Avatar was an ambitious movie for its extensive use of motion capture and 3D technology, helping open the floodgates for the widespread implementation of 3D movies in the 21st century. James Cameron has always been one to push the envelope, setting records for effects and box office returns. Cinematic history will certainly remember him for it as well as for not digging Wonder Woman.
Nevertheless, he's looking to push that envelope even farther with his Avatar sequels, which have been in the works for quite some time. An interview he recently gave to Collider may hold the answer as to why it's taken so long for them to move forward. Remember, he developed the technology for the first Avatar for years before he was comfortable shooting even a single scene.
Cameron is setting a good chunk of the sequel(s) underwater, which posed a unique problem when it came to motion capture. "The problem with water is not the underwater part, but the interface between the air and the water, which forms a moving mirror," he told Collider.
Motion capture captures the movements of an actor's face and body through dozens of small dots that are later configured into a digital picture on a computer. Now, Cameron is no stranger to shooting in a wet setting, having used a 17 million-gallon tank of water while making Titanic.
However, when using mo-cap underwater, Cameron explained the "moving mirror" creates a "false target" for the technology tracking the actors' movements. "Basically, whenever you add water to any problem, it just gets ten times harder," he said. "So, we’ve thrown a lot of horsepower, innovation, imagination and new technology at the problem, and it’s taken us about a year and a half now to work out how we’re going to do it.”
The real breakthrough didn't arrive until a week ago on November 14. "We actually played an entire scene underwater with our young cast," said Cameron. "We’ve got six teenagers and one seven-year-old, and they’re all playing a scene underwater. We’ve been training them for six months now, with how to hold their breath, and they’re all up in the two to four minute range. They’re all perfectly capable of acting underwater, very calmly while holding their breath. We’re not doing any of this on scuba. And we’re getting really good data, beautiful character motion and great facial performance capture. We’ve basically cracked the code.”
Promising stuff, but the acclaimed director also admitted this is (literal) kid's stuff. “Now, we’re still working in our small test tank," he stated. "We graduate to our big tank in January. There’s a tremendous amount of water work across Avatar 2 and 3. It’s ongoing into 4 and 5, but the emphasis is on 2 and 3.”
Your excitement levels might vary for these sequels, but if anything, they'll be pretty to look at and will include Giovanni Ribisi and Kate Winslet, so it can't be all bad, right? Start booking your flights to Pandora early, folks!