James Cameron's Real-World Inspiration for the Landscapes in AVATAR

Avatar mountains The landscapes in AVATAR were truly amazing, largely in part to the way the 3D element was used in the movie. Instead of using traditional 3D methods to bring objects out of the screen towards the viewer, AVATAR used a technique that made it feel like the viewer was being pulled into the movie. This effect gave the viewer the overall impression of being a part of the landscape and scenes, which provided a very realistic look and feel. Many people who saw the movie in 3D reported that it felt as though they had actually visited Pandora, instead of just viewing it on the screen.

Guest post by Ty Wingfoot

As anyone who has seen the movie AVATAR in 3D can attest to, the visual effects and landscapes are truly spectacular. The landscapes in AVATAR were even more mesmerizing due to the way the 3D element was handled in the movie. Instead of the usual methods of exploiting the visual “shock effect” of 3D by continually thrusting objects towards the audience through the screen, AVATAR takes a different approach. When you watch the movie, you have more of a sense of being drawn into the screen and the surrounding landscape, as opposed to feeling like something is going to come out and get you, which adds an additional sense of realism to the film.

Inspiration for the Beautiful AVATAR Landscapes

When one experiences the breathtaking scenic landscapes featured in the movie AVATAR, it is hard not to wonder and speculate as to where the inspiration for the landscapes in AVATAR came from. As is the case with most art, it is hard to imagine that there wasn’t a real world inspiration for the highly stylized but somehow realistic scenes. The landscapes were of course created through the work of many talented artists, but for many who experienced the movie, there was a desire to match Pandora up with its real life inspiration.

Southern Sky Column

For those who are familiar with the often breathtaking beauty of China’s landscape, it was hard not to draw some similarities between some of the landscapes depicted in the movie and the Southern Sky Column in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. The scenes in the movie that feature the beautiful floating islands are reminiscent of this majestic column. Traditionally named Qiankunyizhu, which translates from Chinese to mean “Pillar of the Universe”, it was thought by many to have been the inspiration that Cameron had referred to in an interview where he stated that he had used many references when designing the landscapes in AVATAR, including Venezuela, Huangshan and Zhangjiajie, which are both located in China. Quick to capitalize on the reference, Zhangjiajie started to look for ways that they could capitalize on the resemblance in order to bolster their lagging tourism industry. In fact, there was talk that the column was going to be renamed Mount Hallelujah in reference to the movie.

Not So Fast...

However, since Cameron cited several locations as reference points for the movie’s landscapes, Huangshan took exception to Zhangjiajie’s newfound claim to fame. Instead, they insisted that the beautiful floating mountains of AVATAR were instead inspired by Yellow Mountain stone column formations. To make matters even worse for Zhangjiajie, many people were a bit offended over the proposed renaming of Southern Sky Column, feeling it should retain its original name instead of caving in to Western influences. In the end, it appears that the name will not be changed after all. However, regardless of the exact location of the stone formations that served as the inspiration, Zhangjiajie has still found a way to enjoy their newfound association with the blockbuster movie. On their website and in future advertising campaigns, expect to find the slogan, “Pandora is far... but Zhangjiajie is near.

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What places on earth do you think inspired the landscapes of AVATAR?



I did not see it in 3D but still was mesmerized by the landscape and effects. It was amazingly "real" looking, even if it was a bit dreamy to be believable. That is only an after-the-fact observation however. While watching the movie, I was every bit "in it", and could feel the story as if I were part of it. That is one thing James Cameron is really good at. Not just creating spectacular scenery, but weaving a storyline and developing characters you really want to cheer for.

My fav - The "Great Toruk" !.

Karen L. Kay

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