The making of Avatar
Behind the scenes at Weta Digital, where creativity meets cutting-edge science
by Leonard Teo
Back in 1996, James Cameron announced that he would be creating a film called Avatar, a science-fiction epic that would feature photo-realistic, computer-generated characters.
He had a treatment for the film, which already defined many things, including the Na`vi – a primitive alien race standing ten feet tall with shining blue skin, living in harmony with their jungle-covered planet Pandora.
Soon after, though, Avatar had to be shelved as the technology of the time could not satisfy the creative desires of the director.
Fast-forward to October 2009: Dan Lemmon, FX supervisor and Andy Jones, animation director at Weta Digital have about two weeks left of visual effects production for Avatar. The near-900 strong crew spanned across six locations are practically working around the clock to achieve what was deemed impossible a decade earlier.
Weta Digital, the New Zealand studio responsible for the groundbreaking visual effects in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, is taking VFX to a new level of creative and technological excellence.
For Avatar, the studio has created over 1,800 stereoscopic, photo-realistic visual effects shots, many of them of the Na`vi as `hero` characters. In addition to digital characters and environments are the machines, vehicles, equipment and everything else that help blur the line between imagination and reality.
"We`re not just talking about the environment, but the creatures, the machines and the vehicles that people use to get around. The whole world is unique and because of the way James Cameron approaches things, everything seems functional and believable. Compared to other sci-fi fantasy genre films there`s a certain level of realism just in the design that makes it very believable," says VFX supervisor Dan Lemmon.
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