What 3D Technology Was Used to Make AVATAR?

Rowr What new 3D technology was used in AVATAR? Learn about the amazing visual effects and new AVATAR 3D technology used to make the movie. Even when watched in non-3D, the effects are amazing, partly because of Cameron's Simulcam, which allowed him to superimpose CGI images over live images shot in real time. Many directors believe that digital 3D is as significant as the addition of sound and color to motion pictures. Audiences will certainly have a good time finding out if this is the case.

Guest post by John Sinitsky

Digital 3D like the 3D technology used in the movie AVATAR is breaking down one more barrier between audience and movie. Sure, there have been 3D movies since the 1920s, but the effects of AVATAR’s 3D technology are realistic enough that you can leave the movie and not only feel entertained, but physically tired, as if you were a participant in something that you know wasn't real, but your brain wasn't quite convinced.

AVATAR was roughly 60 percent computer generated (CGI), filmed with motion capture technology using live actors. The rest of the film was actual live-action, generously laden with director James Cameron's trademark visual special effects. The live-action parts were filmed in New Zealand using the new Fusion 3D camera system that Cameron himself helped develop a few years ago. The Fusion Camera System was a way to shoot footage in high definition. It's been used to make movies like Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and Journey to the Center of the Earth. So if someone asks you what 3D technology was used for AVATAR movie, it's Fusion 3D.

The Fusion camera system starts with two Sony HDC-F950 HD cameras, developed from Sony's CineAlta series of cameras. Digital 3D is now the hot thing, with pretty much every studio and big director using it to make everything from documentaries to animation to live concerts into 3D experiences. Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks Animation, considers it "a revolution." DreamWorks has evolved over the past few years into a primarily 3D animation outfit. This is significant, because as much computer power as is required for animation, 3D effects used in movies like AVATAR needs more. In fact, the number crunching capabilities of DreamWorks rendering facility place it among the top supercomputers in existence.

Like sound and color, digital 3D is the third big revolution in cinematic history. AVATAR’s 3D technology broke the barrier between the movie and the audience, letting viewers become much more immersed in the action. That's because 3D technology today is different from the 3D movies made before 2005. The red and blue cardboard 3D glasses worked - sort of - but they tended to wash out colors and give some viewers motion sickness. That's all different now, with better 3D glasses that have gray tinted lenses and modern camera systems like the Fusion allowing much greater control of the quality of the footage.

Part of the new 3D technology Cameron came up with for AVATAR is a "Simulcam," a camera that could superimpose the CGI images over live images filmed in real time, further erasing the line between CGI and live action. Using the wonders of the Simulcam the CGI is basically indistinguishable from the real. Watching AVATAR, you're hard pressed to imagine actors pretending to be part of a fantasy universe while performing on a green-screen stage, and it may in fact signal a point of no return, where high expectations and dreams of the 3D cinema experience will from now on be masterfully fulfilled. 

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Great technology is indistinguishable from magic. Did AVATAR feel like magic the first time you saw it on the big screen?


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