How The Hobbit’s Special Effects Made Sir Ian McKellen Cry

How The Hobbit’s Special Effects Made Sir Ian McKellen Cry

It’s no secret that Peter Jackson, WETA and New Line Cinema are all trying to justify the special effects and frame rate of The Hobbit before its release in a few weeks. It’s now emerging that Sir Ian McKellen, the seemingly-unflappable Gandalf The Grey, was reduced to tears by the effects on the shoot of the film.

McKellen, a classically-trained thespian, told Contact Music that he broke down during the filming of a scene between his character and the dwarves. The wizard and the dwarves needed to be shot separately so that the magic of cinema could be applied to make their size appear different in the frame. That meant during one of the scenes, McKellen was left standing amongst pictures of the actors playing the dwarves, delivering dialogue to them as a light flashed on so that he’d know where to look.

Eventually, McKellen broke down:

Pretending you’re with 13 other people when you’re on your own, it stretches your technical ability to the absolute limits. I cried, actually. I cried. Then I said out loud, ‘This is not why I became an actor’. Unfortunately the microphone was on and the whole studio heard.

Poor guy. His performances as Gandalf are stellar, and they’re sure to be as good in this latest romp around Middle-Earth.

Meanwhile, director extraordinaire Peter Jackson has taken to his official Facebook page with his own Q&A about High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D. What is HFR 3D you ask? Basically it’s a reference to the way Peter Jackson decided to shoot The Hobbit. You see, Jackson shot the film at 48 frames per second rather than the traditional 28. He says he’s done it to “smooth out the 3D” and make it easier on the eyes. It reportedly takes out the flicker and the motion blur and will hopefully lead to less headspin in the cinema.

We won’t know that until we see it, but between now and the world premiere, Jackson and New Line are doing everything possible to prepare audiences for what they’re about to see. Here’s an interesting snippet from Jackson’s pseudo-Q&A:

Silent movies were shot at somewhere between 16 and 18 frames per second (fps) with hand-cranked cameras. In 1927, when sound came along, the industry needed to agree on a motor-driven, constant camera speed. 35mm film stock is very expensive, so it needs to be as slow as possible. However, the early optical soundtrack required a minimum speed to achieve fidelity of the sound. 24 fps was decided on, and became the industry standard for over 80 years, with cinemas all around the world installing mechanical projectors only capable of projecting at 24 fps. 24 fps was a commercial decision — the cheapest speed to provide basic quality — but it produces movement artifacts, like strobing, flicker and motion blur.

Now, in the digital age, there’s no reason whatsoever to stick to 24 fps. We didn’t get it perfect in 1927. Science tells us that the human eye stops seeing individual pictures at about 55 fps. Therefore, shooting at 48 fps gives you much more of an illusion of real life. The reduced motion blur on each frame increases sharpness and gives the movie the look of having been shot in 65mm or IMAX. One of the biggest advantages is the fact that your eye is seeing twice the number of images each second, giving the movie a wonderful immersive quality. It makes the 3D experience much more gentle and hugely reduces eyestrain. Much of what makes 3D viewing uncomfortable for some people is the fact that each eye is processing a lot of strobing, blur and flicker. This all but disappears in HFR 3D.

Let’s hope that when The Hobbit finally graces cinemas it’ll all be as beautiful as we’ve been promised. [Blastr, Peter Jackson]

Image: New Line Cinema