Cameron Geeks Out on Avatar
JC: I think if you sum it up in general terms, what we found as a pattern is that the more [Weta] made everything real, or behave as if it looked real, the realer it looked. Meaning, if they just had a single sun source, and bashed it into the forest and let it reflect around, no matter how computationally intensive and nightmarish that might be in terms of the code necessary to do it and the amount of time on the render wall that was needed, the more real it looked -- and the more they were observant of nature and seeing how much light would be bounced off the surface of a leaf, how much light would be transmitted through the leaf and come through as a green color on the backside. The same thing for the Na'vi and Avatar characters: the subsurface scattering, the transmission through the ears, the transmission through the nasal cartilage. We went in with a lot of ideas but it took months and months of testing to see what would or wouldn't work.
BD: What was the moment when you realized that it worked?
JC: Do you remember the scene when Neytiri is observing Jake walking through the forest and she aims her bow at him and she gonna shoot him?
JC: There's a shot where the Woodsprite lands on the thing and she relaxes her bow and there's a tight close-up where she's thinking. She gasps and she's obviously affected by it. You don't even see the Woodsprite: it's just a very tight shot of her face. And that was one of the first shots that was completed that I signed off on as Neytiri now fully alive. There was a moment when I was sitting in the editing room, by myself, just staring at the screen, and realizing that, though, it had taken two-and-a-half-years or more to get there, she was real -- every aspect, every pore in her skin, the reflection in her eyes, the structure in her iris, the expression on her face, the lighting, the hair, everything was real. Now, of course, that was a very simple shot, and there was a lot more work to be done, but if you couldn't get to that threshold, it couldn't be done.
BD: And the most terrifying moment?
JC: Probably the first time I saw Neytiri's face come back from Weta, which would've been months earlier. She didn't look like Zoe, she didn't act properly… We went through the same cycle with Sam and then to a lesser extent with Sigourney. Each character had to go through a process of rigging the facial musculature to get the muscles to fire in the right way, to get the lips to curl and evert and deform in the right way and every character was different. And it was an interactive process of me sitting with them -- and they were very good: they did 80% of it. But when they would present something to me for discussion, it still was not right, and we had to sit in a dark room for many, many hours and discuss it and then go back to the drawing board. I called it cracking the code and they cracked the code on Neytiri first. And the beauty of it is once they cracked her, every Neytiri close-up after that -- and there were hundreds of them -- looked spectacular. And that absorbed very little of my time. Usually, I was only dealing with lighting at that point. And then the same thing with Jake.
BD: What plans to you have for an extended director's cut for the Blu-ray/DVD?
JC: It's in discussion. I haven't figured out exactly how I'm gonna approach it yet. We might do something where we create an interactive DVD that's got a pathway so you could watch the movie the way it was released or watch it with other scenes in it or maybe do your own version with more of this or less of that.