‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Crew Updates Tech on Motion-Capture, High-Def Cameras

Along with its record setting box office numbers and four Oscar nominations, “Avatar: The Way of Water” brings a “Metkayina” wave of impressive next-gen technology that will undeniably set new industry standards in motion capture, animation and underwater photography.

The original facial motion capture rig that also impressively immersed Andy Serkis as Gollum and Caesar, received an overhaul. Not only physically but also in the way the software replicates a performance.

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“We looked at how the muscles in the face, eyes and lips are all related and created a neural network that maps all the connections between them,” says senior VFX supervisor Joe Letteri. “This gave us this sympathetic motion in the actor’s face which allowed us to translate the performance to the character and make each frame more believable.”

Additionally, the single-standard definition camera that recorded facial expressions was replaced by two high-definition versions that provided more data and detail.

In recording the underwater activity, actors — and crew — trained in free diving methods to hold their breath for extended periods as air bubbles interfered with the performance capture. Actors wore a rig with a single camera attached that recorded their face while underwater camera operators documented body movement.

Additionally, reference cameras were mounted above and below the water creating two separate capture volumes. This allowed actors to move freely underwater and above the surface without impeding their performance.

Detailing the underwater imagery in 3D, director James Cameron turned to a specialized camera rig called the DeepX 3D invented by Australian cinematographer Pawel Achtel.

The innovative design doesn’t require a waterproof housing around the lens to eliminate distortion, creating the lush, crystal clear magic seen on screen.

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