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'The Hunt for Gollum' VFX

Brett Frame, co-owner of Arizona-based FlintFrame, tells us all about their post-production work on the hot 40-minute short, The Hunt for Gollum.

Gollum was often shot against greenscreen and then comp'd by Brett Frame. Images © Independent Online Cinema / Rickety Shack Films.

Gollum was often shot against greenscreen and then comp'd by Brett Frame. Images © Independent Online Cinema / Rickety Shack Films.

View before and after clips from The Hunt for Gollum at AWNtv!

The Hunt for Gollum is an unofficial, non-commercial adaption of The Lord of the Rings, but, even for a fan film, you have to admire its craftsmanship. Directed by Chris Bouchard and adapted from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, the short follows Aragorn (Adrian Webster) on his quest to find the creature, Gollum. The Independent Online Cinema production shot in the U.K. is available for viewing at http://www.thehuntforgollum.com, and has attracted more than 2,000,000 viewers this summer.

Meanwhile, the vfx, under the supervision of Adam Thomas, is quite impressive, especially the matte paintings, supervised by Maciej Kuciara. In fact, the opening CG flyover the surface of Cruel Caradhras by Stefan Menza using Terragen software is memorable.

But for FlintFrame (http://www.flintframe.com), a small motionography/sound design company out of Yuma, Arizona, it was a terrific opportunity to step up their game. Brett Frame discussed what it was like working on The Hunt for Gollum.

Bill Desowitz: This marvelous short seems to have taken the internet by storm this summer -- and it's very well done. What was your involvement?

Brett Frame: Right now, I own a shop and we do video and audio production and a lot of retail-type commercials in our area and we're always looking for independent films to stretch out into. Thankfully, the worldwide web opens a lot of doors. And we're continuously looking online for other people's projects and seeing what's going on. And I had come across the website for The Hunt for Gollum probably around November of last year. And they had a trailer up and they were just getting into post-production. And I watched the trailer was impressed along with everyone else. The quality level is higher than not only fan films but also those from people who consider themselves independent filmmakers. So I sent the director, Chris Bouchard, an email and a link to my website, and suggested if there was something we could do, we could help them out. And he sent me an email back and said he found our website pretty interesting. And they had a shot at that point where they needed some simple camera removal, so he wanted to see what we could do with that. So we removed the camera from the shot and sent it back and, from there, he explained that they had this forum where they all log in to upload the shots they need and a description of what they're looking for. He suggested we see what we could help out with, so I logged in and started looking around and found some shots that I wanted to tackle, and then my business partner who runs the audio side of our office, got involved doing foley sound for a number of shots in the film.

BD: What was the process like working online?

BF: Adam Thomas, the visual effects supervisor, would post the shots they needed at the beginning of the week, so everybody would log in and there would be a listing of new shots and what they were looking for: anything from matte paintings, rotoscoping, compositing and things of that nature. You could pretty much pick and choose based on your strength. And if they had the footage shot that needed compositing or rotoscoping, they would download the links to that and you'd get working on the shot and upload the shots to their server. Usually, you had about a week to get it done because they realized that [this was a labor of love]. The great thing for us was because we're based in Arizona, I knew that I had until midnight to upload for them to get it at 7:00 am in London. They'd go through the shot and give me a critique and it would be improved upon.

BD: How large was the filmmaking team?

BF: I would say for filming and post-production, up around 100, and at least in the 20s as far as vfx people helping out. And some of the shots that I worked on were quick composites, like one with 3D birds that someone had animated into a tree. And I worked with a great matte painter Maciej Kuciara, who did a a cave in the opening and he would send me all the tiffs for that sequence. And there were a number of shots of Gollum with an actor with prosthetics and makeup shot against a greenscreen. For that, they sent over the Gollum footage and then the matte painter sent over the tiffs of that opening and I would comp Gollum into the cave.

Matte paintings of Middle Earth, done by artists around the world, are a highlight of the vfx.

Matte paintings of Middle Earth, done by artists around the world, are a highlight of the vfx.

BD: What impressed you the most about the vfx?

BF: That they were organized enough at the end to pull together people from all over the world and keep these shots managed and they were trustworthy enough to hand this stuff off to people whose work they'd only seen online.

BD: What tools do you use?

BF: My main program is After Effects, which I used for comping and roto work. But then there was a scene where Gollum is stealing a fish from a person's house. They were looking for a matte painter for the shots that came up on the list, which isn't my specialty, but I tackled a portion of the matte painting and I used Photoshop to rough out this scene. They sent me a bunch of images of an English hut and angles that they liked and I wound up taking that hut and I did manage to incorporate a matte painting of a sky that one of the artists did. The matte painters did such great work and I wanted to incorporate as much as I could.

BD: Considering the downturn, how's business been for you in Arizona since the release of the short?

BF: We do get people that bring up the downturn in the economy, and, of course, we're reading all kinds of stuff online about the shops that we admire shutting down because there's not enough business. But I have to say that it hasn't really affected us. We've continued to grow and add new clients. I mean, we're doing better than we've ever done. But I think we're kind of in that sweet spot in a way. There's been a ton of interest from business and right now we have two independent films that have contacted us. So, if all goes well, they'll be in production in the fall.

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN and VFXWorld.