Mollusk-faced Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) and the sea phantoms that crew the ghostly Flying Dutchman in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" are part human, part sea bottom creatures brought to life by a new generation of motion capture and computer-generated special effects.
Motion capture is often an after-the-fact, blue-screen affair done outside the main action, but for "Pirates," the 14 actors whose performances were transformed into the movements of CGI animated characters were able to interact on location with the film's stars, including Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom.
"When you are shooting traditional motion capture, it's a big footprint on set," says visual effects supervisor John Knoll. "There are like 16 cameras that are needed and constraints over the lighting. We wanted to be able to give the same quality of data without having all of those things that slow down production. So they came up with a system that uses these small digital cameras with high resolution. We used the film performance as a guide for the animated performance."
As well as developing the cameras, the research and development department at Industrial Light & Magic came up with reflector-covered body suits — for capturing the actors' movements — that could withstand the rigors of the ocean, sand and rain.
"Our philosophical approach was we wanted to have a good cast of actors all in the roles present on set so Gore Verbinski had someone to direct, the cameraman had something to frame up on, the director of photography had someone to light, and the editor had a performance to cut," says Knoll. "We wanted no stylistic break from the rest of the live action."