Avatar and the Future of Digital Entertainment Creation
Convergence of Films and Games
Avatar the Game has been designed as an extension of the movie, providing another way to discover the Na'vi and their Pandora world. Players can fight alongside the RDA Corp. or choose to join the Na'vi, battling to protect Pandora.
The game and the movie have much in common. Ubisoft and Lightstorm worked together with a rather unique level of collaboration and trust. As both teams used similar tools, it was easy for them to share assets. Beyond that, the movie and the game also share the same creative vision and James Cameron remained involved to ensure this. Very early, the games team had access to concept art and early footage for the movie. Ubisoft proposed designs for creatures or vehicles that were approved by James Cameron and even sometimes integrated into the movie.
Ubisoft created an interactive immersive stereoscopic experience for Pandora, thus demonstrating the relevance and the value of S3-D for gaming, but we have yet to see at what pace S3-D screens are adopted by consumers.
Collaborative and Concurrent Workflows
Weta Digital was the primary provider of visual effects and worked alongside 15 other studios that contributed to the movie: ILM (battle), Framestore (Hell's Gate shots), Prime Focus (bio lab, op center), Buf Compagnie (tunnel, earth shots), Hybride (link room) and many others. These companies brought the entire set of Autodesk's digital entertainment creation tools to bear to help bring the story to life.
The virtual cinematography process lends itself very well to concurrent workflows and a tighter communication loop between production and post production; a workflow very similar to the offline editing/online finishing model found in video production. Lightstorm and Weta traded both FBX files and reference movies to send the MotionBuilder shots over to Maya for finalization.
Toward Virtual Production
It's been a long journey since the pseudo-pod in the Abyss in 1989 marked a major milestone for computer generated visual effects and the start of the onslaught of technology into the movie industry. The production of Avatar gives us another picture of how technology is liberating creativity. Directors can direct computer-generated and live actors in real time, in digital environments. The performance of actors can be augmented and/or transported to virtual characters. The availability of high quality, high fidelity prototypes for movies can help creative teams share their vision and have a holistic view of their work.
We on the development side have a lot more work ahead of us to get our software to the point where it is truly empowering to non-technical creatives to conceive and realize their visions. It is up to us to simplify and democratize these techniques for every filmmaker, especially for the future generation of directors that is just as comfortable behind the computer as they are behind the camera.
Marc Petit is SVP, Autodesk Media and Entertainment.