The Use of Bioluminescence in Avatar
Avatar is a 2009 American science fiction film directed by James Cameron, starring Sam Worthington, Michelle Rodriguez, and Stephen Lang. The film is set in the mid-22nd century, when humans are colonizing Pandora, a lush habitable moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system, in order to mine the mineral unobtanium. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na’vi – a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The film’s title refers to a genetically engineered Na’vi body with the mind of a remotely located human that is used to interact with the natives of Pandora.
The project was announced in early August 2006 by 20th Century Fox co-chairmen and CEOs Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos, with Cameron hinting that he had been working on the story for 12 years. It marks Cameron’s return to live-action filmmaking since directing Titanic in 1997 and his first feature film since Avatar, which was released on December 18, 2009. Most of the cast members were signed on by early 2009, and principal photography began in New May 2010 with motion capture shooting taking place from October until March 2011 at WMVFX Studios in New Zealand and Image Engine Studios in Vancouver Island, Canada.
Cameron said he would present Avatar as “a traditional epic cinema experience” but also wanted it to be “immersive” and “interactive”, so he decided to make it in stereoscopic 3D using performance capture technology. He aimed for a naturalistic look for the computer-generated characters by studying live action footage of actors such as Sigourney Weaver during filming; however, he wanted the Na’vi aliens to still look like aliens, so they are taller than humans and have blue skin. To create an immersive world for viewers, he used new technology developed for Avatar including high frame rate cameras and projection systems that display images at 48 or 60 frames per second instead of 24 frames per second; Peter Jackson also used this technology for The Hobbit films.
Cameron also developed new motion capture acting techniques to facilitate successful interaction between the actors’ movements and their digital avatars on screen. Weta Digital worked on over 1,800 visual effects shots to realize Cameron’s vision of the world of Pandora.
2. What is bioluminescence?
Bioluminescence is light produced by living organisms. This light is often used as a form of communication or camouflage, but can also be used to startle predators or prey. Many organisms that exhibit bioluminescence are found in marine environments, where they can use light to attract mates or prey. Some land-dwelling animals also produce light, such as certain fungi and larvae of beetles and fireflies.
The Avatar film makes use of bioluminescence in the landscape to create an otherworldly feel. This is most evident in scenes set at night, when the glow of plant life and creatures creates an eerie atmosphere.Computer-generated graphics were used to bring this effect to life; Weta Digital played a major role in creating the visual effects for Pandora’s bioluminescent forests.
3. How was bioluminescence used in the Avatar film?
In order to create the bioluminescent effect seen in Avatar, Weta Digital used a process called ‘light mapping’. This involves taking photographs of real-world objects and then using computer software to generate an image of how that object would look if it were glowing. The software can also be used to create animation, so that the bioluminescence appears to be moving.
To create the light map for a particular scene, Weta Digital artists first photographed a stretch of forest in New Zealand. They then used software to add in the glow of bioluminescent plants and creatures. The final light map was then used to light the virtual forest in the Avatar world.
This process allowed the team to create very realistic looking bioluminescent effects, which helped to make Pandora feel like a real place.
4. What other techniques were used in the Avatar film?
In addition to bioluminescence, Avatar also makes use of other visual effects techniques to create its unique look.
One such technique is ‘motion capture’, which was used to capture the movement of actors and translate it into the movements of their digital avatars. This allowed the film’s directors to achieve a more realistic look for the characters, as their movements would be more lifelike.
Another technique used in Avatar is ‘performance capture’, which was used to record the facial expressions of actors and transfer them onto their digital avatars. This gave the characters much more expressive faces, and helped to make them feel more human.
Avatar is a film that makes use of many innovative techniques to create its unique look. Bioluminescence is just one of the ways in which the film creates an otherworldly atmosphere; other techniques, such as motion capture and performance capture, also help to bring the world of Pandora to life.