How Pandora Comes Alive: Visual Effects in AVATAR

Pandora art The major motion picture AVATAR incorporates one man's dream of bringing a virtual world to life. Director James Cameron co-created a new camera and filming system that allowed audiences around the world to experience the fictional planet of Pandora. Learn more about the visual effects that were made possible through this new system of filming.

Guest post by Ty Wingfoot

The AVATAR film director James Cameron created a movie like no other through stunning visual effects and brought computer generated animation to a new level. AVATAR is the first movie of its kind in that a majority of the visual effects used were created just for the movie. New technology such as, stereoscopic cameras and virtual cameras were developed to give the movie a 3D feel and allow for film watchers to have an almost immersed sense of the planet Pandora.

In order to get a better understanding of the various technologies that were used in the creation of AVATAR, we are going to go over some of the main methods that helped make this movie possible. From the development of new cameras to the teams of CG artists that worked on the film, here we explore the movie magic that ended up changing the future of CG films.

Developed by Vince Pace and filmmaker James Cameron, the Pace-Cameron System combines a modified type of stereoscopic 3D camera, a virtual camera and performance capture staging. In essence, a stereoscopic 3D camera uses two camera lenses that converge on a single focal point. The double lenses mimic much of the actions that human eyes take when viewing an object. Being able to capture images on film through this type of camera allows the film maker to secure live action sequences in 3D that can be integrated with CG techniques.

Cameron utilized a virtual camera to film computer generated scenes in real time. For this movie, using the technology of computers means that the director can look through the virtual camera and see the world of Pandora and its computer generated characters. The director can control staging, camera angle direction and manipulate commands to both the live and CG actors in the film. The augmented-reality view makes pulling the live action and the computer generated elements together giving a seamless look to the final project.

The combination of the modified stereoscopic 3D and virtual cameras make for a more realistic virtual world. Rounding out this new filming system for an overall immersed audience experience is that of performance capture. A new head rig was developed with sensors on it, so that actors no longer had to tape sensors to their face. The actors would wear the Lycra sensor suits, the head rig and perform their scenes on a sensory stage hovered over by ceiling sensors so that the computer could read their every movement and expression.

This filming system that includes the creation of new software, new modified cameras and new developments in the capturing of live human action have paved the way for future films. Soon, more movies will be developed with this combination for astonishing visual effects all with the goal of making the virtual world look like a new reality and not just lifeless computer generation.

What's your favorite visual effect from Pandora?

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