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3D Is the Way to Be: Engineering Avatar


Everyone take out your goofy glasses, because these days more and more movies seem to be reaching into the next dimension. 3D movies have been around since the Great Depression and even enjoyed a brief surge of popularity in the 1950s, but recently this immersive format has returned with a vengeance.


This week Fox will release the 3D animated sci-fi movie Avatar, directed by James Cameron (who’s other projects include Terminator I and IIAlien and Titanic). To make the film Cameron invented a new type of filming called the Fusion Camera System that records the action in stereoscopic 3D. This double lens camera mimics the binocular depth perception of human eyes, creating a reality that is arguably even more engaging than traditional digital 3D.

Another arena in which Cameron and his team have proven themselves innovators is that of performance capture – the process of digitally recording actors’ movements and expressions to animate 3D characters. Recent animated characters such as Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and Captain Davy Jones from The Pirates of the Caribbean (see page 26 of the eGFI magazine), have captured viewers’ attention for their vivid, lifelike qualities. Following in these creatures’ large and possibly slimy footsteps, Cameron has (with the help of a $230 million budget) pushed performance capture technology further than ever before and created film where live action and computer-generated imagery are virtually indistinguishable.

Using a large sound stage surrounded by over 20 cameras, Cameron records the movements of the actors, which are then transferred to dynamic virtual models of their animated characters. He can even see the characters in the context of an animated backdrop, allowing him to effectively shoot the film in virtual reality. Tiny sensors track minute facial movements and imbue the CG faces with expression and humanity.

To see how Cameron’s new filming method works, check out the clip below. In the mean time, watch out for blue space-cats who may have escaped from the silver screen. Not possible, you say? Wait a few years and we’ll see…

6 Responses to “3D Is the Way to Be: Engineering Avatar”

  1. […] feats of engineering on our blog: from the U2 Space Station to the 3D motion-capture animation of Avatar to Theo Jansen’s jaw-dropping Strandbeesten. Young innovators, like those profiled in […]

  2. […] technology – from the new immersive animated movies to breakthrough medical imaging software – has been in the news a lot lately. So what about 3D […]

  3. […] like 3D viewing technology may soon be invading your home as well as your local movie theater: many electronics companies are planning on releasing 3D-enabled televisions this year. These new […]

  4. […] like the pioneering motion-capture technology that made Avatar possible will have applications that go beyond Hollywood. Ford is currently using new […]

  5. […] dreamed of a 3D visualization system that doesn’t involve goofy goggles? Researchers at MIT might soon have you […]

  6. […] are capitalizing on the recent popularity of 3-D technology in movie theaters by creating a cell phone that projects 3-D images, and without having to wear any […]

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