Despite all this I just HAVE to write about Avatar, absolutely have to, this post is already way past its due.
So there's been criticism about poor script writing and James Cameron's treatment towards his fans...but let's just side step that and look at the bigger picture here. Avatar has revolutionized the concept of filmmaking. I think that's already a pretty good plus ...
The artists are freakin incredible, just OMFG amazing. Major props to Weta Digital and Industrial Light & Magic, I wrote an article about Weta earlier so go check that out.
I'm dissapointed, however, that the Art of Avatar is barely the thickness of my agenda book. Perhaps the studios do not want to leak out any raw concept art because they aren't finished with all three films (word has it that they're making an Avatar trilogy)? Beats me... but there's several "behind the scenes" articles up on CG Talk now.
Behind the Scenes: Fun Facts to Chew On
Here's one juicy article that goes in depth with the technical problems the team had to overcome: http://features.cgsociety.org/story_custom.php?story_id=5434&page=2 When making Avatar, the production team had to come up with these new cool features:
- Virtual Camera-Also known as the Steering Wheel, allows James Cameron to look through the view finder and "steer" his way around the Pandora environment built by the Virtual Arts Department (VAD) for a certain scene. This way the director could point out changes that need to be made, such as relocation of a tree or floating mountain to get a better camera angle.
- Motion/Performance capture (mo-cap) is upgraded to a whole new level so that there is finer detail of facial expressions and other beauties.
- Skull caps- Funky helmets the actors had to wear when they acted out a scene. These skull caps mo-cap the actors and process the data into the Virtual Camera. This way Cameron can look over the scene in a more complete version. He will see the actor's "blue suit" alien counterparts moving in real time in their digital surroundings. Doing this allows Cameron to use his directing abilities without delay and make any corrections in a quicker time.
- Head of Massive Department Jon Allitt wrote a system to make plant growth in the Pandora jungle look realistic. Massive (Multiple Agent Simulation System in Virtual Environment) is a software used to simulate crowd-related movement in film. In the past Massive was used to move people (overly used in battle scenes, first in Lord of the Rings, then in many other films that followed suit). Allitt thought, if you could manipulate characters to react to their environment, why not instill the same concept in plants? Lo and behold, Allitt's idea worked very well.
- I'm not quite sure this is true, but I was told that there is a special camera that was designed by Sony so that the lenses moved exactly the way our eyeballs do. That's why it seems a bit dizzy in certain action packed scenes. I don't know the name of this camera, but it sure sounds cool.
Is Avatar an Animated feature?
This has stirred quite a buzz on forums the minute after this movie was released. Click on this for a thorough read http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/article/should-avatar-be-considered-for-best-animated-oscar . One guy reasoned that if a movie like Alvin and the Chipmunks was eligible for an Oscar in best animated feauture, then Avatar was definitely qualified as a worthy contestant. James Cameron and all the other actors, however, have repeatedly emphasized that Avatar is NOT an animated feature. A new question arises, is there a clear boundary between visual effects and animation? Though Avatar did require tons of animators and animation procedures, almost all of it revolved around the actor's live performance. This is different than what animation studios like Pixar and Dreamworks do, in which the animators make up the performances themselves.
Then again, performance capture is pretty much a modern day rotoscope technique, which was often used in an animated film. This practice has dated wayy back during productions like Disney's Cinderella and Max Fleischer's Betty Boop cartoons.
Perhaps the only separation between what is animated and what is VFX (visual effects) is the director's own intentions. If the director wants to make everything extremely photorealistic, then he'd probably say that the film is not considered an animated feature. If the director wants to make everything look unrealistic and cartoony, then it is an animated feature. I this has to attribute to our way of perceiving animation. We forget that it's a basic science and often associate it with Tom and Jerry Cartoons. Is this a cultural mindset?!
No matter, this is really an open ended debate...Besides, Avatar was not submitted into the animated category to begin with, so it won't be considered this round. One thing's for sure, whether Cameron calls Avatar and animated feature or not, animation was definitely used to make the movie as we see it. Competition in the film industry has now come to a whole new level, it's exciting but a little scary how our perceptions of the future are slowly becoming a reality.
In Lord of the Rings, Andy Serkis was mo-capped and in this way played the role of Gollum, the ex-hobbit obsessed over the Ring.