With Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ set for home release on April 8th, THR has unveiled this behind-the-scenes video detailing Weta Digital’s Oscar-nominated work to create Smaug and meld it with the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch. “Our challenge with Smaug was making him every bit as engaging and believable as his live-action counterparts,” explains David Clayton of Smaug’s Oscar-nominated VFX team from Weta Digital.

David Clayton tells the outlet that to get started, Benedict Cumberbatch came to Wellington, New Zealand’s Weta in early 2012. “Using our motion-capture stage, we recorded his performances, which focused on the conversation with Bilbo sequence. Having Benedict in a mocap suit was lots of fun — for us, and hopefully for him, too — and seemed to help get him immersed and home in on the character.”

The animation team then grafted Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance onto the CG dragon. “The translation of performance from Benedict to Smaug wasn’t a one-to-one match like you’d get from a humanoid creature. They have very different physiologies,” Clayton explains. “As animators we had to transpose the elements of Benedict’s performance that were critical to the shot, such as head nuances and facial expressions. We then built up the majority of his motion with keyframe animation” –meaning that it was animated by hand. Smaug needed a formidable presence, so we worked hard to craft impressive poses for his massive body, wings and tail. He also covered a full range of moods — from supreme arrogance to paranoid suspicion, from curiosity to violent rage. Adding to his versatility as a character was the creation of his hands. We achieved this by adding a thumb and extra forefingers to Smaug’s wings.”

‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ continues the events of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,’ in which the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) travels with the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and a company of thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) into the Kingdom of Erebor, taking them through Mirkwood, Esgaroth, and Dale to combat with the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumbebratch).

‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ stars Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Evangeline Lilly, John Bell, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Ryan Gage, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher, Sylvester McCoy, Graham McTavish, Michael Mizrahi, James Nesbitt, Dean O’Gorman, Lee Pace, Mikael Persbrandt, Ken Stott and Aidan Turner.

’The Hobbit: There and Back Again’ concludes the trilogy on December 17th. The three films together act as prequels to Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ film trilogy.