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Friday, June 30, 2006

Unlocking The Secrets Of Davy Jones

..How the villain of "Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest" was unleashed

With Captain Jack Sparrow and crew ready to set sail again on July 7, excitement is running high. The much-beloved "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" left many of us hungry for more - and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" promises just that. Back for the adventure are the three leads from the first film (Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley), such supporting characters as survived to sail again, and the original director (Gore Verbinski), writers, and most of the technical crew.

Davy Jones
Davy and his crew -- each creature took
months of painstaking work to create,
and the results are unearthly.

But some elements are brand-new - and that includes its villain, Davy Jones. Played by distinguished British actor Bill Nighy, Davy is an awe-inspiring amalgam of human and ... well, not-so-human. Half creature of the sea, he looks like nothing we've seen before onscreen and is truly one of the landmark Disney villains.

Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest
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How did a nice guy like Bill become a tentacular terror? We spoke to Bill himself and to Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll, who brought the character to life visually.

"It was good fun to play somebody this scary, and somebody this weird-looking," says Bill. Although he did pay a price for the experience: "The only tough part was wearing the embarrassing computer-pajama suit. Lesser men than me would have run from the studio. Particularly when everyone else is dressed very glamorously as pirates, and I have to wear a skullcap with a bubble on the top and white dots all over my face!"

Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest
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He was wearing the "pajama suit" rather than a costume, because what we see of Davy onscreen is entirely computer-generated (known as "CG" in the trade). But John didn't want to simply place a computerized character into the shots - the intention was to show Bill's performance in every detail. So he was outfitted in a motion-capture shoot with dozens of sensors, and acted in the scenes directly with the rest of the cast. When they react, they react to his actual presence; and every move and facial expression we see in Davy was taken from Bill.

"The basic technical approach to doing all the Davy shots was that we had a really superb actor on-set in that role, and it was treated like any other live-action," John explains. "There's no doing the performance later on a motion-capture stage. There are no actors pretending to interact with someone who isn't there. It's shot just like any other live-action, with the intent that we'll shoot Bill Nighy there and he'll own the performance."

Getting there was a painstaking process, requiring months of creative energy and problem-solving. First concept drawings were done showing what the character might look like, then the visual effects team created a maquette - a clay full-size sculpture of Davy's head and shoulders, to allow the artists to visualize his appearance from every angle. Only then did the computers come into play; a 3D scan of Bill Nighy's head and body was done, so the character would fit his proportions. The underlying shape is correct because it's following the shape of his body. This allowed them to take Bill's performance on set and fit the CG character to him exactly. The joint lengths are the same - the ankle-to-knee length is the same on the CG Davy as it is on Bill.

Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest
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Once the scenes had been filmed, powerful rendering computers were used to turn Bill's performance into Davy - and the result is unearthly. According to Bill, watching Davy onscreen was "a very spooky experience. Nothing quite prepares you for it, because it's a fantastic creature, beautifully achieved. And it's got your voice, and it's extremely weird, actually. It's quite unsettling."

And unsettling is just what John was shooting for. "We were always going for scary! The first scene where we meet him, Gore was very deliberate about 'We've got to light him in a scary way, and he's got scary dialogue.' He said, 'I want kids to have nightmares about this.'"

However, Davy isn't just a boogeyman, but a complex and intriguing character. "He's funny at times too, very entertaining. And we did occasionally go for the gross moment. We see him sleeping, and we gave him a bit of a runny nose - the blowhole has some postnasal drip," John laughs. "Okay, it's gross! It was an opportunity we just couldn't let pass."

Although John stresses that many of the visual effects in "Dead Man's Chest" are unlike anything you've ever seen (in addition to Davy and his crew, there's a creature called the Kraken that you've got to see to believe), Bill and John agree that the flavor of the film is pure "Pirates" - no surprise, with so many of the alumni of the first film reunited to create this one.

"It has exactly the same feel. The writers are brilliant, and they've kind of taken it on in a very powerful and appropriate way,' says Bill. "And the performances are brilliant. Johnny is so extraordinary and he's kind of the heart of the movie, I suppose you could say. I think a large part of its appeal has to do with the fact that it's extremely good-hearted. Sort of friendly. I think that's a large part of the first movie's appeal - I can't see how, if you dug the first movie, you wouldn't get a big bang out of the second one!"

John agrees. "It's faithful to the first one, because it's all the same creative leads. Same director of photography, same camera leads, same writers, same director, same editors. It's very much in the same character as the original. In fact, most of my crew is the same crew I had on the first film!"

It's no small trick to take audiences on a voyage that's unlike anything they've ever seen, but gives them more of what they've loved - but for this crew, it's all part of the adventure.

*Disney Insider

**One-Sheet Size: 27" x 41" (typically pre - 1985); 27" x 40" (typically post - 1985)

Type: Printed on paper stock. Before 1985, usually folded; after 1985, usually rolled.

History: Traditionally, the one-sheet (OS) is the "standard" size for movie advertising in North America. The one sheet is undeniably the most popular size for collectors and consumers alike. Most new movie releases since 1985 were advertised using this size

In addition to the regular release One-Sheet poster produced for most movies, there are also "special" versions made for some films. They are as follows:

Advance: Sometimes called "Teasers", Advance One-Sheets are released before the film comes out. Some of the Advance posters have completely different artwork than the poster accompanying the final release version. Some are identical to the release One-Sheet, with the only difference being the word "Advance", "Coming Soon", or a specific date will be printed along the bottom.


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