Avatar: Ancient Wisdom meets Technology

Updated with additional info on Simulcam, James Horner’s inspiration from Indonesian music and more links.

“Walking through a dream I see you, By light and darkness breathing hope of new life, Now I live through you and you through me, enchanted, I pray in my heart that this dream never ends.”

If I shall make a movie, I will not do it any other way. Avatar, opened last week has brought a new sensation to the festive season; James Cameron’s first after he spent nearly a decade scraping the underworld and creating documentaries — is nothing sort of spectacular, an out of this world imagination with a down to earth storytelling is every directors’ and moviegoers’ dream come true. He and the (rumored) $300 million team of artists, cameras & computer engineers has closed the chapter of generation: ‘Star Wars’ & opened a new page in the cinema history book.

If the story of a man falls in love with the indigenous’ first woman sounds remotely familiar and how their love began at the battle field with a happily ever after ending might sounds like a Disney movie, but make no mistake, this is not Pocahontas. This is a story of good that will ultimately triumph greed, love overwhelms evil.

James Cameron has clearly grown, borrowing from the ancient Hindu scripture, the movie borrows the concept of the ‘borrowed-body’ to narate the often distant voice of wisdom, deep within the blue skin & the big yellow eyes of the Na’vi lies a simple fact that we as human must know; we are all connected as one.

Clearly, we have distant ourselves from nature…so far, it is impossible for most of us to recognize the truth, Pandora might be just an imagination of one creative soul, but everything that we live on earth—as real as it is, as close as we are—yet, are often gone unnoticed that we simply destroy everything that is given for us. Avatar attempts to correct that mistake, the concept of God, prophecy and religion doesn’t exist but love, courage & faith become a tradition that is nurtured throughout the Na’vi that bounds every each of them to their beautiful planet.

How does one create a realistic world?

There’s a fundamentally different concept of dimension in Avatar, it’s a unique philosophical iteration on how they represent the world of Pandora onto a virtual 3D on 2D screen.

Jon Landau, Produser, & Cameron’s partner since Titanic:

It’s not a world coming out of a window, it’s a window into a world.

I was one of the lucky souls who were at the center stage of it; for nearly 3 hours on the night of Dec 17, I was blown away by what I could only describe as an out-of-this-world sensation, I wouldn’t be surprised as I have learned prior to the opening night that almost everything that was used to make Avatar was entirely new to the filmmaking industry, the technology, the approach & the equipment was practically invented for this movie.

Another reason why this movie looks & feels different than any other is the way the computer generated imaging (CGI) are produced; instead of moving wireframe 3D models and calculating the lights & shading of its texture, Avatar uses a performance capturing technology—a common technique of injecting live in videogames—actors are rigged with motion detection equipment on a soundstage with live-size marking of the scenes they are performing for, no more dubbing or mouse generated movement; with a Cameron made digital viewfinder & the production team’s brilliant software ‘simulcam’, the director is seeing the actor’s performance with a realtime rendering of how the movie should look in post production, directors have to wait for months for what Cameron see in realtime. This solution does not only allow Cameron to create a real life looking camera movements, but also allows the actors to perform live on-stage and animate & mimic they’re own digital character as they would have done in real life.

James Cameron:

It’s immersive. It wraps the movie around you. It’s not necessarily just for kids’ films either. It works in a dramatic sense because it gives you a heightened sense of reality. Whatever you’re watching has a kind of a turbo-charged level of audience involvement. In a science fiction film like this one, you’ll be able to inhabit that world, not just watch it but be in it. I think people want that. If people are going to get out of their homes and go to the cinema, the cinema better show them something it hasn’t in the past. (Q&A with James Cameron, Jan 11, 2007 by Rebecca Winters Keegan)

It is overwhelming. The number of technical excellence and inventions is so massive, it is overwhelming to even read the data, the new PACE/CAMERON Fusion Camera System, the rich sound & melody written by James Horner and how he committed his 1.5 years inventing a new sound world exclusively for Pandora, including a sound originated from my beloved home, Indonesia:

There were a lot of vocal sounds I took from various places. These were odd vocal sounds that I would manipulate digitally and there were interesting flutes, for instance, from South America and Finland that I wanted to be more abstract. I also have instruments invented from scratch. They were programmed. There were a lot of instruments that sound like flutes of different sorts, but they were combined with gamelan-sounding instruments. The gamelan is Balinese. The word itself means ”orchestra.” The individual gamelan instruments are these bell-like sounds. A lot of the percussion for “Avatar” is gamelan-based or sounds gamelan-based. So this has this sort of quality of ringing bells, like Indonesian music. It’s a very pretty fusion of different worlds that gives the place itself a quality that is magical. Using it for percussion, rather than drums or other things, gives a sort of magical glow to everything. And as I said there were a lot of instruments that I invented and worked on with my programs. I was very particular.

Read the rest of the interview here

The immensity of the efforts also comes at the end, an endless list of talented souls appears in the credit title that scrolls with Leony Lewis’ brilliant voice singing:

“Then my heart was never open, and my spirit never free; To the world that you have shown me; But my eyes could not envision; All the colors of love and of life ever more…ever more.”

Nothing has ever come so close for a story, graphics, cinematography, technology, imagination & creativity encapsulated to a 165-minute work of art, James Cameron’s Avatar is a must see, so perfect, it’s almost spiritual.

I see you, James. I see you.

A big pile of selected links (worth reading) about Avatar:

Full Credits for Avatar

Artists working on Avatar

Behind the scenes from Avatar

Creating the world of James Cameron’s “Avatar”

Inventing Effects to Create the Avatar Universe

The technological secrets of James Cameron’s new film Avatar

A Brief Look at the Technological Advancements in James Cameron’s Avatar

‘Avatar’ 3-D experience aims to immerse viewers in distant world

Moving Pictures: The stories behind movies

Movie stills from Yahoo! Movies

Technology behind 3D – CNET

With “Avatar,” Technology Has Never Looked So Human in Film

and a bonus….

A Beautiful collection of Hi-res (Full HD Size) Wallpaper for your desktop
(Google Link, BitTorrent required)

Avatar’s latest extended HD trailer