All Animators Could Use the Wisdom of Yoda: OK, this has nothing to do with 'Pirates.' But the first thing you see when you approach the year-old ILM offices in San Francisco's Presidio (the park and former military base where 'The Presidio' was filmed) is Yoda himself, perched atop a water fountain. ILM, of course, was founded by 'Star Wars' guru George Lucas, and the shop created the special effects for all the 'Star Wars' films as well as almost every cool-looking movie ever made since then. It's comforting to know that Yoda is watching over all of ILM's projects, don't you think? I love this picture so much I'm thinking of turning the full-size version into my wallpaper. Aaaanyway.
Davy Jones Owes a Debt to Godzilla: According to ILM animation supervisor Hal Hickel, the hardest thing about creating the computer-generated character of Captain Jack Sparrow's nemesis, Davy Jones, was the tentacles. To figure out the look and behavior of Davy's beard (as well as, to some extent, the monstrous Kraken), Hickel looked for images of octopuses out of the water and ended up consulting an unlikely reference source. "I had a hazy memory of a 'Godzilla' film from my childhood that had a real octopus in it," he says. "Turns out it was 'King Kong vs. Godzilla.' And they have a great big red octopus that they turn loose on a Polynesian village, and the footage is fantastic. That ended up being one of the best pieces of reference we could find."
It's Lonely Being a CG Character -- Unless You're in 'Pirates': Most films with CG characters use motion-capture technology to bring those characters to life: The actor is isolated on a stage, and his or her movements are recorded in front of a bluescreen. But with 18 digital characters in 'Dead Man's Chest,' the animators wanted to be able to film the actors on-set. So they used performance capture, in which the actors wore special suits -- they looked like unitards with Nicoderm patches all over them -- that could be tracked in three different views. That way, the live actors (Johnny Depp, et al.) could interact opposite the computer-generated characters (Davy Jones and his crew) instead of talking to the air, as you may have seen in behind-the-scenes segments for other CG-heavy films. I mean really, how are you supposed to turn in an intense dramatic performance if you're only emoting to your imaginary friend?
Animators Will Do Anything for Their Art. They'll Even Stink -- Literally: In creating the drawings of the creepily evolving 'Pirates' characters, visual effects art director Aaron McBride consulted medical books on skin disorders, pictures of rugby players with broken noses (for Maccus, whose headlooks like a hammerhead shark) and a "nasty" website about the effects of tobacco on people's mouths (for Clanker, who plays dice with Will Turner). He also got a little too hands-on while working on Greenbeard, the navigator of the Flying Dutchman (that's Jimmy Legs to the left, but Greenbeard has a similar look). "His body's this hanging latticework of kelp and seaweed," McBride explains, "so I went down to the beach and just got a big plastic bucket and started throwing seaweed in there, and brought it back to the department and photographed it and used it for him. And after about three days it just started to reek. I was the least popular person in the department."
Davy Jones Secretly Wants More Cowbell: McBride reveals that initially, the 'Pirates' producers considered casting Ian McShane (Al Swearengen on 'Deadwood') or Christopher Walken in the part of Davy Jones. Yes, Walken. Puts a new spin on the character, doesn't it? Eventually they went with Bill Nighy ('Love Actually'), but McBride didn't have to adjust his drawings much at all. "It's funny," he says, "because both of those guys and Bill Nighy have real piercing eyes, so in the earlier iterations of this artwork I tried to work in Christopher Walken's super-blue eyes." After they cast Nighy (that's him on the right), McBride added in the actor's cheekbones and pursed lips, so that the CG character could match Nighy's performance as closely as possible. Naturally, Nighy, whom all the animators went out of their way to praise, is brilliant in the role -- but the next time I watch the film, I'm going to imagine Davy Jones sounding like Christopher Walken. Just for fun.