It’s been common knowledge for a while now that the upcoming Avatar sequels would be set at least partially underwater, thus affording director/adventurer James Cameron to combine his love of blockbuster action-romance with his love of the ocean. Given that the first Avatar was largely created on a green screen performance-capture stage, you would’ve figured that the underwater scenes in Avatars 2 & 3 would be shot dry-for-wet — the same way Cameron filmed Aquaman.
But Cameron’s longtime producer Jon Landau revealed at the NAB Technology Summit on Cinema that the sequels will use an intriguing new technology. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the producer explained, “We have kept a team of digital artists on from Avatar in order to test how we can create performance capture underwater… we could simulate water, but we can’t simulate the actor’s experience, so we are going to capture performance in a tank.”
Cameron’s movies have always been at the forefront of cinema technology. The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Titanic all pushed the boundaries of digital effects, while Avatar redefined the possibilities of performance capture and also ushered in the whole 3D era in blockbuster filmmaking — an era which was almost immediately soured by Alice in Wonderland… but that’s another story.
It will be interesting to see if the underwater performance capture will be as revelatory an experience as the original Avatar. It will also be interesting to see what brings the film’s characters into the oceans of Pandora. Perhaps, after an attack by the fierce Li’Ona clan, Jake tells Neytiri, “Everything’s gonna be fine. Now go upstairs, pack your bags. We’re gonna start a new life… Under the sea.” To which Neytiri responds angrily: “Jake, that’s your solution to everything: To move under the sea!”
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