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I’ve just seen Avatar movie, and the next day I started searching making-of movies on the Internet. It’s still early, but I found some screens. It was an awesome movie, and the cinema experience contributed a lot to it.

In 2000, Sony agrees to help Cameron build his “holy grail” camera system. Over the next few years, he develops a lightweight, dual-lens, hi-def digital camera capable of shooting precisely calibrated 3-D images that won’t give viewers a headache. The new equipment is used to film Avatar’s live-action sequences.

To create a precise template for the CG sequences, actors first perform scenes in a barren warehouse. Cameron views the action through a virtual camera — an LCD that shows the actors as 10-foot-tall aliens inhabiting Pandora’s lush environment. This system allows Cameron to position performers and direct action while seeing a real-time simulation of the finished product.

The actors wear bodysuits dotted with small reflectors. LEDs shoot near-infrared light into the room while up to 140 digital cameras track the reflections. The data is fed into a system that correlates the reflections with the actors’ movements. As the actors move around the sound stage, the system creates a 3-D record of the entire scene. Later, it’s mapped onto the digital rendering, making the CG sequences appear realistic.

Each actor wears a head rig that holds a tiny HD video cam a few inches away from their face. The camera’s wide-angle lens records every subtle facial twitch, blink, and lip curl. The data is then mapped onto the CG face.

After the performances are captured, Cameron returns to the warehouse, now empty of actors. Techs cue up the performances one by one as Cameron uses his virtual camera to choreograph the camera moves — tracking shots, dolly shots, crane shots, pans. The movements are tracked by the same system that records the actors. Cameron’s work is then incorporated into the rendering system so his every directing decision is reflected in the finished product.

Source: Wired Magazine

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