How "Avatar: The Way of Water" was filmed - the film that showed the world a new level of special effects
James Cameron's epic sci-fi film Avatar: The Way of the Water (2022) has hit the screens, showing audiences stunning visuals and masterful character art. An incredible world of Na'vi humanoids from the planet Pandora opens up to us; the action now takes place underwater.
Avatar 2 - the new sensation
But even more surprising is how the film was shot. You can get acquainted with the secrets of "Avatar 2" and see in the videos how the ideas and plot of the film were technically embodied. If you have yet to see this movie, then after you learn these 19 facts, you will most likely want to quickly go to the cinema or find a picture on the Web to plunge into the fantastic Universe of the legendary filmmaker again!
1. The film has a huge budget.
Director James Cameron tried to keep the production cost of Avatar: The Way of Water under wraps but didn't mention in interviews that it was "very, f... expensive" (quote). He also stated that the film arguably represents the worst business case in history, as to be profitable, it must be the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history to break even.
Wow, right? According to the latest sources, Cameron hit the spot as it was recently revealed that the film could have cost a whopping $350-400 million!
2. Everything animated characters do on screen, the actors acted out in real life.
One of the critical differences between Avatar 2 and other films that use computer characters is that all the actors of the second Avatar acted out their scenes. And the advanced motion capture technology used in filming meant that their eyes, facial expressions, emotions, and movements were captured and translated into three-dimensional computer graphics (CGI).
By comparison, one example of a movie that didn't have this was Venom. Tom Hardy, who played it, explained that motion capture was not used in the film, which gave us reason to understand that Venom himself and all his movements and facial expressions were brought to life by digital animation (which, by the way, still looks fantastic).
This leads to the idea that the technology used is one of the main reasons Avatar: The Path of Water can convey so many emotions. The characters on the fictional extraterrestrial planet seem very human. If you watch the excellent video in English of how the film was shot, you will see how the actors work and, in parallel, how their characters come to life in the digital world.
3. Actors' skills were tested when Cameron chose to shoot "wet on wet."
Forget floating rigs and dry-for-wet green screens. This is when the actors have to move on cables, depicting scuba diving, and then special effects are added - water graphics.
James Cameron was set to film the water scenes in natural water to make them as accurate as possible. Therefore, he applied the wet-for-wet technology - “wet on wet,” and immersed the actors in the water.
As visual effects supervisor Richie Baynham explained in an interview, “If an actor is actually in the water, he experiences viscous resistance. This impacts the game. That makes it feel real."
When watching the movie, you'll notice and feel the effort put into the underwater scenes, from the fluid movements of the sea creature Skimwing to the shots where the character's arms swing as they interact with aquatic plants. While the cast and stunt crew aren't in Pandora's ocean, you get to see these magical moments that would seem more raw and unnatural if filmed on land.
4. Underwater Reservoirs Were Created For The Movie
At Manhattan Beach Studios, two massive tanks were designed with which Cameron could put his wet-on-wet plan into action.
One of the tanks was used for character training and personal moments, while the other monstrous pool (measuring 36.6 meters long, 18.3 meters wide, and 9.1 meters deep, to be exact, and with a capacity of 946 cu. meters) was filled with modern machines for creating waves and currents, designed and used to enhance dynamic episodes.
5. Even the epic final fight scene was played UNDERWATER
Towards the film's end, there is a long and very verbose fight scene between Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Quaritch (Stephen Lang). As the episode unfolds, the viewer is drawn into what is happening and begins to believe that the characters' lives are really at stake!
Doubles play out a fight in a highly extreme situation. Also, in explaining playing out the battle with Lang, Worthington said he had his risks for several reasons. First, when he grabbed Lang with a chokehold, in his words, “the realism that you are trying to convey means that the partner can die and he cannot give an alarm because you are underwater and you simply cannot speak.”
Luckily for the actors, says Worthington, you have to rely on the people in charge of security on set and the director watching the action on the screens and counting on each other…
Judging by the footage from the set, there was nothing to do for those unable to hold their breath even for one minute. Kudos to the actors and stunt performers for practically risking their lives for our amusement. Those risks paid off!
6. The cast and crew spent over 200,000 hours of freediving.
John Garvin, a lead master diver for Avatar: The Way of the Water, stated that over 200,000 dives were completed to make "the most challenging diving movie ever made." In an interview, he said this number includes the number of challenging dives to record because some were 30 to 60 seconds long, and others were invariably longer!
Garvin explained that on a typical busy day of filming, you could see 26 scuba divers and free divers simultaneously in the water, jumping up and down like a yo-yo. That's not to mention the technicians and lighting technicians who were constantly submerged in water to set things up on set.
It's one thing to imagine how hard it was for the actors. But what to say about how much collective effort the cast and crew took to put in so many hours of hard underwater work?
7. Kate Winslet broke Tom Cruise's record for holding her breath.
In Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015), Tom Cruise managed to hold his breath for over 6 minutes. The crazy result, you say? But now he's been knocked off the championship pedestal thanks to Kate Winslet. Her preparation for the role in "Avatar 2" allowed the actress to break her record (and Cruise's record) - she held her breath for 7 minutes and 14 seconds!
8. James Cameron preferred 3D cameras to 3D film conversion
Many filmmakers prefer to convert their films to 3D in post-production. If you think about 3D movies over the years, you may not even remember that many were shot on 3D cameras. Take the useless remake of the slasher film My Bloody Valentine (2009) as one example.
But not Cameron. The director ensured that the film was shot in IMAX and 3D using a particular Sony CineAlta Venice 3D system that could be used underwater. Is there anything this person can't?!
