Thursday, July 23, 2009

Avatar Footage Report: Pandora is REAL

UPDATE 07/24/09: a bit more on the "photorealism" question some are asking about. Avatar is a revolutionary leap forward in that it is the manifestation of a huge number of first-time achievements in filmmaking. Cameron has created an amazingly cohesive, detailed, and beautiful world that I believed I was there, and, like the Time magazine writer, I wish I could go back now.

As for photorealism, the humanoid chararacters are at least two steps ahead of the best CGI characters to date (King Kong and Davey Jones).

In the first few seconds of seeing Jake's avatar my mind was a bit boggled - *very slightly* rejecting it because I knew on a *factual* level it does not exist (or at the very least, humans have never laid eyes on any alien creature). But this wore off after about 4 seconds. The CG is perfect. The aliens exist. Cameron and his team have achieved their goals with flying colors.
If such aliens were real, that is what they would look like. Their clothing, the lighting, the interaction with the jungle, the dirt and cuts they may get...all are real.

Michael here. Right now I am mindblown from experiencing 24 minutes on Pandora. Cameron has visited another planet and shot footage there.

Jaws were dropped, minds were blown, and people are still processing how far beyond anything we've seen this is. I'll be updating with more detailed impressions soon.


There aren't any "effects" in this movie: everything is real. The world - from the huge trees to the smallest insects to the retracting, spiral-shaped plants to the moss that lights up when stepped upon - simply exists. I believe that Avatar is such a remarkable accomplishment in so many different ways that I would agree that it looks 10 years ahead of anything out there. And the 3D is the most seamlessly immersive I have ever seen.

But the most important point I want to get across: the characters work, the performances pop off the screen and already come across as iconic.

Emotion and tension are not only present, they infuse every scene. I was immediately reminded of Aliens and the amazing chemistry between the characters in that film. Jake, Ney'tiri, Quaritch, Dr. Augustine, Spellman, Tsu'Tey all vibe with each other wonderfully, creating some great moments of interaction. These characters WORK.

And the non-human characters are real. You will not only believe that the Na'vi and Avatars exist, but you will immediately begin forming the audience / character bond. There is no problem with the uncanny valley here - we are now looking at it firmly from the other side. The way in which the avatars resemble their human controllers goes a long way towards accomplishing this, as do their large, catlike eyes (the eyes of the na'vi seem even larger).

At the press conference following the Hall H presentation Cameron mentioned that Sigourney Weaver recently saw the film, and cried afterward. Cameron knows that this has to be an emotional journey at the core, and that the action - as mind-boggling as it is - must have stakes. He said that this is the reason a chase scene in the first Terminator film still holds up so well today.

I'm looking forward to an extraordinary film this December. As Cameron said at the press conference, it's firing on all cylinders.

More details soon.

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