Windows of the Soul

Gollum_Smeagol_TheTwoTowersI remember the first time I saw Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers and sat in slack-jawed amazement during the scene where Frodo confronts Gollum about his long-forgotten past as Smeagol. So much of a genuinely affecting performance comes through an actor’s eyes… and here was a CG character emoting in a way I’d never imagined possible! Somehow, the animators had managed to capture Andy Serkis’s phenomenal work and translate it through the computer to play out on the screen.

Because there are several shots in The Price when the Narrator is simply staring at the Black Cat or off into the distance somewhere, I knew that the CG model’s eyes were going to bear the brunt of the audience’s focus (not to mention scrutiny). With that in mind, digital designer and sculptor Ryan Peterson had his work cut out for him.



Again, it may seem like overkill to go into this much detail, but to get the computer to make things “look right,” you have to give it plenty to work with. (Seriously, click on the image above and look closely at all of those sculpted folds in the iris [dilator pupillae] and the intricate veining on the sclera — that is just plain nuts, right??!!) Ryan even made a shell that covers the eye and incorporates the “corneal bulge” shape, which actually helps in the next stage.



When preparing a model for rendering, I can assign certain characteristics to each individual part. In the image above, I gave the skin of the face and the eyeball itself some translucency, so that part of the light in the scene actually passes through the material instead of just bouncing off. It’s not something most of us walk around thinking about, but your brain inherently recognizes the difference between something organic (like skin) and something else (like rubber), and will let you know immediately if something looks “off.” For the scleral covering/corneal bulge pieces, I used a glass-like shader with actual refractive properties, so the image of the iris and pupil behind it are slightly distorted (in real life, the cornea and surrounding liquid do the same thing). An environment map (depicting the scene around the character, like a backyard or a room interior) is also applied to give that glassy surface layer something to reflect, which is what makes it seem wet or moist. (That last reference was specifically for my sister Jen — she absolutely loathes the word “moist.”) :) All of these little things really add to the overall impact when you see them together, like this:


I’ll admit he does appear a wee-bit maniacal (sorry Neil), but those eyes make it seem as though there is someone “in there” (even if he may be a little frayed around the edges).

Well, that’s all for now; I hope you enjoy these “behind-the-scenes” posts — have a great week, everyone!

PS: This whole topic was kind of ironic, as I had my very first visit to the Eye Doc this morning (getting old, I’m afraid…), so here’s a quick shout-out to the whole team at Davis Vision Center (especially that dapper-doc, the one and only Kurt Hepworth)!


About Xtopher

Director of The Price, and Owner/Creative Director of Silver Fish Creative, LLC.
This entry was posted in The Price. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Windows of the Soul

  1. Lovely! Game and CG eyes are something really special when they come off right, and it’s gotten so much better over the last 5 years or so. I’ve been remarking for some time that the NPCs in The Witcher: Wild Hunt are the best I’ve seen in games yet, and a lot of this is due to the expressiveness of both eyes and facial features. You really get a feel for these people before they’ve hardly said a word, and I find myself continually drawn into that world most by those people I’ve talked to, even more so than by the wide landscapes with realistic weather and beautiful sunlit horizons.

    Lovely post. Thank you, as always.

    • Xtopher says:

      Eyes have been one of the toughest CG hurdles to overcome, but the key seems to be not to take shortcuts (along with the increased tech support) and follow the existing design.And thanks for your lovely (as always) comments, my friend!

  2. Stephanie Harper says:

    That’s some mind-blowing work on the eyes. And it does make a huge difference! Was just watching LOTR this morning and so had to laugh at seeing Gollum pop up here.

    • Xtopher says:

      Watching LOTR first thing in the morning? We are most definitely cut from similar cloth, my friend! Thanks for the kind words, Stephanie.

  3. Gary Power says:

    Hey Chris,

    I have been following this project for many moons now from here in Ireland and I have to say you are doing a fantastic job. Every update makes it look amazing. So very much looking forward to seeing the finished piece because I know it will be amazing. Keep up the unbelievable work Mr Salmon.

    Great seeing the work in process. Thanks.

    • Xtopher says:

      Thank you so much, Gary! Even though this project has taken so much longer than I ever imagined, it has been great fun to share along the way and hear thoughts and observations from so many supportive folks like yourself.

  4. Jordi Kroon says:

    I’m not that much into films (any longer) but I recognise the importance of details like this. In videogames you see the same thing happening, from flat eyes they’ve gone to eyes that look very realistic, with actual reflections, different dilations based on light, etc.

    Every bit of details helps, even in a non-realistic aesthetic as this film is using. ‘Neil’ looks very intriguing in the renders you psot here.

    • Xtopher says:

      Thanks Jordi — I think so too. It is invigorating to take cues from the natural world and then be able to make something slightly unnatural with them.

  5. Lynne Taylor says:

    With apologies to Louis CK, this is amazing. It is a delight to watch this movie grow.

    • Xtopher says:

      Thank you kindly, Lynne — I appreciate your judicious discernment in choosing to bestow such a coveted descriptor on our little film. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *