Watcher in the Water
“Frodo felt something seize him by the ankle, and he fell with a cry. Bill the pony gave a wild neigh of fear, and turned tail and dashed away along the lakeside into the darkness. Sam leaped after him, and then hearing Frodo’s cry he ran back again, weeping and cursing. The others swung round and saw the waters of the lake seething, as if a host of snakes were swimming up from the southern end.
Out from the water a long sinuous tentacle had crawled; it was pale-green and luminous and wet. Its fingered end had hold of Frodo’s foot and was dragging him into the water.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Originally, executives maintained that the Watcher sequence in Fellowship of the Ring could be excised, being essentially superfluous; Peter Jackson was against the idea and was adamant in retaining the scene. “I loved the notion of the scene,” Jackson stated, “and I thought the film needed a good Monster sequence at this [narrative] point in time. I fought for it.” Compared to the scene in the novel, the Watcher in the Water’s attack in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring film adaptation was greatly emphasized. In the original version of the sequence, the Watcher attacks the Fellowship with its twenty-one, faintly luminous green tentacles — remaining otherwise unseen. In the film, the action of the scene is larger, and the Watcher reveals its appearance, emerging from the water.
Given this intention, the Watcher had to be designed as a whole creature in every detail. Initially, the Weta crew was given absolute freedom to steer in any direction they wanted. Some concepts emphasized the ancient quality of the creature by combining traits of extinct arthropods and mollusks — such as Trilobites and Ammonites. Others were inspired by crustaceans, cnidarians and other deep sea animals. Ultimately, the crew settled upon a creature that would convey malicious intelligence. Visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor related: “we didn’t want the Watcher to be just a tentacled mess, out of control. It had to feel as if it was going specifically for Frodo because it was pursuing the ring.”
An octopus-like concept penned by Daniel Falconer became the basis of the final Watcher; the only changes Jackson requested were to move its eyes up higher and to move its mouth to the top of the face. “We designed it to have two fingers and an opposed tumb at the end of its tentacles,” Taylor continues, “with squid-like suckers on the inside. Its mouth was like a sphincter, and it had six huge wing-like structures down its back, which are closed when it’s below water, but flare into massive wings when it’s above water. We analyzed how and where it would intake air, how it would shield its eyes. We put a lot of time developing its eyes, to give it a look of an old man’s intelligence, with puffy, soft, weepy eye sacs. We deemed it necessary to put in all that time and research, to create a creature that was worthy of the project.”
The design was sculpted into a small-scale maquette, which was digitally scanned to obtain a rough digital model — in turn refined in Maya. As with all of the large scale creatures of The Lord of the Rings films, the animation of the Watcher was designed to resemble stop-motion work. “Both Randy Cook and I come from the stop-motion world,” Animation supervisor Adam Valdez said. “I apprenticed under Phil Tippett for eight years, and learned just about everything I know from him. So that was a factor in the classic style of the creature shots. But, more importantly, it was Peter’s preference. He is a big fan of classic animation, so some element of homage to the work of Ray Harryhausen was incorporated into the creature designs and sequences. It’s not so much that we went for a stop-motion look in the animation; it was more that Peter’s and Randy’s staging of the scenes, with big reveals and other theatrical elements, was reminiscent of stop-motion sequences of the past.”
The movements of the Watcher were based on cephalopods and other mollusks. The most complex element of the animation was coordinating all twelve tentacles of the creature in order to convey the fact they were part of a single intelligence. “It was one of those scenes where, as an animator, you’re fighting to integrate some sort of character and style into it, while dealing with all the technical difficulties,” Valdez related. “Just animating all the tentacles to keep them fluid and powerful and looking as if they were all coming from a single mind was really tough.”
The animation was first established with a lightweight model, which was then finalized with skin and muscle simulations. The skin texture was achieved with displacement maps. Software development supervisor Richard Addison-Wood related: “compared to many others in use, our system was a lot closer to reality, because, just like on a real body, muscle movement was driven by skeletal motion, and the movement of the skin was determined by what the muscles were doing.”
For more pictures of the Watcher, visit the Monster Gallery.