Features and Columns · Movies

The Way of Motion Capture: The Innovations of “Avatar”

Sorry, JC, /performance/ capture.
Avatar The Way Of Water mocap
By  · Published on February 27th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores how innovations in motion capture paved the way for Avatar: The Way of Water.

We live in confusing times. But thankfully, we can take solace in a few certainties: water is wet, the sun will always rise, and you should never, ever bet against James Cameron.

As of writing this, three of the top lifetime grosses of all time belong to Cameron: Avatar (at number one); Titanic (at number three), and Avatar: The Way of Water (at number six). And given that the latter is still enjoying a theatrical run, don’t be surprised if it jumps a peg or two.

While commercial success isn’t everything, there’s no denying that Cameron has a unique talent for getting bums in movie theater seats. One of the promises Cameron consistently keeps is a dedication to cinematic spectacle. Even the greatest cynic will admit that the first Avatar film was a huge step forward for motion-capture technology. Or, as Cameron prefers to call it: performance capture technology. This quibbling distinction isn’t just semantics. Some of Avatar‘s biggest innovations to mo-cap are focused on preserving as much of the actors’ work as possible, including micro-expression capturing facial cameras and real-time rendering (the swing camera).

And as the video essay below details, Cameron isn’t exactly one to rest on his laurels as far as technical innovation is concerned. As its name suggests, much of Avatar: The Way of Water takes place in, on, and around water. And whereas Cameron settled for dry-for-wet in the first film, this go round, he wanted the real stuff. And when it comes to Cameron, where there’s a will, there’s a way (of water).

Watch “Avatar & Avatar 2 Behind the Scenes — How James Cameron Evolved Motion Capture in the Avatar”

Who made this?

This video essay on how innovations in motion capture paved the way for Avatar: The Way of Water is created by StudioBinder. This production management software creator also happens to produce wildly informative video essays. They tend to focus on the mechanics of filmmaking itself, from staging to pitches and directorial techniques. You can check out their YouTube account here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).