This post is a lengthy one, but there's just so much to share. With only a few weeks until set construction begins in New Zealand for The Hobbit 1 and 2, executive producer Peter Jackson and director Guillermo del Toro sat down to host an internet chat. Fans submitted over 7,000 questions. In case you don't feel like reading the whole thing (it is looong), here's some choice info.
on the shooting schedule
Jackson: At this point in time the plan is to write for the rest of this year and start early conceptual designs. 2009 will be dedicated to pre-production on both movies and 2010 will be the year we shoot both films back to back. Post-production follows one film at a time with The Hobbit being released Dec 2011, and F2 release Dec 2012. That is the schedule in about as much detail as we have ourselves at the moment.
del Toro: The idea is to shoot them back to back with a small break to breathe and to reconstruct certain sets and have time to reassess...but a schedule of a year is expected.
Jackson: ...the movie will be shot back to back and the shooting of the movie will be driven by which actors are working with us at a given time and what locations we are in. For instance, if we are shooting Hobbiton scenes for the Hobbit movies we would also shoot Hobbiton scenes for F2. So during our year of filming we will be shooting both.
on del Toro stepping into the director's chair
Jackson: ...he has respect for fantasy. He understands it, he's not frightened by it. Guillermo also understands character, and how the power of any movie is almost always linked to how closely we empathize with characters within the story. His work shows great care and love for the main characters he creates. He also has supreme confidence with design and visual effects. So many film makers are scared of visual effects--which is no crime, but tough if you're doing one of these movies! If we disagree, the director has to win, because you should never force a director to shoot something they don't believe in. But we're both reasonably practical and ego-free, and I believe that if we disagree, we both have the ability to express our differing theories--state our case, like lawyers--and between us, work out what's best for the movie.
on talking beasts, Smaug and Wargs
del Toro: I think it should be done exactly as in the book--the "talking beast" motif has to exist already to allow for that great character that is Smaug. It is far more jarring to have a linear movie and then--out of the blue--a talking dragon...They [the Wargs] will be different from the hyena ones established in the Trilogy--they will be faithful to the creatures in the book and will be redesigned accordingly.
on the effects
del Toro: I plan to mix CGI and physical in such a way that your eye wonders which is which-- keep you mind busy but never allowing for the weaknesses of either tool to take over. Yes, I have, by trial and error, learned that both tools need to be mixed and how much they must be mixed to succeed in creating environments and living creatures. WETA is the lead house, absolutely but we will expand the creature team and beef up the prosthetics team. Imagine a physical creature with a radio controlled muscle/facial system but with partial CGI replacement on the head or mouth, etc and you’ll start to get the idea…
on the coolest dragon ever
del Toro: I am a big dragon fan. I've said it before--And I was fortunate enough to be born a Dragon in the Chinese Horoscope...And although its always impossible to agree on the "greatest" of anything, I bring forth these two as the main film contenders for that title: Eyvind Earle/Disney's Maleficent dragon ( a triumph of elegance of color and design) and Vermitrax Pejorative from Dragonslayer. In my opinion, every other design has borrowed heavily from these two. I plan to create something new and groundbreaking.
Smaug should not be "the Dragon in the Hobbit movie" as if it was just "another" creature in a Bestiary. Smaug should be "The DRAGON" for all movies past and present. The shadow he cast and the greed he comes to embody- the "need to own" casts its long shadow and creates a thematic/dramatic continuity of sorts that articulates the story throughout--In that respect, Smaug the CHARACTER is as important, if not more important, than the design. The character will emerge form the writing--and in that the magnificent arrogance, intelligence, sophistication and greed of Smaug shine through...
To me, Smaug is the perfect example of a great creature defined by its look and design, yes, but also, very importantly, by his movement and--one little hint--its environment--Think about it... the way he is scaled, moves and is lit, limited or enhanced by his location, weather conditions, light conditions, time of the year, etc. That's all I can say without spoilers but, if you keep this curious little summary you'll realize several years form now that those things I had in my mind ever since doodling the character as a kid had solidified waaay before starting the shoot of the film...As to his voice- well, each reader has a Smaug voice in his/her head, just like you always do when "hearing" a great character in a book.
on Gollum and Andy Serkis
del Toro: As all of you know, Gollum has a rather fascinating arch to go through and his alliance to Shelob or his period of imprisonment in Thranduil's, etc. but it is early still--so early in fact that to reveal more would tie our hands and be counterproductive. There can never be "too much Andy."
on the dwarves
del Toro: Tolkien wrote 13 dwarves and I intend to use 13 dwarves. I am, in fact, thrilled to keep them all and have them be distinguishable and affecting as characters. Much of the drama and emotion in the last third of the book and film will come from them.
on the second film
Jackson: I'm really looking forward to developing Film Two. It gives us a freedom that we haven't really had on our Tolkien journey. Some of you may well say that's a good thing of course! The Hobbit is interesting in how Tolkien created a feeling of dangerous events unfolding, which preoccupy Gandalf. There's an awful lot of incident that happens during that 60 year gap. At this stage, we're not imagining a film that literally covers 60 years, like a bio-pic or documentary. We would figure out what happens during that 60 years, and choose one short section of time to drop in and dramatise for the screen. I'm really interested in how it effects The Hobbit--do we show what happens to Gandalf during his trips away? We'll see. We may well have seeds for Film Two that we'll subtly sow during The Hobbit.