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ILM Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll Discusses Pirates of the Caribbean

John Knoll Talks About the Visual Effects in the Pirates Movies


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Digital Animators Take It One Step Further: “One of the things we found was that to really get the performance to look like you’ve captured every nuance, in a way it’s a bit like caricature where sometimes you have to go like 5% more on all the facial expressions, just to get it to look like it’s the same. It’s really kind of an interesting effect. You look at the way that Bill [Nighy’s] arching his eyebrow, and you find that if you matched it exactly it would look like there was just a little bit less of it there. You just go a little bit further in the same way as caricature.”

Animators need to have a strong aesthetic style as well as be technically perfect. Knoll agreed. “Yeah, because the other thing is that not all of Bill’s expressions have got a Davy Jones analog exactly. For example, he doesn’t really have a nose and so how do you translate the flared nostrils to Davy Jones? There are some particular expressions you’ve got to interpret that into what you can do with Bill’s face. He’s got that big sort of tentacle mustache as well, which means that some of the lip shapes that he made with his upper lip were kind of hard to translate into Davy. We had to find what the emotional equivalent of that was. That’s an interpretive process that requires skilled artists.”

Studying Undersea Life to Understand the Pirates Characters: “There’s a great documentary that David Attenborough did a couple of years ago about undersea life. It has spectacular photography in it and we got a copy of that and looked through it, just looking at how sea anemones move and how mussels open and close. It was a good inspiration to look at. Hal found this really hilarious clip from a Japanese movie that had a giant octopus attacking something. They shot it – it’s an octopus in miniature – and there was all this great footage with the tentacles curving around and wrapping things. We studied some of that really just to see how tentacles really move, how they grip things.”

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