Avatar and the Future of Digital Entertainment Creation
When filmmakers work virtually, captured shots can be assembled and played back together to form a "digital prototype" of the sequence (or even of the movie). This prototype gives crucial visual context to inform important creative decisions, either editorial or cinematographic. Many ideas can be tried without requiring an expensive shooting crew; and more iterations mean better results. The decision-making moment can also be extended further downstream, which is great for creative freedom but might put a heavier burden on the post-production teams as it favors last-minute changes.
These important improvements benefit actors, cinematographers and directors who receive better visual feedback to perfect their craft; and given the pace of improvement in CPUs and GPUs, we can expect to see this real time feedback reached more quickly, with a much higher level of fidelity. Already, the latest releases of our creative software applications show significant improvements in the speed and realism of interactive 3D viewports.
In Avatar, Zoe Saldana plays the heroine Neytiri. She introduces and warms us to the fantastic world of Pandora, and is key in getting us to side with Pandora's Na'vi natives.Her romance with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is at the heart of the story.Neytiri is a great traditional movie character, and Saldana delivers emotion-filled performance on par with the best from old-fashioned films that transports us into the story. This achievement represents another breakthrough from the wizards at Weta.
Back in 2001, Andy Serkis' performance gave life to Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Although motion capture had been around for some time, the prowess was that Serkis and Weta gave both his motions and emotions to the computer-generated character. With Avatar, Joe Letteri and his team pushed the boundaries and gave us a believable love story between relatable virtual characters. Technology contributed here too, as a new muscle system was implemented in Maya to better exploit the data coming from the capture, resulting in a unique level of realism for facial animations.
After Davy Jones in Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest from ILM in 2006 and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button last year from Digital Domain, augmented performance is proving very successful in bridging the uncanny valley for digital doubles and human-like virtual characters. I'm looking forward to seeing an actor recognized for his or her performance on a virtual character like Gollum or Neytiri.
Among its many "firsts," Avatar is arguably the first mainstream live-action movie to be made fully in stereoscopic 3-D (S3-D). Until now, most S3-D movies were stereo versions of CG animated movies. Creating a live-action S3-D movie is more difficult and more expensive, and there was doubt as to whether moviegoers would enjoy the immersive experience of S3-D for a 2.5hr-long movie. Avatar has thus proven that live-action S3-D movies are viable and profitable. Many of the companies involved in Avatar use Maya as a core tool in their pipeline and it has become a leading S3-D movie production tool as it features a very flexible stereo camera rig co-developed with DreamWorks.