theatre, it feels like you’re there and can reach out and touch the actors. I can understand why some people like and love that but personally I don’t and it’s not something I want from a cinematic experience. I sadly also think HFR contributes to that many of the excellent and awesome props look cheap. I know Weta Workshop have busted their asses here and done a great job but you see every detail and instead of looking weathered and old the props and set, sometimes, looks fabricated, plastic and cheap. Could also be, as pointed out on twitter, the “theatrical” lightning still used in film that contributes to why I feel like this. For example I felt like some of the spider web and from time to time Gandalfs’ stick suffered from this, maybe I’m over analysing. =)

    This is my personal opinions and my intention is not to step on anyones toes here. Just felt that I had to say how I reacted to this episode. Somewhat ironical that I apologise for my opinions when I say that Matt shouldn’t… 😉

    Happy Holidays. =)

  • Thanks for your comments. As you took the time to write a long considered post, here are some thoughts.

    Just a few observations really… first it is easier to make funny comments when saying one does not like a film, – and I am always very very concerned about the show being focused on just saying something was bad – than saying exactly why. So if you are a host and you are on the show you know in advance you cant just say it is bad – you have to justify that opinion, something Matt with his exceptional background and talent is more than able to do. It is my job to put him on the spot as to exactly why he did not like it. That is the show.

    Secondly, I think I did allow Matt to express his opinions, but I felt strongly that the film was good. Not just OK, not just technically successful – I really liked it. I am not alone, the film is a success at the box office and it has been getting overall positive reviews. You can tell, I believe, I clearly knew Matt’s position from twitter before taping – so if I had not wanted anyone to say negative things about the film – why would I have encouraged Matt to be on the show?

    I do also feel this is the vfxshow not the movie show, so I do try and not focus on issue people have on plot vs vfx. I stand by my comments that Smaug is one of the finest pieces of visual effects character work ever done. Not good – great, – world class… and the vfx worthy of Oscar Nomination. I think I have said elsewhere a Master class in character animation. Why did I discuss the technical aspects of it… to further that point, to explain WHY it was so hard to animate and hence why I thought it was so well done.

    Furthermore our third host, Jason, that we would have around a third of the time discussing negative aspects – as you would expect when 2 of the 3 host liked the film.

    I respect the Matt did not like the film, but we want the show to have balance and Matt did not just dislike it a bit, he hated it. By contrast I loved it. What you heard I thought was the balance that happens as people discuss just that. I dont think we were disrespectful to each other, to the film or to you the audience in shutting down any discussion.

    Now of course I may not have steered the conversation the way you liked – and for that I am open to criticism. You may hate how I host the show -and disagree with my opinion. I have no problem with that, and I do thank you for taking the time to post.

    Mike

  • Henrik Cednert

    Morning Mike

    First, I apologise if this came of as personal criticism. That was not my intention but after a good nights sleep I realise that it might have came out just like that. So apologies for that. I don’t hate how you host the show, I wouldn’t have listened to 177 episodes, some multiple times (like this one), if I didn’t like you and the show. =) I respect the heck out of you guys and I do know that you guys respect each other. I don’t have any sports hero’s, pop idols or movie idols… I have you guys! All I’m saying is that of 177 awesome episode this particular episode was my least favourite one, not the same as saying I hated it, but I did a poor attempt to explain why.

    The main thing I wanted to bring forward with my word pooping in my original post is that when you guys disagree so profoundly about an effect, or look, it would be extremely interesting and educational to have that dissected in more detail. In this very episode it felt more like “okay, we disagree. Let’s move on.”.

    You have a very good point when you write that “this is the vfxshow not the movie show” but in this particular episode I wish that it would have been even more and deeper about the vfx. It’s such a big movie and there’s so many awesome effects beyond Smaug. Not taking anything away from Smaug because yes, in my opinion he truly is a technical and artistic masterpiece in all ways possible and the best cg character to date.

    It also wasn’t intentional to post that under a faceless nickname, I thought I had a signature set in my profile. =)

    /Henrik Cednert | NEO | @NEO_AMiGA

  • Just popped over to post a short comment, but after reading Henrik’s posts & Mike’s reply I can’t just leave a small impression. Even though this episode runs at an hour & a half I, like Henrik, believe more discussion could have been made. Like the film itself, maybe 3 hours would have been a running time worth risking 😉

    I also agree that more on the HFR aspects would have been nice. Maybe a separate podcast on the technology & how & what has changed. Personally I like HFR in rides, but still not convinced for features. Like 3D, there is a time & place for it. I’m hoping for better examples in the future.

    I respect everyone involved with these podcasts & hearing your personal opinions is a huge part of why I listen. It’s great that such conversion has come from this episode. There is so much to cover and I totally understand you’re not going to have the time to do so in a single podcast.

  • Jon Stratton

    Hi Mike,
    I have been listening to the VFX show for about a year now ever since I found fxphd and signed up to take RFM classes to supplement my 3D education at AAU where I am studying 3D modeling and rigging. It is my hope to work in the field of facial performance as a modeler or TD.

    I have to say I was looking forward to this show most of all because after seeing the movie I was blown away by the VFX achievements. That does not mean I think everything was flawless. I did however find it kind of hard to listen to some of the negative opinions because they did not offer valid reasons or solutions to do it better. An example would be the barrel sequence when Matt said it looked like shaving cream. I may have missed it but I did not hear any reasons given as to why it may have looked that way or how it could have been done better. I believe in healthy discussion and critique, and all are and should voice their opinion. I personally would just like to hear a bit more of the why it was flawed. I hope this does not come across as harsh especially when I am just a student that one day hopes to work in the film industry.

