A Look At The Software Used In AVATAR

A-22339 AVATAR is a film that was created by technically complex software. There were more than half a dozen pieces of software used in AVATAR. Several thousand shots were created with the software. Here's a look at the software used to make the movie.

Guest post by Ty Wingfoot

AVATAR is by far the most expensive, technically challenging and visually stunning film to date.

AVATAR has raised the bar on what is possible from an effects perspective and of course, most of the work and money was because of the software. Weta Digital is the New Zealand effects company that James Cameron used to bring AVATAR alive. Weta Digital also worked on other visually awesome films such as King Kong and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Weta Digital used more than just one software package. They used half a dozen pieces of software to make AVATAR, as well as some custom built software and applications of its own. Much of the work went into building the virtual world of Pandora, and Weta had to create a virtual camera for James Cameron to use to scout locations and film in the virtual world.

Here we take a look at the software that was used to make the movie.


One of the pieces of software used in AVATAR was Renderman, which is an application created and sold by Pixar. The software is used for rendering 3D animation and visual effects. According to Pixar, Renderman has been used on every visual effects Academy Award winner for the last 15 years. Renderman comes in several varieties from standard to RenderMan Studio and Renderman for Maya.


Zbrush is another piece of software used in AVATAR in the concept designs to do such things as create the look of the Na’vi people and the head of the Banshee. Xbrush is kind of like a digital sculpting tool that works in real time with 2D and 3D effects. Zbrush also lets you paint images with color, material and textures, and allows you to change the canvas. Zbrush is good for post-production work, but is more widely geared for pre-production to allow for the viewing of changes to models, props, sets and costumes quickly and easily.

Autodesk Maya and More

Autodesk Maya, often referred to as just Maya, is software that is used for 3D animation, 3D modeling, rendering and more. Maya was not the only Autodesk software used in AVATAR. According to the Autodesk website, MotionBuilder, Mudbox, Softimage, 3ds Max and Flame software were also used. These applications were used by fourteen different effects companies including Weta Digital in the making of the movie. MotionBuilder is what helped put the characters in the environment. According to James Cameron, “You're creating a kind of live video game of the performance of the scene."


Massive is software used in AVATAR to do things like create the ground cover. This allowed the effects team to grow plants from digital seeds and the forest to grow in real time. They grew big trees and then smaller trees. The big trees would affect the growth of the smaller trees and in the end, the environment simulated a real forest. Massive is traditionally used to generate and visualize crowd behavior. More specifically, Massive is used to control agents, which are characters who perform on their own.

Putting It All Together

The software and computer programs used to make AVATAR were more than just the sum of each part. It wasn’t just one software package used for one aspect and another program used for another aspect. Software was used for various parts and rolled into other aspects and programs were created within these programs to do just what was needed. All of the software used in AVATAR came together to create the world James Cameron wanted. Making a movie, especially a computer graphic intensive movie, has many steps and likely has used many applications along the way. There were probably lots of other software used in AVATAR in addition to the ones above, but not mentioned by the production team as they are considered basic tools of the trade or played smaller roles in the development of AVATAR. Sponsored by Panasonic VIERA. Return to the world of AVATAR in stunning full HD with the Panasonic VIERA HD TV.

What digital effects impressed you most in AVATAR?



I've read that Weta Digital actually employed 900 people to work on Avatar at one time and used a 10,00 sq ft server farm. Creating the Na'vi and Pandora took a petabyte of digital storage (That's a quadrillion bytes). It took a lot of memory to make this film.

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