Weta Tackles More Avatar
Avatar is back in all its 3-D glory with nine more minutes and 250 more VFX shots in a new special edition in IMAX and other theaters. I spoke with Eric Saindon, visual effects supervisor at Weta Digital, about the new CG work for this and even more footage in the upcoming Avatar collector's edition this fall from Fox Home Ent.
Bill Desowitz: What was it like going back to Avatar?
Eric Saindon: As strange as it sounds, I really enjoyed it. We went back and looked at it, and we were on this movie for five years. But I thought it was fun to work on it more for a few months. Jim [Cameron] was a very different person, which was interesting.
BD: How so?
ES: He was much more relaxed this time. In fact, the first month that we worked on it, he was in Tahiti working, and we actually conference called in his hotel room, and he was sitting over a glass floor, where he could look and see the fish down below. He was in a very different environment and he was a little more relaxed because I think he had more faith in us, which was great. He knew what we could do and he knew our process. We work in a very strict process where we do key shots to really show him the look and then just bring everything up to that level, so it worked very quickly.
BD: So the first major new sequence is the Sturmbeest hunt?
ES: Yes, about three weeks after we got the turnover, it was cut and everyone was [relieved]. And then we got the re-release cut from Jim, and, of course, it was back in. Luckily, in Avatar, we did a lot of water effects, smaller bits of the same elements of Sturmbeest. We were actually able to turnaround the whole sequence: four minutes with 60 shots in about three months (with about 30 TDs working on the re-release), which is pretty good for the amount of effects. It's similar to the buffalo hunt in Dances with Wolves. In fact, we got that as a reference from Jim as far as the feel of what it should be. The Sturmbeest is a colorful rhino-like character.
We built one big environment and ran our Massive simulation down through the environment and then used it to determine where the river should go, to put the depth in the river properly. We did a lot of growing plants (in a simple L system that we wrote) through the riverbed but getting rid of them where the Sturmbeest would be running, and just tried to wear it down a little bit so it had some age and it felt like these creatures would be roving through this area a lot. We used Massive for the growth of plants through the terrain, so big plants grew first and smaller plants grew in but died off if they weren't getting any light.
In fact, using the same software we use for oceans and interaction, we created a mud and water simulation together so, as the Sturmbeest run through the mud, we set a depth of water that it did a simulation through, but then below the water, we put a simulation of mud, too, so you got a good variety of mud and water kick up as these things were running down through the riverbed. Deluge is the name of our fluid simulator that we wrote for Avatar.