  • Great discussion! Love it.

    With specific regards to the water sims in the barrel sequence I think I did offer some thoughts on why it didn’t work for me, but I’m happy to try and articulate a more concise explanation of my take on it.

    I thought the water didn’t look like water. Seeing the film in HFR 3D IMAX, I thought the water looked more like shaving cream in some shots and even white thread bundled together in others. I think there were a combination of factors that gave me that impression. First of all, the level of aeration in the water was very high (which would probably make sense in rapids), but it was so high for me that all the water appeared white. I also thought the water sims themselves did little to alleviate the issue. It is possible that the sims were really good but either the lighting/render or comp kept the various elements from standing out and they blended together in a kind of mushyness. Not sure what it was on a technical level (keeping in mind that I only saw this film the one time). My gut feeling was that it could have been more successful had there been a more aggressive use of practical elements in conjunction with the fx renders. Don’t get me wrong, I think doing rapid water in broad daylight is anything but easy to make work. My critique of this, and any other FX in the film are my subjective opinion based on my own background and experience. But I deeply respect my colleagues opinions as well and if they see it differently it makes me question my own experience. Not because I don’t believe what I felt originally, but because I know my colleagues express their perspectives thoughtfully, professionally and with great care.

    I think its great that the show sparks a discussion…even a discussion of the show and its format. I’ve never been asked to say or not say anything on the show. Mike, the other hosts and the whole crew at FX Guide are 110% professional at all times and produce a great product through their site and reporting. The whole VFX community is infinitely strengthened, educated and informed about the industry we all love by the great work they do. And we sometimes disagree on the show with regards to the VFX and the issues or lack of issues therein.

    I stated in the show that I wasn’t a particularly huge fan of the genre, but I tried to be objective about the VFX. Mke and Jas thought the VFX were mostly good/great. I thought the dragon was strong but lots of the other work felt uneven to me. But I’m always happy for a lively discussion/debate on the merits. But if we (the hosts) fundamentally disagree on the basics of the overall quality, its hard to get into a nuanced discussion about what didn’t work. In the case of this episode, I was the odd man out in thinking some of the work was not up to snuff. I think that’s where these discussion boards come in. Its great fun and can be highly edifying to discuss the film further here. One of the ideas behind doing a Google Hangout version of the show was to give you guys more of a participatory voice in the dialogue. But until all the tech issues get sorted this is a great place for us all to engage and discuss.

    The intent of the show, from my perspective, is to both educate and entertain. Its fun to hear about how work was done and to assess the success or failure of the work within the context of the film. But some of the discussion is subjective by its very nature. I remember when Mike and I shared a similar, somewhat negative take, on Scott Pilgrim vs The World (I even walked out of the screening I attended). Not everyone agreed, but it still made for an interesting show and I hope had some larger value to the overall exploration of the art of visual effects.

    Let me know if I can be more clear on the positions I took in the show and if I can clarify any of my opinions further.

    Happy holidays everybody!!!

    • Jon Stratton

      That does help thanks Matt.

  • And oh yeah, the other thing that might have had an impact on my take of the water is how motion blur works on vfx elems in a HFR film. One of the things that HFR alleviates is motion blur in the live action, but how is it compensated for in the CG? The water elems felt like they had a higher degree of moblur than the live action.

  • lol great PCast, i enjoyed the tone, for me I loved the movie, and for someone who is as aspiring DOP with 12 years in photography, and currently working as a compositor, Ive always wanted to explore HFR in movie production so i loved that it was used. It felt like a live action play. In my opinion i think the execution was great I think the mistake is having artist who don’t have the same artistic eye. Its like asking someone to edit my photos, only those with years of editing and a background with color and attention to detail will leave me satisfied but those who simply work as editors but don’t have the eye for it they just do it because they are told how to press the buttons will not leave you unsatisfied and I think the more experience those artist have in HFR level of detail workflow where they are more cautious about how it is perceived that you cant simply say, “oh it’ll pass, no one will see it” then you will start getting the desired results. Just think about the paint work. everything you do on it has to be done for twice the normal time. Which means you need artist who understand or who are open minded to understanding that logic. I’ve talked to many artist who said they hated the movie for that one reason, even my wife was mad saying ” I WANT MY 24″ so I have to believe there were alot of artist on production who couldn’t handle the 48 but stayed on for sake of their job. Thats very unfair for artist like me who strive for these kinds of productions but have to see new tech fall to the way side due to pride and the inability to grow artistically. I think peter Jackson and the Hobbit is the perfect platform because the more real the movie is the more their cosplayer fans can get into character and feel like the characters could live down the street from them. but just like cosplayers there are reeeally good and detailed and there are those who cant get the realism down, and i think that’s where the movie hurt many people, is that the production was not 100%, part of it felt incomplete because some of the artist and those on production where not there yet, to visually sell a realistic looking movie as a team.

    Another part that felt off was the running as well, one shot stood out to me and it was the scene with the Orcs running up the rock mountain and the scene looked too clean, and it seemed like the track was off. This is the reason why I am in VFX and hope to be a DP because I want to be able to not only create beautiful shots in camera but bring them together in post as well, it was a full CG shot that lacked those things that a DP would call out and make sure was in the live shot. So I feel there is a disconnect in production where they are dropping the ball visually in full CG shots because they are going on what looks pretty vs what works for a HFR film that is suppose to mimic reality.

    Again great listen and I look forward to the next! 🙂

    -Jamiel Boling