Avatar technology… & philosophy?

If you pay attention to news sites covering digital graphics, there have been interesting articles surfacing about the the Avatar movie. There is quite a bit of talk about the philosophy and technology behind the movie, perhaps a tad on the over-analyzing side of things, but personally, I still find this topic more interesting than a rant about the new iPad.

In Post magazine — consistently a terrific source of film related news — there are two articles about how director James Cameron took motion capture into a new level of technology. The article ‘‘Avatar’ Introduces a New Era in Filmmaking‘ talks about his vision of a system that provides performance capture rather than motion capture. The article ‘Director’s Chair: James Cameron – Avator‘ goes into more detail about this new system, called the Simulcamera.

From Post: “Cameron wasn’t interested in “redefining gluing rubber on to actor’s faces.” He was interested in finding a way for non-human characters to express humanness… “We were going down the road of performance capture and computer generated character creation, and that was one of the stated goals of the film. In fact that was one of the stated goals before the story”… Years were spent developing a high-resolution performance capture system that could faithfully reproduce the fidelity and subtly of an actor’s live performance at the level that Cameron was looking for.”

Another great graphics news site, Videomaker, has an ‘exclusive’ video interview with John Landau, who was the producer of Avatar. I doubt it is really exclusive except for maybe the corner of the show hall they were standing in, but it is an interesting interview taken at Consumer Electronic Show show. The video article ‘Exclusive Interview with Avatar Producer!‘ also speaks with the CEO of Panasonic, which just released a new HD 3D Camcorder.

In the New York Times, a less traditional source for graphics reporting, there’s an interesting article called ‘You Saw What in ‘Avatar’? Pass Those Glasses!‘. This talks about the sociological undertones of the story. Well, of course. It was a simplistic story with standard analogies to the strong bullying the weak. Certainly there are parallels to American settlers bulldozing Native Americans, to white Americans bullying African Americans, capitalists strong-arming the environmentalists. (Recently a friend sent me a Facebook link about how Avatar resonates for the Jews.) I like that sci-fi and fantasy can address those topics with more ease than a live action drama.

From the NYT: “Since its release in December, James Cameron’s science-fiction epic… has also found itself under fire from a growing list of interest groups, schools of thought and entire nations that have protested its message (as they see it), its morals (as they interpret them) and its philosophy (assuming it has one)… There is, at least, consensus among “Avatar” critics that good science fiction operates on an allegorical level. In novels like “Dune,” films like “Star Wars” or television series like the recent “Battlestar Galactica,” Ms. Newitz said the fantastical elements of these works offer a place of “narrative safety” to contemplate real-life issues like environmental decay, totalitarianism and torture.”

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