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AECCafe at the movies…Avatar

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

At AU, attendees were treated to a special preview of the film Avatar that debuted over the holidays. I just went to see the film the other evening and found that it was surprisingly good.

As a writer, I generally look for story, but my audience here at AECCafe looks for technology. Definitely technology was at work in this film; besides Autodesk’s involvement in the film.

Producer John Landau of Lightstorm Entertainment gave a presentation on the visual effects used in the soon-to-be-released feature film, Avatar. Landau partnered with producer/writer James Cameron on this film as well as the Titanic, where he said they “broke new ground in using visualization effects as a storytelling device.”

Avatar is shot fully in what is called “stereoscopic 3D.”  The making of “Avatar,” which is set in a virgin forest on the planet of Pandora, took two years of new production technology development.  Innovations include image-based facial performance capture, a real-time virtual camera for computer-generated production, and the SIMULCAM system, all of which integrate computer-generated characters into live-action scenes. These techniques combined with stereoscopic photography result in a hybrid CG/live-action film. Lightstorm’s virtual camera technology is used to look around in a scene. The actors see the world with themselves in the animation. The camera man can work with all captured performances and track the position of each character as though the viewpoint is a camera view into that virtual world. “It acts how you expect a camera to act in real life, as close to real life action as you can get in a CG world,” said Landau.

Filmmaker James Cameron was once a machinist, a truck driver, and then a winner of 11 Oscars, and will be a featured special guest at SolidWorks World 2010, taking place Jan. 31 through Feb. 3 in Anaheim, Calif.

Cameron’s films, including Titanic, Aliens, and the Terminator franchise, have amassed over $3 billion in box office receipts, according to a recent press release.  Not only a filmmaker, he is also an inventor of technology.

Cameron’s films have blazed new trails in visual effects and set numerous performance records. Among Cameron’s inventions:

  • Filming, lighting, and robotic equipment for use in the extreme pressures of the deep;
  • A 3D digital camera system to enable shooting of 2D and 3D film versions in parallel; and
  • Mini fiber-spooling remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) for deep sea use.
The story:
For those who want to know what the film is about, IMDB has a great synopsis.
For me, the story itself is basically a techno sci fi environmental story with perhaps a touch of  “Dances with Wolves.”  Ex-marine, paraplegic Jake Sully goes on a mission to Pandora, a moon of the planet Polythemus, populated by an indigenous tribe known as the Na’vi.  Colonel Miles Quaritch is in charge of the mission, and responsible for dispensing such military wisdom such as getting the fighting done with so they can all “be home for dinner.” The Na’vi as described by Quaritch are killers that have to be neutralized.
Although the story is not new, the beauty of the virtual landscape is stunning in 3D and the Na’vi people and animals are completely believable and engaging.
It is yet to be seen how this advanced technology will impact the AEC market, but it will be entertaining to watch it unfold.
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