MOTW: Hobbits, Dwarves, and a Dragon, Oh My! Five Facts about "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

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The second of three epic fantasy adventure films directed, co-written and produced by Peter Jackson and based on J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel of the same name. The plot picks up just as the Dwarfs, Bilbo and Gandalf have successfully crossed over the misty mountains. Bilbo has in his possession the one ring, but now the group must continue their journey to get their gold back from the Dragon.
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
December 10th, 2013

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MOTW: Hobbits, Dwarves, and a Dragon, Oh My! Five Facts about "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

One of the group of hugely successful movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" books, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," released worldwide in December 2013, is the second installment of another trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. The epic film, shot primarily in New Zealand during 2012, continues the quest of Bilbo Baggins through Middle-earth. Creating this world, its inhabitants, and the film itself involved new technologies, skilled recreations and fabrications, and more. Listed below are five facts related to this movie and its making.

Fact #1: Jackson shot "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" with high frame rate (HFR) digital footage, pushing the technological envelope and turning his back on the movie industry's preferred filming method. Typically, films are shot at 24 frames per second, American television broadcasts at 29.97 frames per second, and European television broadcasts at 25. For this movie, Jackson recorded video at 5,120-by-2,700 pixels by using an array of high-resolution RED Epic cameras, capturing the action at a frame rate of 48 per second. This shooting method results in what can be perceived as either more lifelike images or cold and visually awkward images, depending on whether you are a critic or supporter of the technique. Jackson defended his choice of using 48 frames per second by asserting HFR creates a better 3-D experience for viewers and looks better in 2-D form.

Fact #2: Details about the plot of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" were highly anticipated, the object of much speculation, and closely guarded prior to the film's release. The production company, producers, and crew took many precautions to prevent information from inadvertently leaking to the public, sharing only certain tidbits with the press as teasers to generate buzz. The final security measure employed concerned the way the film was shipped to theaters. To prevent premature viewing and unauthorized distribution of the film, Warner Bros., the movie's distributor, sent theaters an encrypted SATA hard drive. The 639 GB of data contained on the hard drive could only be accessed with a secret security code. The site-specific security access code was not sent to theater owners until twenty-four hours before the film's first showing at the theater. Even if it were possible for someone to copy the contents of the hard drive, top-notch computer equipment would take about a full day to complete the process.

Fact #3: One of the biggest secrets about "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" kept guarded by the studios was what the dragon would look like. No image of Smaug was available for viewing until mere days before the movie's Los Angeles red-carpet premiere. Smaug's star debut was a grand entrance, indeed. The fire-breathing dragon was plastered on the sides of an Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300 aircraft. Jackson's visual effects company, Weta Digital, designed the detailed 177-foot graphic representation of the dragon. The decorated plane and its dragon flew from Auckland to Los Angeles in time for the world premiere on Dec. 3, 2013.

Fact #4: In the film, Smaug not only breathes fire, terrorizes dwarves, and destroys villages; the dragon also hordes a mountain of collectibles, primarily made up of gold coins and assorted golden objects. For the pile amassed in Smaug's lair in Lonely Mountain, the movie's art department hand-spun 2,000 goblets and produced more than 170,000 punched-aluminum, gold-plated coins. Additionally, all of New Zealand's gold paint stock was used up during the creation of the lair; additional gold paint was imported from Germany so that the prop crew could complete the set.

Fact #5: Bringing hundreds of fantasy characters and otherworldly places to life on the big screen for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" demanded high volumes of material and personnel. The art department was staffed by more than 250 people who clocked some 9,000 hours making props, making up the many actors and their multiple doubles, making 1,200 extras, and manufacturing 99 elaborate sets. For the transformation of human actors into dwarves, the crew spent five hours per dwarf to do makeup, hair, wardrobe, and prosthetics. The 13 dwarves used a total of 91 wigs made from human or yak hair. The film's many actors required nearly 12,000 custom-manufactured prosthetics, with Bilbo's hobbit feet representing more than 100 of these prosthetics. To remove all these prosthetics, the crew used 860 bottles of isopropyl alcohol.

Whether they're Tolkien fans or not, moviegoers will marvel at the magnificent production and magical creations portrayed throughout "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."