AwardsLine editor Christy Grosz contributed to this story.
Joe Letteri said the biggest difference between the first Hobbit and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (WB/MGM) was the kind of simulations that the Academy Award-nominated visual effects team had to create. Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton and Eric Reynolds were director Peter Jackson‘s special effects wizards. The first simulation, he said, “was creating the rapids and waterfalls for the barrel chase, and the second one was the simulations that we needed for all the coins in the Treasure Hall that Smaug was moving through.” For the first effect, they had to simulate 20 tons of water through the rapids — an extraordinary feat. The waterfall, the movement of the water, looks absolutely real onscreen. With the dragon, it was the movement of coins. “Treasure Hall filled up with about a billion coins,” said Letteri. “So every time he moved, we’d have to just simulate millions of coins being pushed and displaced by the dragon.” The creature’s movements create waves in a sea of gold coins, and it is truly impressive and astonishing at times to watch. The beauty of the visual effects is that this Herculean effort by the Smaug team makes the movement of the coins look effortless. They used 40,000 gold-plated coins and then duplicated them to make a billion.