Gollum: How We Made Movie Magic – Andy Serkis

The Lord of the Rings: Gollum - How We Made Movie Magic by Andy Serkis, Gary Russell
Published by Collins on January 1, 2003
Genres: Non-Fiction
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Film-making history was made when, in The Two Towers, an actor's performance and digital animation were seamlessly integrated to create the world's first totally lifelike computer-generated character. Now Andy Serkis tells his own story about how a three-week commission to provide a voiceover for Gollum grew into a five-year commitment to breathe life and soul into The Lord of the Rings' most challenging creation.
Fully illustrated with more than 100 exclusive behind-the-scenes photos and drawings, and with contributions from the many designers and animators who brought Gollum to life, this book examines the transition to the big screen of one of literature's most unforgettable creatures. As the filming takes him from London to Wellington, and from the Misty Mountains to Mount Doom, Andy Serkis explains the methods -- and the madness -- behind the most amazing five years in an actor's life.

Andy Serkis almost made me go to the wrong college. As a middle-schooler, I was entranced with Lord of the Rings. I came to the series backward, first watching the movies and then reading the books, and I watched the behind-the-scenes footage of making all the special effects for the film and I thought this is what I want to do. It would’ve been absolutely the wrong path for me, but such is the power of cinema.

Twenty years later, I have no desire to do animation special effects or motion capture work, but I still respect it. So when I came across Andy’s behind the scenes guide to the movies: Gollum: How We Made Movie Magic, I had to have it. The book is told from Andy’s perspective, which is important as the commentary on the DVD sets are a straightforward documentary. Inserts from Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, and others who worked on Gollum are placed throughout the book to get the perspective from the whole cast and crew.

While this is the story of Gollum, it’s also really a visual memoir of Andy Serkis’s time as the character. It begins with how Serkis came to be cast as Gollum, the progression of his career through it all, and how the role moved from voice actor to stand-in for animation to motion capture acting. All of this is foundational for where Serkis is at currently in his career, as he’s considered to be the foremost authority on motion-capture acting.

Serkis gives readers a look into how scenes are created, talks about the difficulties of bringing Gollum to life, and then not even knowing how it would all look until much later. (Sidenote: By the time he filmed The Hobbit, technology had increased enough that Peter Jackson could get a preliminary render of Serkis as Gollum in real time!)

Gollum: How We Made Movie Magic gave me an appreciation for Serkis and how he threw himself (often quite literally!) into the role and the lengths to which the whole team went to seamlessly blend reality and CGI. Lord of the Rings was filmed at a special time in cinematic history when there were great advances happening in CGI, but the technology was limited enough that real-life creativity was also needed. Today, technology allows for an abundance of CGI (see the Hobbit films) that, despite the advanced nature of the tech, just doesn’t look as grounded in reality.

As a Tolkien fan, this is a book I’m happy to have in my collection. It’s nothing special. You can buy them for almost nothing. But for me it is a nostalgic remembrance of childhood, a peek into how filmmaking works, a series of interesting stories and adventures, and all told in a compelling and conversational way.