Weta technology inspires 'Avatar' world
16 Dec 2009
Ground-breaking New Zealand film technology will be showcased around the world this weekend as Avatar - Hollywood producer James Cameron’s latest cinematic experience opens to international movie audiences.
Wellington’s acclaimed visual effects company Weta Digital is behind the technology that has created the new generation 3D special effects which, according to industry commentators, is the biggest thing for the film-making industry since colour film.
With a cost of about US$400 million, Avatar is the most expensive movie ever made and was four years in production. It is the first film from director James Cameron since his 1997 blockbuster Titanic.
Avatar has already received four Golden Globe nominations, including best drama and best director, in the 2010 list announced today (16.12.09).
The Oscar-winning director spent two decades dreaming up Pandora - a futuristic world of lush dense forests and floating mountains, peopled with tall blue-skinned humanoids - but it was Peter Jackson who showed him that it could be brought to life.
Cameron sought out Jackson to turn his vision into reality after seeing the amazing special effects created by Weta Digital for The Lord of the Rings series, and notably the character of Gollum.
It has been a massive undertaking. Avatar is so complex that the third biggest computer in the world had to be linked up to generate its artificial yet realistic-looking images. More than 800 people were employed just to work on the special effects.
"We were going significantly beyond anything he had done because we had all sorts of different characters based on different actors," Cameron said.
Ones and zeros
The most daunting problem, Cameron said, was to ensure the effects did not take over the film’s story.
"I'm just amazed by what the team was able to create," he said. "I love the design. I'm an artist, a sketch artist, so I love designing the creatures, but I worked with a team. Trust me, it's not easy creating all this stuff.
"People sort of think we shot it in New Zealand because the rain forests are beautiful there, which, of course, they are, but we didn't have a single day of exteriors on the movie. It was all created with ones and zeros."
Since its gala premiere in London last week, Avatar has been showing to preview audiences around the world.
The story - told by blending live action footage and computer generated techniques - is a mix of romance, action thrills and the battle between good and evil.
Early reviews are enthusiastic with show biz paper The Hollywood Reporter calling it a "jaw-dropping wonder".
Audiences have been dazzled by the 3D visual effects that take the viewer four light years away from Earth to the planet Pandora where the Na’vi people are fighting for survival against human colonists who want to mine their precious resources.
Pandora is an Earth-like planet with lush rainforest, towering trees, floating mountains and many life forms, ranging from beautiful to terrifying.
"It's absolutely cinema, but I think cinema redefines itself every few years with new techniques," Cameron said. "The more fantastic the subject ... the more recognisable and universal, the relationships and people need to be."
If Avatar is a big success in 3D, industry watchers expect more theatres to install the new technology quickly and more directors to make movies in the medium.
Avatar opens in New Zealand cinemas on Friday (18.12.09).
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