James Cameron Talks about 'Avatars' new and Awesome Technology

by Joey Paur

Venkman here - I have to say I love to see where the new technology for filming movies is going. Its amazing what filmmakers can do these days. Many of them are not taking advatage of the digital revolution but the ones that have embraced it are lovin it. I am a fan of both worlds. Each medium has their own certain type of feel and depending on the movie, style, and budget depends on what a filmmaker should use to create his or her masterpiece. James Cameron has an unlimited budget so the guy can do what ever the hell he wants.  This little article comes from THR:

Cameron also used what he calls FPR, or Facial Performance Replacement, which he likens to the film sound technique of ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement).

To describe the process, the director relates that he recently wanted to redo a line spoken by actor Laz Alonzo. "We changed the words and he redid the dialogue. We didn't have to recapture (his body performance) and he didn't have to put the performance capture suit on again. We were just creating new words, and we were creating a new face."

On the cinematography, Cameron related that his goal was to create "one movie where the aesthetics of physical production and the aesthetics of virtual production are, to the extent that we could do it, pretty much it identical."

Reaching this goal involved development of what Cameron calls the 'Simulcam,' which essentially treats a real camera like the virtual camera and in turn helps to remove guesswork. "We're taking our virtual production toolset and superimposing it on physical production," Cameron said. "We turned the set on the soundstage into a capture volume and turned the physical camera into a capture virtual camera, so we were able to integrate CG characters and environments into our live action."


With "Avatar's" principal photography completed, Cameron is focused on CG production. The helmer said his team has completed the performance capture (sometimes referred to as motion capture) of the actors and is in the post process of performance capture 3-D.

The CG involved a large amount of additional R&D that afforded the director new creative options and flexibility. For one, the film used a new performance capture production workflow.

"The way we developed the performance capture workflow on 'Avatar" is we have our virtual camera, which allows me to, in real time, hold a camera -- it's really a monitor -- in my hands and point it at the actors and see them as their CG chartacters," Cameron said.

The actors wear leotards and a "head rig" with a tiny standard-definition camera that takes an image of an actor's face. "That is going though facial algorithms and going back into the camera as a real-time CG face of the character," the helmer said. "You see it talk; you see the eyes move. It is pretty phenomenal.

"Once we've laid down a take, the take exists in the digital asset management system," he said. "It an be accessed at any time. Long after the actors have gone home, I'm still out there with the virtual camera, shooting coverage on the scene. I just have to play the take back. I can do the close up, the wide shot. ... I can even move them around on a limited basis. We relight it. We do all kinds of things.

"It's this amazing ability to quickly conjure scenes and images and great fantasyscapes that is very visual. We call it 'director centric' because I can use the camera to block the actors," Cameron related. "When you are doing performance capture, creatively it's very daunting. It's very hard to imagine what it will look like. But if you can see it, if you can have a virtual image of what is it going to be like, then you are there. As the processing power goes up our models get more sophisticated and our lighting tools get more sophisticated, even while we are making this movie. I'm still doing a lot of virtual camera work on the film ... on stuff that was shot six months ago."

 So there it is. the future of modern filmmaking. It will either be James Cameron or obert Zemeckis who end up making the first full CGI movie that looks like its not CGI, with digital actors that look real. Who do you think will do it first?

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