Thanks to JW at at JW’s LOTR Fansite for pointing us to his article… here it is!
Miles Bellas is a digital artist who has been involved with such films as The Fifth Element and Titanic. He’s also done work for television shows, video games, and even NASA. And, as you might have guessed, lately he’s been working on a little project called The Lord of the Rings.
JW: Thank you for your time, Mr. Bellas. How did you become interested in art and design work?
Miles: I have been doing this for years; since I was very young. I used to draw monsters and surreal creatures. I never watched television much. In the UK there were only 3 channels so I found less electronic means of entertainment.
JW: When did you become interested in digital technology?
Miles: My first computer was a BBC micro; it had 32k of RAM, not megs, K. I did some simple programming on it, and I have always maintained an interest but the advent of Fractal Design’s “Painter” application made me realize that I didn’t have to smell turpentine anymore!
JW: You’ve had a great and diversified education. Have you been surprised by the direction of your education and career?
Miles: Yes. When my parents emmigrated to the USA and brought us all along it really gave my life some new possibilities and challenges.
JW: How did you break into the film industry?
Miles: After I completed my Masters degree I was hired at Digital Domain in Los Angeles. I worked as a texture artist on 5th Element and a painter/animator on Titanic.
JW: When you found out you were going to be working on the LOTR project, what did it mean to you?
Miles: I had been talking to Charlie for about two years or so. It was a relief to sign. My parents read Lord of the Rings as a bed time story to me. I still even have a picture of Gandalf I drew with crayon at age 5.
JW: Let’s talk about some of your work in the film; Smaug’s a favorite character, and a lot of us were delighted to see an echo of him in FOTR. Was he difficult to create?
Miles: Well, technically that is the “Fireworks Dragon” and the tent is called the “Fuse Tent”. We did several tests. We had some very interesting, more complicated versions but the art direction demanded simplicity. The particles and smoke move nicely but not in a contrived way. Pushing an effect can make it superfluous and that is what Christian Rivers, the art director, wanted to avoid. Mike Perry and Laure Lacroix did a lot of work getting the particles to sparkle and smoke just right. The Fellbeast, in films II and III, which was painted by me, Mel James and Darren Bedwell is far more dragon like though. I think you will be scared to death! It is a monster!!!
JW: One of the most memorable scenes in FOTR is the attack of the Cave Troll. And PJ talks with great delight in one of the specials about the details of the creature; specifically the dirt in the crevices of his skin. What was it like working on this guy?
<!–±6071|right|The Cave Troll±–>Miles: I didn’t realize the Troll would have such a major part when I was working on it. It was a very intense time consuming job. It was a very heavy creature with a lot of detail. I worked very late and weekends for months on this. I should mention Mel James, Darren Bedwell and Jennifer Kim also helped paint this creature. The animation that Randy Cool supervised is fabulous and really brought it to life. A lot of work went into that creature and I was very happy with the result.
JW: What do you think of the “Massive” software used to animate CG armies?
Miles: I am quite good friends with Stephen Regelous actually. He has dedicated his life into making this software utterly optimized. He realizes simplicity is the key to speed and he has figured out how to retain high frequency nuances with intelligent behaviour patterns yet maintaining optimum speed. I am utterly convinced the upcoming battles will be beyond anything previously seen in cinematic history. They are truly spectacular. His company will probably do a lot of business after people witness this.
JW: I got a letter from a fan who wants to tattoo the Ring’s inscription onto himself. I guess he likes your work!
Miles: All kudos to JRR! Everything is a process and that was my part in this process. Actually I did meet a guy who was our waiter in a pizza place in Oakland who had Saurons eye on the back of his hand. He said I was the first person to recognize what it was !…. but that was before the movies….
JW: What did you think of FOTR?
Miles: Well done Peter, nice job, very refreshing! The director really stepped up to the mark and brought a natural power and dignity to the work with dirt under his fingernails. It is refershing to see honest work that does not seem sugar coated or patronizing.
JW: How far do you think CGI has come in regards to Treebeard and Gollum?
Miles: These are quality creatures that are serious. Think simplicity and maturity.
JW: What do you think TTT will be like?
Miles: Dark, powerful & massive!
JW: What do you think overall about being part of the LOTR project?
Miles: It was good, I am currently organizing my own project which will be very different in style. To work on somthing of one’s own creation that maybe is never seen is just as valuable as something that is seen by millions of people in some ways.
JW: One quick question about Titanic: The King of the World shot could be argued as the King of movie shots. What was it like working on a legendary bit such as that? Did you ever wonder if maybe nobody could pull that kind of shot off in 1997?
Miles: Well, Digital Domain is very progressive and always pushed the envelope with confidence. I remember being told by Howie Muzika: “Miles we have a very special shot we need you to work on, it’s one of the central shots, so you will have to do your best work”. It was quite a surprise to see how it connected together and it amazes me to this day. It was a huge shot worked on by a lot of people. The rig the workshop set up to mimic the camera move was quite amazing. Even though the Hollywood press was saying nasty things, anticipating the film’s failure, it didn’t seem to matter because we knew the work was coming along as beautifully as the script.
JW: Thank you for participating here. I really appreciate it.
Miles: No problems, I hope this has shone some light on we do.