One thing that made Lord of the Rings an onscreen classic is undoubtedly the presence of Gollum (a.k.a. Smeagol), the faithful Stoor Hobbit of the River-folk who was transformed into a half-mad, cave-dwelling wretch by the corruption of the evil “One Ring.” Portrayed onscreen in the early-to-mid 2000s by motion-capture performance maestro Andy Serkis, Gollum set a new precedent for how engaging and “real” a CGI character could be.

J.R.R. Tolkien fans already know that Gollum plays a pivotal bit role in The Hobbit, which is being adapted into director Peter Jackson’s two-film (possibly three-film) prequel to Lord of the Rings. Today we have new Hobbit images that show both Gollum and his counterpart Andy Serkis back on the scene (no pun), ready to bring Middle-earth movie fans a new rendition of their beloved character.

For those who don’t know: One of the subplots of The Hobbit deals with that fateful first meeting between Gollum and the family Baggins. In this prequel tale it is Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman) who embarks upon the epic journey that would eventually become his defining adventure. One leg of that journey involves Bilbo trying to find his way through a system of caves, in which he stumbles across a certain miserable wretch who is searching for his lost “precious” ring – a ring that will have world-changing implications for both Middle-earth and Bilbo’s family.

Check out the images of Gollum in The Hobbit and Serkis on set in his motion-capture suit, which will appear in the September issue of Empire magazine (courtesy of E!):

At this point, it’s hard to deny the fact that Serkis, in any one of his famed motion-capture performances (see: Lord of the RingsKing KongRise of the Planet of the Apes, Tintin), has been one of the most criminally neglected actors when it comes to awards recognition (not one Oscar nom!). The reason the CGI characters in those aforementioned films have each been memorable (to varying degrees of acclaim) is that Serkis is there to provide the heart, soul, and personality behind those big digital eyes. Peter Jackson at least recognizes the gem he has in hand: The Hobbit will mark his fifth and sixth (possibly seventh?) film employing Serkis’ talents (add another half to that if you count Tintin, which Jackson produced).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens in U.S. theaters on December 14th, 2012.

The Hobbit: There and Back Again opens a year later on December 13th, 2013.

Sources: Empire magazine (courtesy of E!)