New Technology in AVATAR - Performance Capture, Fusion Camera System, and Simul-Cam

Cameron filming James Cameron finally directed his dream film, AVATAR, after waiting almost 20 years for technology to advance. New technologies used in the film include CGI Performance Capture techniques for facial expressions, the Fusion Camera System for 3D filming, and the Simul-Cam for blending real-time shoots with CGI characters and environments.

Guest post by Brian Jones

It is being called a revolution of cinema: a technological wonder unlike any film before it. No doubt exists in anyone’s mind that James Cameron’s AVATAR was more than a movie – it was an event. AVATAR secured its place in film history because of Cameron’s patience and insistence on perfection. He had wanted to bring his idea to the silver screen for almost 20 years, but he simply did not see how the technology of the time could transfer his vision into the eyes of others. Cameron wanted the world to see AVATAR as he saw it, and he would settle for nothing less. As time progressed, so did the technology of cinema. Much of the new technology applied in the film AVATAR was invented strictly for this project, but that is not to say it won’t be used again. Here is a breakdown of the new technology applied in the film AVATAR:

Performance Capture
Computer generated imagery (CGI) was used throughout the making of AVATAR. Cameron was familiar with the technology of CGI since he had worked with it before in films such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day. AVATAR, however, was the first film to ever use CGI with a new technique Cameron calls image-based performance capture, or performance capture, for short. This technique required the actors in AVATAR to wear specially-designed headgear housing a camera. The camera recorded detailed facial movements of the actors and interwove them into the CGI characters. Performance capture gave the characters a realism that had never been achieved before.

Fusion Camera System
The Fusion Camera System (aka Sony Fusion 3D Camera System, Pace-Cameron System) developed by James Cameron and Vince Pace is the most elaborate and advanced camera system ever devised. The camera system was first presented at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention and trade show in 2007, although Cameron had used it previously on two documentaries: Aliens of the Deep and Ghosts of the Abyss. It consists of two Sony HDC-F950 HD cameras used in conjunction to create stereoscopic 3D images. A slightly modified version was used in the making of AVATAR to create realistic 3D images that seamlessly blended live action and CGI.

Simul-Cam and Virtual Camera
Simul-Cam and Virtual Camera are the latest achievements in motion capture technology and the source of much of AVATAR’s technical success. The integration of Simul-Cam and Virtual Camera with the Fusion Camera System is what allowed Cameron to blend the live-action parts of AVATAR with the CGI. These technologies allowed CGI characters and environments to be viewed through the Fusion Camera System’s eyepieces and monitors during live-action filming. This integration gave Cameron the freedom to direct the scene just as he would any “normal” live-action take. He could see exactly how the live actors and real scenery interacted with already-produced CGI characters and environments during real-time filming.

The new technology applied in the film AVATAR was responsible for making it a blockbuster, and it raised the bar forever on what audience members expect and demand from cinema.

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Has AVATAR raised your expectations for what to expect in great movies?


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