Though once a Hobbit, Gollum’s 500 years in possession of the Ring has deformed his body and warped his mind. When he is caught tracking them by Frodo and Sam, Gollum offers to guide the hobbits through the craggy hills of Emyn Muil into Mordor if they will release him. “When Frodo meets Gollum, Frodo sees a lot of himself in the creature,” notes Andy, who provides the voice, the movement, and, through his work with WETA Digital, the essence of Gollum. “He senses that his journey can’t continue without Gollum.”
Gollum cooperates, if only to be near his “Precious” long enough to steal it back. But because he shares the quality of Ringbearer with Frodo, the Hobbit coaxes out of him the story of what Gollum once was – a “Stoor Hobbit” named Smeagol who gained possession of The Ring through an act of violence. “When Frodo gets him to confess who he was, he begins to remember what he was like before The Ring came into his life,” explains Andy.
For Frodo, being near Gollum is like looking into a dark mirror. “It’s like seeing someone with a terminal disease that Frodo himself is in the early stages of,” Andy explains.
Once re-awakened, Smeagol begins to unburden himself of Gollum and his connection with Frodo drives a rift between Frodo and Sam. “Gollum joining them brings about a lot of change within Frodo and Sam,” Wood continues. “Their friendship is tested as Frodo relies more on The Ring and is changed by its power over the course of the journey. Sam has to take more responsibility to see Frodo through because Frodo is starting to lose his own sensibilities, his purity, and his way.”
Because of Gollum’s crucial role in the journey of Frodo and Sam toward their destination where the Ring must be destroyed, Jackson was determined that the character must be entirely authentic, a presence that would carry as much reality and emotional weight as a live actor. “The character of Gollum is a completely digital creature, but I was determined that I wanted an actor to actually create the character, which in this case is Andy Serkis,” says Jackson.
The collaboration between creative teams and Andy has resulted in the first character of his kind -- an entirely performance-based digital creation that “acts” as much as any actor in the film.
As Jackson and Oscar-winning director of photographer Andrew Lesnie supervised actor Andy Serkis’s performance on set, the animators at WETA Digital studied the resulting performance to remake it digitally, using his movements and facial expressions to animate the Gollum that would ultimately “act” in the scene. “I am so in awe of the skill, effort and technical wizardry of the rotoartists,” says Andy. “The skill of the animators to bring this off, and have such passion for it, is quite staggering.”
His body and voice design was then taken further into an animated world through motion capture photography, computer generated imagery and digital sound mixing. The resulting synthesis is a totally new visual effect. ”Obviously, Andy creates the character through the voice,” explains Jackson. “But also, we’re doing a lot of Gollum as motion capture, which is when Andy wears a suit covered in these little dots, and he performs Gollum. He says the dialog, he plays the scenes out just as he would, and the computer is able to capture his movement, and translate that to the digital version of Gollum.”
Gollum’s famous voice, one of the most memorable elements of both Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, became Andy’s touchstone and key to the character. “I had an emotional root to that sound,” he says. “For me, it is where his pain is trapped. That emotional memory is trapped in that part of his body, his throat. In just doing the voice, I immediately got into the physicality of Gollum, and embodied the part as I would if I were playing it for real.”
His performance was so strong as Gollum that the initial digital character has evolved throughout the production to be more like the actor. “Gollum is probably the most actor-driven digital creature that has ever been used in a film before,” Jackson adds.
Andy Serkis plays "Gollum" in Peter Jackson's trilogy The Lord of the Rings.
Starting with sketches by conceptual artists Howe and Lee along with the art, Jackson’s vision for Gollum was ultimately sculpted into a plasticene maquette which was then scanned into the computer. “There are around 300 different muscles or more on Gollum,” says creature supervisor Eric Sainden. “He has a full skeleton and a full muscle system that’s all driving what you see on his skin. One of Gollum’s greatest challenges is his face. He has to act with the other actors. The facial system we’re doing has about 250 different face shapes that we’re working in between.”