Weta Digital’s Joe Letteri talks HFR 3D and Smaug

hobbit-desolation-smaugStudioDaily.com has an interview with WETA Digital head Joe Letteri where he explains how making The Hobbit in HFR 3D affected WETA’s VFX process:

Studio Daily: What was the impact of 48 fps on post-production?

Joe Letteri: In a way, it was as simple as twice as many frames, so we had to do more work. It did allow us more creativity with animation. When you have 48 frames for every second, you can handle quick changes of motion better. You can see that in Gollum. At 48, you can really define those micro expressions. At 24 fps, the expressions are softer. We capture at 60 frames per second, so we could use more of the motion-capture data.

That WETA is already using 60 fps capture adds to the likelihood that future blockbusters they work on will be made at 60 fps.  I expect announcements of more high frame rate movies soon.  If I were to bet, I’d guess that the next announced HFR movie (beyond what has already been 100% confirmed) will be X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Bryan Singer has been making a string of exciting casting and plot related announcements on his Twitter, and he previously said he had “frame rate envy” after seeing The Hobbit in HFR. So I definitely expect to see this mutant epic in HFR 3D.

Letteri mentions realism as representing the future of visual effects:

Studio Daily: Leaving the business trends aside, what trends do you see technically and artistically in visual effects?

Joe Letteri: Generally, I see more of this trend toward realism. In a way, that’s what we’ve always done. But now, there’s more acknowledging that it is what we do. There’s more of a focus on understanding and trying to apply realism. Even though it’s more complex, it gives you the ability to standardize around a known quantity. There is less guesswork when you measure the real world.

What are you excited about now?

Smaug. He’s our next big character. You just got a few glimpses of him in the first film. I love the Riddles in the Dark, and I love Smaug. Seeing what we can do with Smaug is the next thing.

As I’ve been saying for a while now, I can’t wait to see Smaug.  His reveal at the end of An Unexpected Journey was perfect: from the thrush’s leisurely flight to the The Lonely Mountain, to it knocking the seed on the wall, then the camera taking us into the huge treasure chambers where we hear the amplified echoes of the thrush’s activity as we track over the hills of gold and treasure, leading into the final push-in on the dragon’s eye as we discover that Smaug had been sleeping under the gold coins all this time. I got chills.

Letteri’s love for Smaug and his excitement regarding Smaug as WETA’s “next big character” is very encouraging, as is the implicit promise of new techniques being used to bring Smaug and his environment to life.  We’ve never had a great talking dragon in the movies, not to mention a dragon whose belly is encrusted in dazzling golden coins and gems. Can’t wait to see how WETA plays with the lighting effects.

Even if An Unexpected Journey doesn’t win the best Visual Effects award tonight, I’d bet Smaug will win it for them in 2014.

Check out the StudioDaily.com interview for a lot more fascinating VFX-related discussion from Letteri.