Avatar: Technology and Live Action

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The work of director of photography Mauro Fiore was focused on creating the gritty look of the industrial complex at Hell’s Gate. “What they were capturing in performance capture and what I was creating in the live action sequences needed to cohesively exist in one movie,” says Fiore, who also shot “The Kingdom” and “Smokin’ Aces.” Fiore embraced the 3D Fusion camera system, and after extensive testing, tackled the live action shooting with style and precision. The resulting images blend seamlessly with the CG created by WETA Digital and ILM.
 
Most of AVATAR’s live-action scenes were shot in Wellington, New Zealand, where enormous sets were erected. This endeavor was an incredible undertaking; the production created a huge sub-structure of over 150 contractors to build the sets. The practical sets included the Link Room, which houses the sarcophagus-like link that transports the humans’ consciousness into the avatar bodies, the Bio-Lab – a science facility and home to the amnio tanks that house the avatar bodies that have grown to adulthood during their six-year journey from Earth to Pandora; the Ops Center, which is the central nervous system of the Hell’s Gate base; and the Armor Bay military stronghold, which houses the AMP Suits and choppers.
 
In all of AVATAR’s environments, Cameron creates an immersive experience in which audiences will feel like they’re alongside the characters on their adventures. He and Landau have long been champions of 3-D cinema and have worked tirelessly to use that format to enhance film’s immersive qualities. But they note that they intend AVATAR to also be an immersive experience in 2-D, and the film will play widely in that format.
 
“Jim and I have been sharing our passion for 3-D with Distribution, Exhibition and worldwide audiences,” says Landau. “We feel a 3-D renaissance is finally here. We live our lives in 3-D, so why not experience movies that same way. That being said, in either 2-D or 3-D, you will feel like you’ve been to a distant world and walked among its inhabitants.”
 
Many 3-D films of an earlier era used the format as a “gag” or effect unto itself – throwing objects at audiences or arranging characters or props that would appear to come out of the screen and into the theater. For Cameron, 3-D is a window into a world, where the format, instead of calling attention to itself, disappears into the narrative.
 
As he was developing AVATAR, Cameron set to work on a new digital 3-D camera system, which he developed with partner Vince Pace of Pace Technologies, using Sony and Fujinon HD technology. But before AVATAR became a reality, Cameron’s goal with the new digital 3-D camera was to bring back the experience of deep ocean exploration with unprecedented clarity to a global audience. His historic exploration of the inside of the Titanic was the subject of Cameron’s 3-D IMAX film, “Ghosts of the Abyss,” followed by “Aliens of the Deep.”
 
Cameron’s experiences on these films not only advanced his vision for AVATAR’s three-dimensional presentation, it also informed one of the film’s signature design and lighting elements: At the bottom of the ocean, Cameron had witnessed a phenomenon in which certain life forms literally glowed with an almost otherworldly light amid the relentless gloom. Cameron applied this “bioluminescence” to Pandora’s environment, which comes to life at night via this affecting radiance.
 
Post-Production
 
AVATAR’s post-production process, like almost everything else about the film, was decidedly atypical. On most films, editing begins in post-production, but on AVATAR, Cameron and fellow editors Stephen Rivkin, A.C.E. and John Refoua, A.C.E. began cutting initial captured sequences during pre-production. The editors and their Avids were a regular presence on set during production, delivering to WETA sequences on a monthly basis. “Before we ever shot a frame of live action film, we had probably delivered seventy minutes of edited footage to WETA,” says Landau.
 
A key part of the post-production period was composer James Horner’s score, which combines classic symphonic elements that propel the film’s epic action, with sounds that transport us to another world; the latter includes vocalists singing in the film’s Na’vi language, as well as unusual acoustic and electronic instrumentalists.
 
Movie fans and music watchers have eagerly anticipated this new Cameron-Horner collaboration; Horner’s work on 1986’s “Aliens,” yielded one of the cinema’s finest action film scores, and 1997’s “Titanic” made movie and soundtrack history. For AVATAR Horner reunited with “My Heart Will Go On” collaborator Simon Franglen to create a new song. “I See You” is sung by international sensation Leon Lewis, and can be heard in the end credits of the film. The song expresses the Na’vi idea of “seeing,” when a person understands with their heart and spirit, not just with their mind.
 
As he entered the final stages of AVATAR, Cameron was eager to share his vision with the world. He previewed extended scenes at key domestic and international exhibitor gatherings, and at the massive Comic-Con pop culture enclave. Pleased with the response to these early looks, Cameron continued to fine-tune the editing and review the finished or near-finished visual effects work coming in daily from WETA Digital and the other visual effects vendors (including ILM, Framestore, Prime Focus, Hybride and hy*drau”lx), all to make AVATAR a one-of-a-kind experience for moviegoers. “Jim doesn’t make movies for himself,” says Jon Landau. “He makes them for the audience.” Adds Cameron: “I really want audiences to have a completely satisfying cinematic experience. And I hope audiences will walk out of the theater saying, ‘I didn’t see a movie; I experienced a movie.'”
 
 
RealD
 
RealD 3D is the new generation of entertainment, with crisp, bright, ultra-realistic images so lifelike you feel like you’ve stepped inside the movie. RealD 3D adds depth that puts you in the thick of the action, whether you’re joining favorite characters in a new world or dodging objects that seem to fly into the theatre. RealD pioneered today’s digital 3D and is the world’s most widely used 3D cinema technology with over 9,000 screens under contract. RealD will have over 4,500 screens installed in 48 countries by the AVATAR release. And unlike the old days of paper glasses, RealD 3D glasses look like sunglasses, are recyclable and designed to comfortably fit on all moviegoers, and easily over prescription glasses. Don’t just watch a movie, experience a new dimension of entertainment with RealD 3D. (www.RealD.com)
 
 
Avatar: An IMAX 3D Experience
 
Concurrently with the film’s nationwide release in conventional theatres, Avatar: An IMAX 3D Experience will be released in IMAX theatres beginning December 18, 2009. Avatar has been digitally re-mastered into the unparalleled image and sound quality of The IMAX Experience? through proprietary IMAX DMR? technology. With crystal clear images, laser-aligned digital sound and maximized field of view, IMAX provides the world’s most immersive movie experience.