On May 22, the DGA’s Special Projects Committee and Western AD/UPM Council’s VFX/Digital Technology Committee came together to present the seminar Inside the Virtual Technology of Avatar.
DGA members filled Theatre 1 of the Guild’s Los Angeles headquarters to hear presentations from members of the creative team involved in James Cameron’s groundbreaking DGA and Academy Award-nominated 3D feature film.
The seminar was organized with the assistance of VFX/Digital Technology Committee Chair Susan Zwerman and Co-Chair Brian Frankish and was moderated by Special Projects New Technology Subcommittee Chair Randal Kleiser and Avatar’s producer Jon Landau. The moderators welcomed the audience and kicked things off with a video presentation that included comments from various Avatar team members and Director James Cameron.
Supervising Virtual Art Director Yuri Bartoli explained how his department helped bring to life Cameron’s surrealistic alien world Pandora. GAIA Designer Tim Bicio revealed how they successfully managed the unprecedented volume of nearly one petabyte of computer-generated images and digital captures of actors’ performances. Motion Capture Supervisor Matt Madden explained the process that blended the actors’ performances with the computer enhancements that turned them into the 10-foot tall and blue Pandoran aliens. Virtual Production Supervisor Glenn Derry gave a practical demonstration of the virtual camera and helmet technology that allowed for the first real-time virtual reality filmmaking system. Richard Baneham, who won both an Academy Award® and a BAFTA Award for Best Visual Effects for his work as Avatar’s Animation Supervisor, explained how he worked with the actors to produce a CG performance that evoked the full emotional range of their live performances.
He was joined onstage by Production CG Supervisor Nolan Murtha, who broke ground on the film as the first ever real-time scene operator. The DGA team of 1st AD Josh McLaglen and 2nd AD Maria Battle Campbell also gave a joint presentation. McLaglen spoke about the scheduling process for the live action and motion capture stage of the production and Campbell covered the virtual camera stage. Visual Effects were covered by VFX Supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum who also won Academy and BAFTA Awards for Avatar. In the final presentation, John Refoua and Stephen Rivkin, who both garnered Academy and AACE Eddie Award nominations for co-editing Avatar, spoke about the digital post-production process and workflow of the film.
At the end of the seminar, all the speakers joined the co-moderators onstage where they took questions from the audience about the practical applications behind the magic that appeared onscreen.