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November 30, 2017

James Cameron has ‘Cracked the Code” on Underwater Mo-Cap System for ‘Avatar’ Sequels

james cameron

James Cameron has always been at the forefront of technology when making a movie. From the groundbreaking effects in ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day‘ to the invention of the motion capture technology used  in the first ‘Avatar‘, Cameron always seems to be developing some new technology for his current project. Cameron’s output in the last decade of his career has pretty much been contained within the aforementioned ‘Avatar‘, as well as a few documentaries. But that doesn’t mean that James Cameron hasn’t been busy developing new technology in the meantime.

Since the release of ‘Avatar’ in late 2009 (hard to believe that was almost 8 years ago) Cameron has been busy developing the technology (and story) to build out the ‘Avatar‘ universe in interesting and unique ways. It was reported back in 2010 that the sequels would take place largely in an underwater environment, but is seems that, according to James Cameron, took a significant amount  of time to develop. Collider recently spoke with Cameron, who is promoting ‘Titanic: 20 Years Later’, gave an update on the progress of how this boldly unique filmmaking experiment is working out:

“Well, we’re doing it. It’s never been done before and it’s very tricky because our motion capture system, like most motion capture systems, is what they call optical base, meaning that it uses markers that are photographed with hundreds of cameras. The problem with water is not the underwater part, but the interface between the air and the water, which forms a moving mirror. That moving mirror reflects all the dots and markers, and it creates a bunch of false markers. It’s a little bit like a fighter plane dumping a bunch of chaff to confuse the radar system of a missile. It creates thousands of false targets, so we’ve had to figure out how to get around that problem, which we did. Basically, whenever you add water to any problem, it just gets ten times harder. So, we’ve thrown a lot of horsepower, innovation, imagination and new technology at the problem, and it’s taken us about a year and a half now to work out how we’re going to do it.”

Cameron continues, noting that they finally had their first successful test run of the underwater mo-cap system just last week, after years of testing and development:

james cameron

Image via 20th Century Fox

We’ve done a tremendous amount of testing, and we did it successfully, for the first time, just last Tuesday [November 14th]. We actually played an entire scene underwater with our young cast. We’ve got six teenagers and one seven-year-old, and they’re all playing a scene underwater. We’ve been training them for six months now, with how to hold their breath, and they’re all up in the two to four minute range. They’re all perfectly capable of acting underwater, very calmly while holding their breath. We’re not doing any of this on scuba. And we’re getting really good data, beautiful character motion and great facial performance capture. We’ve basically cracked the code.”

Well, it seems that all of the R&D has paid off, although Cameron also explained that they have a lot of work cut out of them, as this initial phase of shooting was merely for the testing to the tech itself:

“Now, we’re still working in our small test tank. We graduate to our big tank in January. There’s a tremendous amount of water work across Avatar 2and 3. It’s ongoing into and 5, but the emphasis is on 2 and 3.”

So, based on James Cameron’s comments, it seems like the initial phase of shooting will comprise of mostly elements for ‘Avatar 2‘ and ‘Avatar 3‘. With corresponding release dates of December 18, 2020 and December 17, 2021, the first of FOUR avatar sequels will hit theaters nearly 11 years after the release of the original. Time will tell if the forthcoming sequels will have the same cultural impact that the first ‘Avatar’ did when it was initially released.

Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Joel David Moore, Matt Gerald, and Sigourney Weaver all return for the sequels. Joining them this time will be new cast members Cliff Curtis and Oona Chaplin, among a whole plethora of fresh faces (featured below). The Avatar 4′ and ‘Avatar 5are also due for release on December 20, 2024; and December 19, 2025, respectively. Tune back in for more as we grow to closer to the release of ‘Avatar 2‘ in 2020.

Avatar Sequel Kids

Image via 20th Century Fox


About the Author

Taylor Salan
Taylor Salan
Taylor Salan is a independent filmmaker who currently resides in the San Fernando Valley. Since childhood, Taylor Salan had a fascination with movies. Although he was an avid fan of film as a child, it wasn’t until his years as a young adult that his passion for the art of filmmaking truly came to fruition. A current student of the film production program at California State University Northridge, Taylor studies Cinematography but ultimately has plans to direct full time if afforded the opportunity. In his spare time, Taylor produces audio podcasts and blogs about film for He is also a longtime musician, playing drums for over 8 years.



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