9. 57 new species of sea creatures were created for the film
Cameron's ideas for Pandora were inspired by the marine life that exists (or once existed) right here on Earth. Nevertheless, 57 new sea creatures that have never lived on our planet were created for the film.
Speaking of Ilu, a somewhat tame reef swimmer, Cameron mentioned that he has the neck of a plesiosaur and the body of a manta ray with lower and upper wings. As you watch the movie, you will notice other unearthly amazing creatures that are still familiar to the eye - in particular, look at the talks!
10. Na'vi costumes were first created in real life
Looking at all this cinematic digitalization, one would have thought Na'vi clothing would be created from scratch by a team of digital specialists. But no! James Cameron, I'm sorry we doubted you.
It turns out that costume designer Deborah L. Scott and her team made every bracelet, necklace, and fabric worn by the Na'vi people. What is the reason for this moral approach?
"Because the technology is so good at capturing the image and texture of these elements, you can't draw them on a computer and expect them to have the 3D life they should." So the costume department went to great lengths to ensure that the design, the fabric, and how everything interacts with water would inform the digital artists well enough to make the clothes and accessories look real!
11. Filming started when all five Avatar films were written.
Having conceived five films for Avatar, Cameron followed the example of Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), waiting to start filming the sequel until all the scripts for Avatar 2, 3, 4, and 5 were ready!
Jackson used this approach for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it's safe to say that the result was a masterpiece, so Cameron decided to follow the tried and tested method.
In an interview, Cameron explained that it was necessary to "play for the actors" as if the books were written and already existed in reality. The only way to show it is with scripts that are already fully prepared so that the actors are convinced of what happened to their characters and what everything they did on set meant. Now we want to know what will happen next!
12. It took three whole years to shoot
The audience has been waiting for this sequel for a long time, and with good reason! Since so much time has been spent writing the scripts for all the remaining Avatar films, it's no surprise that filming has also taken quite a long time, starting in 2017 and wrapping up in 2020.
The creation of the second "Avatar" was indeed a long process. To estimate filming time, compare: one of the highest-grossing blockbusters of recent years, Avengers: Endgame (2019), was filmed in just five months.
13. Cameron wrote 1,500 pages of notes for four screenwriters tasked with turning them into screenplays.
The director wrote 1,500 pages of his notes to create a visually detailed universe for the writers. The team included Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds), Shane Salerno (Armageddon), Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). You can see the last two writers in the photo.
In terms of process, Cameron and the writing team sat in the writer's room for eight hours a day for five months, working through the story in all the remaining Avatar films to make it a saga.
Cameron's trick was the last day, so everyone would be equally involved in all stories. Cunning and brilliant, Cameron!
14. One plot idea in the movie could have failed.
According to screenwriters Jaffa and Silver, there is one moment in the film that they considered "tightrope balancing" because if it wasn't done right, the audience might think it was too crazy and wouldn't buy it. What is this scary moment? Pay attention to the friendly communication between Loak (Britain Dalton) and the giant Tulkun Payakan. The writers were worried that the storyline was quite alien to the audience!
15. The film was edited twice
Avatar: The Way of Water listed the four editors-in-chief in the credits, with director James Cameron, Stephen Rivkin, John Refua, and David Brenner rounding out the team. Cameron stated that four editors "were on duty for five years with two other editors who worked for one or two years, and then a staff of about a dozen assistants was divided between Los Angeles and New Zealand."
The process was intense as the team edited the entire film twice—A revised performance.
After that, Cameron starts the process of her virtual camera, figuring out what a close-up is, a wide shot, etc., and adjusting the lighting. When these shots come into the editing room, the team has to edit everything again!”
16. Composer Simon Franglen wrote music following the example of the late James Horner.
James Horner wrote the soundtrack for the first Avatar, apparently even making a few of his instruments to bring Pandora's world to life with music. Unfortunately, his death in 2015 meant that the Avatar sequels would continue without him. However, composer Simon Franglen (pictured), who previously worked with Horner, was able to refine the score for the sequel while maintaining respect for the late composer.
“I was tasked with adding new textures, voices, and elements to the music. The sea is an integral part of many themes and motifs in my music; the shimmer of light, the ebb and flow of the waves, and the Na'vi's connection to the water were all inspiring,” says Franglen.
17. Sigourney Weaver Contributed To Kiri's Look
One crazy thing about Avatar's technology is that Sigourney Weaver, at 73, could play a 14-year-old girl and pull it off, as far as I can tell.
Kiri, Jake, and Neytiri's adopted daughter seem to have an affinity for the outside world. She is a quirky and strong character and very likable! But when Weaver first saw Kiri's original design, she objected because she thought it was too neat and pretty. Therefore, Kiri was designed to have a slightly more messy look and look more like the awkward teenager she should be.
18. Avatar 2 Rendering Caused Weta Power Grid To Be Exceeded
Film production visual effects company Weta FX exceeded the power grid that powered its data center in Wellington, New Zealand, as it prepared to render (computer-rendered) stills from a new film.
Avatar 2 averaged 500 iterations per frame, and they all had to be rendered one after the other. Higher frame rates and new technologies meant that each frame took 8,000 thread hours to generate (equivalent to 3,000 vCPUs in a cloud data center running for an hour).
The high demands were mainly due to the need to simulate water for the film. This meant that Weta was pushed to its limits and had to partner with Amazon Web Services data centers for more computing power and storage space.
19. Edward Norton Turned Down Avatar 2
, but although the actor was interested in taking part, he wanted to avoid playing the character responsible for destroying Pandora. Norton was such a big fan of the first film that he only wanted to play Na'vi, but Cameron conceived a human role. Perhaps we will see Norton in what