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The cast of Avatar went through hell to make Way of Water, but it was worth it


There’s no way James Cameron would do it avatar 2 like anyone else on this planet would do avatar 2. The pitch of “Avatarbut more water” may sound extreme, but the clear path of “dry-for-wet” photography — a film-like method aquatic and Black Panther: Wakanda forever used, filming actors on floating rigs on a green screen to simulate underwater motion — still not enough. Cameron insisted on shooting “wet-for-wet”, which required him to reinvent the performance capture technology used in the first film, building a giant “theatrical” tank. capable of simulating every ocean location in the film and training his actors to free-diving to play the Na’vi swimming. That’s how Kate Winslet finished with a breathtaking free-diving time of 7 minutes and 14 seconds.

“You can’t really call it a cartoon, because everything is based on something real,” Avatar: The Road of Water director of photography Russell Carpenter told Polygon. “The giant tank that Jim designed can do all sorts of things — it can represent a beach, it can represent being deep in the water — and for months on end, the work of recording movement was made with that.”

For many years before release Avatar: The Road of WaterDisney and the 20th Century Studios introduces Navy SEAL requirements that Cameron’s footage puts on his actors. Before we know what the movie is about, or even titled, Avatar Hardliners have been shown photos of Winslet, Zoe Saldaña, Sam Worthington and Cliff Curtis floating in a pool of ping pong. There have been glimpses of actors eating instant noodles receiving direction from the visionary director. One particularly shocking photo shows Winslet donning a white cape as she trudges across the bottom of the “ocean”, clipping her nose and goggles in place. This process looks like pure torture. But upon viewing the finished film, in which most of the human cast has been painted with digital Na’vi makeup, navigating CG ocean scenes tinkered with by a team of animators, I can only think… It’s totally worth it.

An underwater motion capture technician holds a camera-like device aimed at two actors swimming around with their arms outstretched in a pool for Avatar: The Way of Water

Photo: Mark Fellman/20th Century Studios

Like everything Cameron does, choosing to do wet “photography” is not just a creative gamble. Finally, the R&D budget for water path and it number of sequels unknown paid for a tank 32 feet deep, which holds 90,000 gallons of water and can simulate appropriate waves and currents depending on whether the Na’vi are swimming in the deep ocean or in a changing tidal zone. New York Times recently asked Richie Baneham, visual effects supervisor at Cameron’s company Lightstorm Entertainment, why the water effect is worth every penny.

“It’s about the credibility of the actor’s acting,” Baneham said. “If an actor is actually in the water, then there is a viscous drag. It informs the actor’s choices. That is what we are pursuing. That’s what makes it feel real.

He’s right! There is a tangible difference between Avatar: The Road of Water and the arid cinema of recent years. I will die for Topo octopus drumming In aquatic, but Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry often looks like it’s floating in a bucket of hair glue. When Namor led Shuri underground to the aquatic city Talokan in Black Panther: Wakanda forever, director Ryan Coogler finds grandeur in landscapes that are blue, but with minimal water movement. Snapshot of Talokanil playing the water-based version of Mesoamerican ball game looks more like zero-gravity space photography than anything like the viscosity of real water.

The dry-wet method doesn’t really detract from the impressive quality of either film. Anytime the characters in aquatic or Wakanda forever diving underwater to find the setting above the water, the script quickly returned to land to avoid the strange… underground gorge? But Cameron’s holistic approach paid off, allowing him to bask in calm water, then let it rip as the waves hit.

Kiri swims through coral and banana peel fish in Avatar: The Way of Water

Image: 20th century film studio

There is a physical touch to clear water work water waylikely to be amplified by 3D and high frame rate photography. When Jake Sully and his tsurak flew out of the ocean, then dived back in, the action had real weight, as if the liquid had actually shifted. There’s a flair to the way Kiri wipes his hands through a school of banana-skinned fish and his resistance to hand movements, all thanks to Sigourney Weaver actually shooting underwater.

And while no one sober wants to spend eight hours a day in the pool with their clothes on, the requirement for the cast, according to costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott, is to create leg movement real. Scott and water way Scott told Polygon that the costume team not only created the clothing for all of the performance captures in the film — many of the costumes were remade in white for underwater use. If the female leader Na’vi Ronal wore a cape to battle, Winslet wore a cloak in the tank.

“Each piece takes about 200 hours to make — it’s a very laborious process,” says Scott. “So you don’t want to mess it up. But we did a lot of the underwater shots with the actors swimming around in clothes and wigs. We need to know: If Lo’ak had braids in front of her eyes and swam forward, where did those braids go? And then if [his hair] stabilize and get in his way, what is his movement with it? The interaction between the performance and the costumes is not possible without the actual costumes.”

The tactile philosophy even applies to Na’vi .’s tulkun friends. According to Carpenter, it takes a team of divers wearing performance recording suits to jump into the pool and fill in when a Pandoran whale is called, so actors like Brother Dalton, who plays Lo’akcan float along the creature or be thrown out of it with a strong recoil.

James Cameron, with his back to the camera, talks to Spider-Man actor Jack Champion, who is wearing a prop mask and floating in the water next to two crew members wearing snorkel masks and a suit floating behind them.  It's all in a diving tank built for Avatar: The Way of Water.

Ruins of a built ship on stage with lifelike flame projection screen and green screen backdrop.  James Cameron stands on a podium with his team directing an actor during the making of Avatar: The Way of Water.

Image: Mark Fellman/20th Century Studios

The final test of “wet” vision comes as the Na’vi battle humans in the final act, and a tulkun capsizes the whaling ship The Sea Dragon. Recall Cameron’s work on TitanicThe confrontation sees humans and Na’vi characters alike rolling around in flooded rooms and gliding across the seabed. Quaritch Spider’s teenage son, played by Jack Champion, swims with his found Na’vi family in the sinking ship. That moment could easily break the illusion if it were purely a CG construct. But the actors all crept in and out of some sort of metal barricade, whether built in part to capture performance or built as a live action element. Carpenter said most of his on-set work as director of photography involved Spider-Man scenes. He called the difficulty in lighting Spider’s reflex breathing apparatus and matching the physicality of the performance “a huge pain in the ass.” (He also said, amazingly, Accomplished avatar 3 involves more underwater photography in live-action and performance recording than water path.)

The eyes are different, so so is the reaction to the underwater shot. But after years of following the cast of Avatar: The Road of Water smiling at the job of doing the damn thing, I was overwhelmed by the results. The reward is one-of-a-kind: obvious yet alien, and serves to sell Jake and Neytiri’s Na’vi family as a veritable collection of creatures that survived an unfathomable war. That’s the real “trick”: Yes, the visuals look cool, but the more realistic the feeling of Kiri floating in the sand a few inches, merging with nature, the more realistic these digital creations are. so much soul.

In 2009, Cameron and his VFX team at Weta hope to Unlock real humanity in a CG character by focusing on the eyes of the Na’vi. But 13 years later, thanks to the magic of sensory memory, they are closer than ever. All it needs is a little water.

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