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Isn’t That Precious?

How the makers of The Two Towers created cinema’s most endearing addict

Perhaps the most amazing achievement of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, a film packed end-to-end with them, is Gollum, the former hobbit-turned-ring-obsessed wretch. The character is so lifelike that it’s hard not to wonder what very slender adolescent was stuffed into the costume. But Gollum is, in fact, completely virtual, a creation director Peter Jackson accomplished by combining state-of-the-art technology with the efforts of Andy Serkis, a veteran character actor last seen as Joy Division producer Martin Hannett in 24 Hour Party People. The 38-year-old Serkis rehearsed on location with costars Elijah Wood and Sean Astin, then stepped off-camera to voice the character while Wood and Astin were filmed; he returned to New Zealand in January 2002 for eight months of motion-capture work, reenacting his scenes on a soundstage where mannequins stood in for the hobbits. Serkis wore a specially designed suit that digitally mapped all his movements, from sinuous feline leaps to the slightest unchoreographed slip.

Computer-rendered into each frame of the film, Gollum is a far more convincing “effect” than any bumbling racial caricature in Star Wars. (“The only other forebears of Gollum are characters like Jar Jar Binks,” says Serkis, “and we all know that that didn’t work.”) Though New Line Cinema, the studio behind Rings, campaigned for Serkis to receive his own Oscar, equal credit is due to special-effects guru Richard Taylor: His WETA workshop created the halfling formerly known as Smeagol while also occupying itself with the production of some 10,000facial appliances and more than 2,500 prosthetic feet. “It’s interesting that we naturally push away things done [by computer]–‘Oh, it was just digital,'” says Taylor. “It’s still a rich experience–an integration of art and technology no different than the invention of the first chisel on a piece of marble.”