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07 JANUARY 2010

Avatar: selective rather than deep focus stereoscopic cinematography

James Cameron: "I think it's a myth that you want deep focus in 3–D shots. I find the opposite is true. Selective focus, created by working at low f–stops with longer lenses, evolved as a cinematic technique to direct the audience's attention to the character of greatest narrative importance at a given moment. With 3–D, the director needs to lead the audience's eye, not let it roam around the screen to areas which are not converged. So all the usual cinematic techniques of selective focus, separation lighting, composition, etc., that one would use in a 2–D film to direct the eye to the subject of interest, still apply, and are perhaps even more important. We all see the world in 3–D. The difference between really being witness to an event vs. seeing it as a stereo image is that when you're really there, your eye can adjust its convergence as it roves over subjects at different distances. Convergence is the natural toe–in that the eye does to align the left and right eye images of objects at specific planes of depth. In a filmed image, the convergence was baked in at the moment of photography, so you can't adjust it. In order to cut naturally and rapidly from one subject to another, it's necessary for the filmmaker (actually his/her camera team) to put the convergence at the place in the shot where the audience is most likely to look. This sounds complicated but in fact we do it all the time, in every shot, and have since the beginning of cinema. It's called focus. We focus where we think people are most likely to look. So I've found that just slaving the convergence function to the focus works exceedingly well, and makes good stereo a no–brainer on the set."

(David S. Cohen, 10 April 2008, Variety Magazine)



Simon Perkins
29 DECEMBER 2009

'Avatar': James Cameron and Weta Digital

"As he sought collaborators to help him realize his ambitious vision for 'Avatar,' director James Cameron found kindred spirits at Weta Digital, the effects company co–founded by Peter Jackson.

The partnership goes back years, to when Cameron and Jackson met to talk shop after the latter's 'Lord of the Rings' wrapped. Senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri was also at that meeting, and told Cameron about the computer–animation techniques Weta was developing for Jackson's 'King Kong.'

'Jim was interested in what we were doing with 'Kong,' says Letteri, via phone from Weta headquarters in Wellington, New Zealand. 'He knew we were about to embark on something where we had a lead actor who was a digital creation. Plus we were getting into building these big jungles. I think Jim, in the back of his mind, that's the kind of thing he had in his head for 'Avatar.' '

Based upon an original idea that Cameron dreamed up more than a decade ago, 'Avatar,' which opens Friday [December 2009], is set 4.4 light–years away on a moon called Pandora. The moon is home to an alien species known as Na'vi, blue humanoids towering 10 feet. Colonists from Earth can only explore the hostile habitat as avatars –– remote–controlled replicants modelled after the Na'vi.

'The idea is that you're seeing this whole world through new eyes,' explains Letteri, a three–time Oscar–winner. 'It's unfolding before you, the idea that you get to this planet and you think it's this hellhole but as you gradually start to learn what it's all about, you realize that there's this amazing and beautiful but still quite harsh world out there. It seemed like it had all kinds of possibilities.'

Weta was responsible for turning Cameron's sketches of Pandora into 3–D panoramas and also transforming stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana into alien figures convincing enough to carry a love story"

(Lisa Rose/The Star–Ledger, 17 December 2009,



20093DAotearoa New ZealandavatarAvatar filmCGIcomputer-animationdigital • ILM • Industrial Light & Magic • innovationJames Cameron • Joe Letteri • King Kong • Lightstorm Entertainment • Lord of the Rings • Na'vi • Pandora • Peter JacksonRealDRealD 3Dscience-fictionSFXstereoscopictechnologyvisual effectsvisualisationWellington • Weta • Weta Digital


Simon Perkins

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