Vermonter helps Lords of Rings characters come alive

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(Host) Greg Butler has spent much of the last five years in Middle Earth, with occasional trips to visit his family in Randolph, Vermont. Recently, VPR’s Steve Zind caught up with Butler, who has played a key role in the creation of the Lord of the Rings films.

(Zind) Five years ago Greg Butler, whose father lives in Randolph, moved to New Zealand to work for Lord of the Rings Director Peter Jackson. The 32-year old Butler has overseen the computer-generated special effects for all three of the films adapted from J.R.R Tolkein’s classic books.

Butler says nearly every scene in the films involves more than meets the eye – a combination of live actors, scale models and computer wizardry.

(Sound from the film) “Is this all you can conjure, Saruman?”

(Zind) In the film’s dramatic battles, Butler says the characters in the foreground are actors – the rest of the scene is computer generated.

(Butler) “It’s much more cost effective to dress up 10 guys, give them swords and have them fight in front of a camera. But when you’re talking about 5,000 guys with swords, that can get cheaper on a computer.”

(Zind) The final film, The Return of the King will be release later this month. Butler says of the three movies, it contains the most computer-generated scenes.

(Butler) “What people are going to be impressed by I think is the scale of the battles. In film two there was an impressive battle at night with the Urikai attacking Helm’s Deep, but in this next film there’s going to be giant warrior elephants trampling across a huge valley towards a giant city with catapults and arrows everywhere. It’s just going to be incredible.”

(Zind) For the past few years Butler has been in charge of creating the one main character in the films that is entirely computer generated.

(Sound from film, Gollum) “My Precious!!”

(Zind) The pale, bug-eyed Gollum is too small and wiry for a human to play so Butler’s team of 40 special effects people conjured him on a computer using animation, then seamlessly combined him with the film’s real actors. Butler says Gollum is the most lifelike creature ever created on film.

(Butliner) “Very few people have attempted the level of photo-real acting in a film and if they have tried I don’t think they succeeded to the level Gollum has. I think you’ll see more of that in movies now.”

(Zind) Butler says he’s gained a deeper understanding of the sneaky, pitiful creature and how central he is to Tolkein’s story. He is the one character who embodies both good and evil and the one audiences feel ambivalent about.

(Butler) “In the third film, his character, you find so many more moments to despise him, pity him.”

(Sound from the movie, Frodo) “Maybe he does deserve to die. But now that I see him, I do pity him.”

(Butler) “It’s a good question when they leave the film – what they thought of Gollum in the last scene he’s in.”

(Zind) Butler says he’ll begin work soon on director Peter Jackson’s next film – a remake of the classic King Kong.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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