With the new trailer piquing interest in Mortal Engines, a project that the film’s producer/co-writer (and Lord of the Rings impresario) Peter Jackson has had in the works for the better part of a decade, more details have emerged about the film’s production and its troubled history. So just why did it take so long to adapt Philip Reeve's novel? According to Jackson, it was mostly the technological limitations of CGI.
Speaking to ScreenRant, Jackson explained that the post-post-apocalyptic film about country-sized vehicles and warring factions - which is being directed by Christian Rivers (who worked with Jackson on everything from King Kong to Dead Alive) - needed some serious graphical oomph to make its sheer scale feel real. Gigantic cars roaming a desert will do that. But, now that Jackson’s become intimately familiar with CGI’s modern capabilities (seen especially in The Hobbit films), the time is now.
"Certainly digital CG people and digital doubles are the thing that has really clicked in the last few years,” Jackson said. “And I'm sure we'll be seeing quite a bit of that in some of the people I've shot on this film. Because this movie is the sort of scale that you can't really build sets. I mean, we're building as many sets as we can and we're building what we can, but it's just such a... you know, having a city that's like a mile long on wheels and these massive... you just can't build anything [like] that this size."
Sure, when you can go for realism - like Jackson did with much of the Lord of the Rings armies and effects - go for it. But when you have to have “a city that’s like a mile long on wheels” - yeah, it makes sense to consider other options.
One of those options considered was miniatures. But costs and tech actually made CGI the more appealing option. "With miniatures,” Jackson said, “it's almost to the point where miniatures are more expensive than doing things on a computer. Plus, you know, with a miniature, you have to decide on your shot.” CGI is a bit more flexible, comparatively, whereas when working with tiny sets and models, “you've got the shot and there's a miniature DP and you decide on what the camera move is and you do it and that's your shot.” “So,” Jackson finished, “I think the flexibility and the discovery of how to cover some piece of action with a visual camera is a great tool."
Jackson’s mastery of CGI techniques certainly gives the trailer its needed punch of power and it DOES seem impossible to create a world like this without investing heavily in the madness of modern VFX. Do you prefer modern VFX, or is Jackson’s earlier splattery work your favorite?