I saw Avatar for the fifth time this weekend. This time I went with my friend, Henry, who wears glasses. I’ve heard people complain about having to wear the 3-D glasses over their regular glasses and having to deal with glare so I suggested that we see it in 2-D. For the most part I didn’t miss the 3-D, but there were a several places where I would love to have seen it. One was when Jake and some Na’vi warriors climb up in the Hallelujah Mountains to catch an ikran, the pterodactyl-like creatures. In one scene the warriors have to leap to a vine hanging hundreds or thousands of feet above the ground. In 3-D this shot induces vertigo as you see Jake leap out and grab the vine while the camera hovers out and above the empty space. Because of the depth the 3-D provides you feel like you can reach out and grab the vine right along with Jake. In 2-D it’s still a great scene, but it doesn’t have has much oomph. Other times where 3-D makes a scene pop are when there is a group of people at different distances from the camera. Also when you see an outcropping covered with ikran the 3-D makes the scene look so much more real.
I have been following the progress of computer graphics since before it was in common use in the movies. I think we are finally at the point where we can mimic with CGI just about anything that you can see in real life. Since about 60 percent of the film is in CG I had a lot of eye candy to soak up. Here are a few CG shots that from Avatar that I thought were particularly well-done.
Jake digs his toes in the dirt. (It may have been done with real feet in real dirt). A bulldozer moves through the dirt and you see the dirt cling to its tracks and fall off the other side as the tracks move around.
Realistic skin is difficult enough to render, but in Avatar you see skin that is wet from rain and sweat. In one shot Jake falls down in some mud and then he attempts to wipe it off his face. Very realistic. There is a shot when he bites a fruit and the juice runs down his chin. There is a shot when Neytiri drinks water from a flower and the water drips off her chin. In another shot Neytiri is putting war paint on Jake’s face. It really looks like viscous paint is being smeared on his skin. His skin and lips respond as if they are really being touched. I don’t know if they used some kind of soft-body collision detection or if someone had to hand animate that. In either case it was well done. During a battle scene Neytiri’s skin is shiny with perspiration, but also bits of dirt and debris stick to the sweat.
I’ve seen other movies where they attempted to animate two CG characters kissing. They got it right in this movie.
Any time a helicopter flew over some foliage the plants whipped about in the prop wash. The clothing and hair on the Na’vi also rippled in the breeze realistically.
A tree falls over in one scene and you see the splintering of the wood. I can’t imagine how that was animated. As the tree falls the air is filled with splinters, dust and leaves. There are many shots where insects buzz about in the background which adds a touch of realism.
CG fire, smoke and water has gotten pretty realistic recently. One especially nice shot is when Jake reaches in a stream to pull out a stick. The water ripples nicely around his hand. There are other shots of realistic waterfalls, water dripping off leaves and waves crashing against rocks along the shore. At one point Jake jumps into a river to escape a predator. The water splashing around looks very convincing and it soaks his shirt and coats his face.
Most of these things have been done before in other movies, but never before have there been so many complex and realistic CG shots in one movie.