WIZARDS OF HOLLYWOOD: JOHN KNOLL
Liesl Bradner has been interviewing the masters of Hollywood effects and asking a simple question: What’s your proudest moment of achievement on screen? She’s gotten answers that are sometimes surprising but always insightful. You can read the whole series in our Wizards of Hollywood section of Hero Complex. Today, Liesl’s subject is John Knoll, who found glory aboard the Black Pearl.
John Knoll is a visual effects supervisior at Industrial Light & Magic who took audiences back to a galaxy far, far away in the most recent trilogy of “Star Wars” and also, with his brother, co-created a somewhat successful bit of software called Photoshop. Knoll won an Academy Award for bringing the squid-like Davy Jones to life in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and is now working again with “Pirates” director Gore Verbinski and star Johnny Depp on the animated film “Rango,” which is due in 2011.
My most memorable moment on film is when Davy Jones comes together as a moving, breathing creature in “Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man’s Chest.” The scene when he comes down the stairs to the dice game was the first one that we rendered. That was a magic moment.
How did we achieve it? The execution of technology occurs before we ever see an image. Sometimes it can be one to two years of discussion before we see it realized. There was a great deal of dialogue on how Davy Jones would work and would he be good enough in close-up without having to resort to some sort of makeup split in close-ups. The challenge was that he was part human and part squid, with a beard full of wiggly tentacles, and crab-like claws.
We didn’t have any proof-of-concept to show anybody during the shooting, so the actors had to take our word for it that it would look good and we wouldn’t make them look like idiots.
They had to wear these unsettling computer pajamas — gray suits with motion-racking marks all over them. But the actors really got into it and took it very seriously.
The tentacle-beard control system was totally new for us. Combining the live-action performance with computer animation was complicated. It had to look alive and respond to external forces such as gravity and move in believable way as a physical simulation. We were always looking for opportunities for more gross-out factors. [Creature concept designer] “Crash” McCreery came up with the design allowing various levels of movements, what parts were alive and not too distracting. We made the tentacles’ movement vary in a way to help convey his emotions.
Our biggest challenge was really faithfully doing justice to actor Bill Nighy’s performance and to never let people suspect they were looking at computer graphics.
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CREDIT: John Dykstra photo courtesy of John Dykstra.