Going Underwater with the ‘Avatar’ Sequels Has a Promising Start

The progress made on the upcoming Avatar films could alter our perspective on filmmaking underwater.
By  · Published on November 22nd, 2017

The progress made on the upcoming Avatar films could alter our perspective on filmmaking underwater.

When Avatar released in 2009, the excitement surrounding it was strong. Promising to change to the world of 3D filmmaking as we know it, with many outlets and commentators dubbing it as the future of movies, the film succeeded in combining live-action and CGI in a way that had not been seen before on screen.

Now, after years of pre-production and experimenting, James Cameron has a new update on the future of the Avatar film series, which will have 4 sequels released over the next 8 years. And once again, he brings along the promise of adding new advancements to filmmaking.

In a post from Collider, it was announced that Avatar 2 and 3 especially, and some of 4 and 5, will in part take place underwater in the fictional world of Pandora. Like the first film, the sequels are using motion-capture technology. With this, the actors must wear suits with dots to track their movements to be later digitized on the computer. However, this proves to be a bit of an obstacle when filming underwater. But the progress made so far is encouraging. As Cameron tells Collider in an interview with Christina Radish:

“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.”

If these films are successful in their underwater work, the Avatar sequels really could reshape filmmaking in a way that was inconceivable before, opening up new opportunities for stories to take place on land and in water. Whereas once total animation appeared to be the only medium which could go anywhere, these films may be a step forward in advancing the restrictions of live-action. Although obviously not completely a live-action film, Avatar uses the key components of it in a way that flawlessly combines with CGI animation, making the film look realistic and life-like.

While there is still the matter of the expense for the equipment and learning how to efficiently use this technology, the prospect of making an underwater film may be exciting enough for other filmmakers and studios to start more work on it as well. However, it will probably not happen immediately, and it’s hard to tell whether or not the budding excitement around it will stick around long enough to make sufficient progress outside of the Avatar series. After all, if the 3D movie buzz surrounding the first film is any indication, it’s possible this may remain in its experimentation stage.

Around the time the initial movie released, production companies were already working to advance their 3D technology, planning to boost the number of their 3D films, and preparing for a shift the film industry. As a medium, 3D was built up to be the next way to watch movies. Now, the hype around 3D films appears to have died down, if not gone away completely. Whether this is because of the price of 3D movie tickets, or the cost/work of making 3D films, or a combination of all of it, this trend shows that technological advancements do not always guarantee long-term success, or necessarily promise a new generation of filmmaking.

Still, this advancement feels a little different, and it definitely does not have as much riding on it as 3D did. Before Avatar in 2009, 3D filmmaking had been experimented with by other studios. It was just validated by the success of Avatar’s clear visuals and box office numbers, but 3D as a medium at large never truly made it out of the novelty phase.

Therefore, it’s difficult to make the comparison between filming underwater and 3D movies. But if the Avatar sequels succeed in telling a story underwater that is as compelling as it looks, it may encourage other filmmakers to venture out where few have gone before where storytelling is concerned. It may never be a trend that every studio does, but it could provide a new way to tell stories visually and narratively.

Related Topics: ,

Film lover and pop culture enthusiast.