Interesting Facts About the CGI Used in AVATAR

Chickflick From James Cameron's long-time love affair with CGI to the cutting edge motion capture technology used to make the actors look real, there are hundreds of unknown and interesting facts about AVATAR and its fantastic special effects.

Guest post by Robert Guthrie

Just about everyone knows that AVATAR represents the absolute cutting edge in CGI and 3D cinema technology, but there is simply so much going on with respect to the technology used in this movie that it is possible to overlook a lot of the neat facts about what actually went in to this fantastic film, such as...

Did you know that the movie is comprised of 25 to 40 percent traditional live action, a more or less unprecedented percentage? Or that the character Gollum from The Two Towers was what convinced James Cameron that movie special effects had finally advanced enough for him to make AVATAR? Or that Cameron had wanted to make AVATAR since 1999, but the expense of using the technology he wanted stopped any studios from picking it up? That's just a sampling of some of the fascinating facts surrounding the CGI and technology in AVATAR.

James Cameron and AVATAR

AVATAR had been a long-time pet project of James Cameron – obviously, since he'd been pushing to have it produced since 1999 (at least) – but it is interesting to see how much his input had to do with the stunning special effects. Another Cameron film, Total Recall, was one of the first to include CGI animations, all the way back in 1991.

Likewise, the Terminator franchise has long been a pioneer of special effects, especially Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which included the fantastic (and very realistic) effect of the T-1000. It was Cameron who insisted on having cutting edge and revolutionary special and visual effects as a part of AVATAR.

The Best of the Best

James Cameron (as John Hammond would say) spared no expense in making AVATAR. He brought in the top artists and technicians to make sure that everything matched with his vision, which was well beyond anything envisioned before. Peter Jackson's (of Lord of the Rings fame) Weta Studio handled the digital effects, requiring over a year of working time and a petabyte (1000 terabytes) of information to render every element of Pandora in perfect detail.

In order to make the animated Na'vi look realistic (and to avoid the 'uncanny valley' effect of previous CGI films), a new technique was implemented, called “image-based facial performance capture” which, like other types of motion capture, required that many sensors be attached to the actors' bodies and faces as they worked through the scenes of the film. This system was both more accurate and on a larger scale than previous attempts at similar technology – producing the stunning results you see in AVATAR. The system is so precise that Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) appears noticeably younger in her avatar form, yet still recognizable.

From facial performance capture to the new Weta Studio digital effects, James Cameron’s cutting-edge advancements have forever changed the face of film and theater entertainment.

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What CGI effects did you find most impressive in AVATAR?



Robert Guthrie,
I'm writing a research paper for my school about the CGI features that you talk about in this article. Could you please tell me how you came about this information? Are you a secondary source?

Please comment back soon. Your knowlege is very fasinating and i would like to know more.
signed Jasmine

Avatar is without a doubt my favorite CGI movie of all times. I'm upset at myself that I wasn't able to capture the 3D version when it was out in the theaters.

I am not surprised when you stated that James Cameron has been pushing it since 1999. I mean, to come up with a story like this must have taken years within itself.

Great Article!

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