Here's How 'The Hobbit' Dragon Looks Without Visual Effects

Benedict Cumberbatch seriously got into his role for “The Hobbit” films. 

In both “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” and “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” now in theatres, Cumberbatch plays the role of the perilous dragon, Smaug. However, the “Sherlock” actor didn’t simply voice the dragon. He also acted out the role in a motion-capture suit. 

Ahead of the release of “The Desolation of Smaug” on Blu-Ray and DVD last month, Warner Bros. released video showing the 38-year-old actor immersing himself into the role. 

The best footage comes from the L.A. Times which has an exclusive video showing Cumberbatch act out the dragon in the motion capture suit.

It’s amazing to see how much Cumberbatch really gets into it.

To get into the role, little motion capture tracking dots were placed onto Cumberbatch’s face.

He was fitted with a helmet that has a little camera attached to capture his every facial movement.

To prepare for the role, Cumberbatch told the Los Angeles Times last year that he went to the London Zoo to study animals including lizards.

“They really like doing very little,” added Cumberbatch. “Then, when they act, it can suddenly be very violent or very slow and they really take their time. I tied all that in to the playing I did rolling around on that carpet.”

Motion capture king Andy Serkis, who has played Gollum in both “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films, gave Cumberbatch advice on playing Smaug. 

“I said, ‘Treat it like you’re playing the role. Don’t think you’re just providing the voice. Go in there physically. Get what you can out of it,” said Serkis in a Warner Bros. featurette. “There will be head turns. There will be moments from that performance that you give that can be pulled out and extrapolated and will become part of Smaug’s being.”

A quarter of the shots in the film were CG, according to the special effects crew at WETA. Cumberbatch says about 80% of the dragon was created by them.

Here’s how it looks side by side.

The actor didn’t just roll around on the carpet. He also acted out the character from his own platform.

They built a wooden platform on stilts and they had this hard board that they’d padded with some foam and mats and stuff and on top of that they put this sheepskin,” Cumberbatch told the LA Times. “It was literally like ‘Baum chicka baum baum,’ me up on my Smaug-y platform. I was like, ‘This is cool, I can slink around like a porn star dragon.'”

Cumberbatch said he can see pieces of his motion capture performance in the final rendering of the dragon in his eyebrow movements and with the mouth during closeups with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Thorin (Richard Armitage).

“I absolutely loved it after a minute of stepping on and feeling completely like a nob,” said Cumberbatch. “Once you get over that bit of self-consciousness, it’s so freeing. I just played like a kid in a bedroom, just imagining this thing, which is great.”

Here’s the finished product on screen.

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