Avatar wasn’t just a theatrical release in 2009, it was a full blown force of nature. The biggest box office hit of all time, Avatar also revolutionized motion capture and 3D in Hollywood and picked up several Oscar nods and wins, including a nomination for Best Picture. It also won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for its director of photographer, Mauro Fiore, an Italian-American who has also shot the films Training Day, The Island, Real Steel, and Runner Runner, to name a few. While Avatar’s dominance was no surprise to anyone, its win for Cinematography was interesting considering its competition.
It’s an awesome and very well made movie with an original, beautiful, epic, exciting, interesting, creative, imaginative, absorbing, deep, touching, perfect and well thought and structured story, charged with action scenes and with epic and spectacular fights, wars and battles, love, dramatic and emotional scenes, interesting and cool things, etc., rich in details, with all its elements, components and designs very cool, beautiful and splendid (the universe in which the movie is set, the world of Pandora, the Na’vi, Eywa; the Na’vi lifestyle, ways, culture and religion, characters, creatures, flora, vehicles, weapons, clothing and ornaments, places, landscapes, the avatars and the Avatar Program, etc.), with great performances of actors, with an excellent, beautiful, emotional, sensational and thrilling music (or soundtrack) and more than just impressive, dazzling and innovative special effects, which are accompanied by highly advanced and innovative technology that makes the movie visually and technically extraordinary and wonderful for the motion capture, especially face capture, computer animation and 3D, among other things. All these things fascinate me so much. Moreover, it has everything or almost everything I want and can imagine in any movie, especially in a science fiction movie, and much more.
Avatar is nearly seventy percent computer generated, in some respects practically an animated film, and Fiore had only been behind the camera for less than a third of the movie’s running time. Its competitors in the Cinematography category included a gritty indie film shot on 16mm, a stylistic Tarantino World War II film, a gloomy Harry Potter sequel, and a black & white German drama. However, Avatar bears the marks of a Mauro Fiore-shot film, and despite its abundance of digital effects, is a superbly photographed movie worthy of its award. The film’s digital and live action elements are inseparable, however, and it’s impossible to talk about the look of Avatar without understanding its technical foundation. Director James Cameron famously spent fifteen years developing the technology and the world of Avatar, waiting until it was physically possible to bring his vision of a distant alien world to life. Much of the film was shot with the Fusion Camera System, a digital 3D apparatus co-developed by Cameron and since used with several other films. The Fusion allowed Cameron, Furio, and the crew to shoot in 3D with a revolutionary quieter, smaller setup. It used stereoscopic lenses—two separate lenses on the same horizontal plane—to mimic the vision of two human eyes. By capturing two images slightly adjacent to one another, it created the same three-dimensional depth people see with their eyes. By adjusting the intraocular distance between the two lenses, the filmmakers had control over how much depth was in a given shot.
Despite these major technical innovations, Avatar still had to rely on traditional filmmaking methods to be a fully realized movie. The live-action shooting, while a smaller proportion of the production, was key as the foundation for the motion-capture and digital creations of the film. To help see what they were shooting, Cameron and Fiore were able to watch their dailies in 3D and make adjustments as they progressed.
Shooting in 3D, even with the Fusion, limited the range of depth of field for the cinematography team. This was especially concerning given how complex the jungle world of Pandora looked on screen, and with everything in focus, the audience’s eye could easily be overwhelmed. Fiore directed the audience’s attention by creating depth-of-field through light and contrast, as well as blocking. A longer lens was used for many shots, especially when giving the perspective of Jake, Avatar’s protagonist. In order to ground the fantastical world and story of the epic, Cameron used his human protagonist and handheld camera work to give the film a more naturalistic foundation.Light was perhaps the most important element to the cinematography team, and is also what helped Fiore get the Avatar gig in the first place. It was his characteristic use of light in the jungle-set war film Tears of the Sun that helped convince Cameron Fiore was the right man for the job. By using the strong beams of sunlight that permeated the towering trees of Pandora, Fiore created a lush, vibrant image that made the planet feel real. By painting with light, Fiore helped give Avatar its distinctive look.
5 Secret’s to avtar success
This one’s the most obvious explanation, but also probably the most significant. I’m not talking about the higher price of tickets for 3-D films (although that shouldn’t be completely disregarded), I’m talking about the wow factor and the buzz that comes from the 3-D experience. There have been 3-D movies before, but nothing quite on this scale. The sensory overload left an impression on people, and made them want to share the experience with others, creating incredibly strong word of mouth. What’s more, this was something that could not be pirated or replicated on the eventual DVD release, and people knew that it was simply something that had to be seen on the big screen. That all translates directly to ticket sales and big dollar signs.
The key to success around the holiday season is to have a movie that the entire family can enjoy, and Avatar ended up fitting this bill to a T. Plenty of bloggers and fanboys criticized the blue, cartoony design of the Na’vi, saying that they vaguely resembled something out of the Star Wars prequels, or even the CG dud Delgo. Well, that may be, but it is also precisely why families gravitated towards this film, along with the fact that it is rated PG-13. Avatar delivered more than enough action to please adrenaline junkies, but it was not so violent that it scared off parents or barred younger viewers from seeing it.
Although Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana did star in their own respective 2009 summer blockbusters prior to Avatar’s release, Avatar still didn’t really have any major A-list stars to plaster across posters and magazine covers. Instead, the marketing focused on director James Cameron, and his impressive resume of previous films. This ended up being a great move, because the man really has done no wrong, and his name is one that holds a lot of credibility with film fans. On top of that, the close connection to Titanic put Avatar in discussions about box office records simply by association, way before it was even close to breaking them.
4.The Tipping Point
The final factor I wanted to bring up is one that probably applies to just about any wild success story, and if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, you’ll be familiar with the theory as it applies to social behaviours and popular culture. In the case of Avatar, I really feel like it was not an instant success out of the gate (it notched only the 28th best opening weekend), but over time it reached a point where suddenly everyone was hearing about it and they felt like they had to see it or else they would be out of the loop. Also, people want to be a part of a winning team, so as soon as they start hearing about a movie coming close to breaking records, they naturally want to join in. It’s all about momentum, and after the first month, it began to feel like Avatar was simply destined to dethrone Titanic. In the end, we all fulfilled our own prophecy.
5. Lack of Competition
It was arguably a pretty weak 2009 holiday line-up at the movies, a long-term result of the writer’s strike in late 2007/early 2008. With most of the major tentpole releases in 2009 targeting the summer months, Avatar’s only real competition was Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel — both of which did quite well, but still could not catch it. Adult comedies like Everybody’s Fine, Did You Hear About the Morgans? and It’s Complicated all essentially bombed, and middling Oscar hopefuls like Invictus and Brothers were simply not a factor. The door was wide open for Avatar to dominate throughout the second half of December and well into the cinematic wastelands of January.