The Battle for Minas Tirith in The Return of the King uses advanced computer-generated imagery to recreate the battle scenes from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Pioneering work in artificial intelligence development by Weta Digital, the technology-based half of director Peter Jackson's production company, was used to create a simulation of every 'agent' in the scene.
The software, called Massive, was originally developed by Weta Digital guru Steven Regelous for work on a remake of King Kong in 1997. It uses artificial intelligence engines to control the movements and behaviour of crowds or animated creatures.
Motion-captured action or moves by weapons experts (filmed against a blue screen that could be digitally replaced by computer imagery), were used to create 3D simulations of men, orcs, elves, barbarians and the myriad other creatures involved in the battle.
Each battle agent could then be given variable warrior characteristics, including height, size, gait and weapon, from any race. They could then be left to engage in realistic looking combat with any other agents recognised as the enemy.
Jackson has said since that Regelous and his team knew they were on to something with the artificial intelligence when they pitted 1,000 randomly generated silver men against the same number in gold in the first battle simulation, and three or four on the edges simply turned and ran for the hills.
As the battle for Middle Earth becomes increasingly intense, the scale of the scenes, the detail in the imagery and the sheer volume of work involved to fill the blue screens left by actors, models and extras soared proportionally.
Each successive film doubled the amount of graphic artists needed, tripled the computer storage and quadrupled the processing power. In the final scenes, Massive-animated characters can even be seen reacting to the screams of the swooping Nazgûl dragons.
But it was worth it, as the trilogy broke box office records, reaped accolades and, most importantly, set a new 21st century standard in the realism, scope and dynamism of digital cinema - if you ask me.
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