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Entertainment Technology’s “Avatar” Panel


What has a file size of one perabyte, took over 1,825 days to create, consists of 2/3rd computer generated footage, and contains over 2,400 visual effects shots?  James Cameron’s “Avatar.”  During the recent Entertainment Technology Expo, a team of specialists who worked on “Avatar” spoke about the equipment and experience of working on the VFX heavy movie.  Moderated by POST Magazine’s West Coast Editor Daniel Restuccio, the panel consisted of editors John Refoua, ACE and Stephen Rivkin, ACS, VFX producer Joyce Cox, DI colorist Skip Kimball, VFX editor Christopher Marino and associate producer Janice Tashijan.

“For the two of you who haven’t seen the film yet, we have a clip to show you,” joked Restuccio as he welcomed the crowd.  After an extended clip, Restuccio kicked off the discussion by asking “What was different and special about working on this project?”

Rivkin began by stating the editing process was unique to any other film experience he has had.  Due to the visual effects and motion capture elements utilized in the film, scenes were edited, and virtual scans were applied to make “loads.”

“All other elements had to be built and stacked and layered,” said Rivkin.  “There were a few hybrid scenes, but most were captured, edited then loaded.  The AD’s would come to the editors to find out what was being shot per the scenes we were editing.”

The visual effects department was working closely with Cameron to get exactly what he wanted.

“We were moving around the typical pieces but in a different order,” said Cox.  “We had a full front-end digital composite and applied it in the 3D space in the shot set up.  Jim would lay down the camera moves, so we could get directly what James wanted.”

“The most unique thing was the involvement of each department in the entire process,” said Tashijan.  “The Avid had body tracking and face tracking; all elements were processed together.”  Tashijan was impressed with the camera technology that Cameron developed that allowed actors to immediately see themselves in the virtual world.

“All sets were pre-built in the virtual space,” said Tashijan.  “The cast could see themselves immediately as their creature.  Jim could make the world on command!”

Kimball found himself having to color for all distribution models simultaneously.

“I was coloring for every conceivable light level,” said Kimball.  “I was working on scope, 2D, 3D, specialty exhibitors like Imax, all simultaneously.”

3D added a number of complexities for all members of the “Avatar” creative team.  The visual effects team had to build a complete replica of the medical room to incorporate the images that appeared on the computer monitors.

“The plexiglass (in the medical bay) was filled with graphics and various other aspects,” said Marino.  “ We had to build a 3D replica of the entire room.  There is intense tracking of the placement of images; we have to work out color and reflections that appear on the plexiglass surfaces.  These variances have a great impact to the eyes.”

Refuoa liked the editing style of taking multiple close-up performances by an actor and crafting a new performance out of all the best pieces.  Although this can be done, he admits that it’s the talent of the actor that makes the final performance.

“Everything in this film was performed,” said Refuoa.  “It was essential to this film.”

To hear the members of this panel discuss their positions and experiences working on “Avatar,” please watch the Production Tech Tips Avatar by clicking this link:

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