A Pictorial History of the Movies: 2009 – Avatar

I don’t even think there’s a question about this one.

It’s the highest-grossing film of all time, was the event film of 2009, and was the biggest thing in the country that everybody was talking about for a good two montsh. It’s the only choice.

To the point where, I don’t really know what else there is to say about it.

But I’ll figure something out.

This film, as James Cameron’s movies tend to be, was the biggest film of all time. He wrote a treatment for it back in 1994, and intended for it to be his next film after Titanic. Only… he intended it would come out 10 years before it did. But the technology just wasn’t there. So instead of rushing it, he waited.

Cut to 2005 – he’s got his story, and he goes to Fox and says, “You guys give me $10 million, and I’ll do a test for you of what this movie’s gonna look like.” And they do it! So now he goes and hires a professor to create a language for him. Meanwhile, he spends two years retooling the designs and continuing work into the animation, to try to get everything closer to what he wants. The film had two different production designers and two entire art departments, one for the planet and one for the human stuff.

So they start shooting in 2007, and they do a month of motion capture work. Then they do a month of live-action work. They did this new thing (which seems conventional now), where they could render what the actors would look like through the motion-capture in real time. Which they showed Spielberg and Peter Jackson while they were filming, since this is basically what they did to do Tintin two years later. They had all of these crazy camera systems going on, that I bet tech people would love.

The coolest for me is how they fitted these caps for the actors with mini cameras on front that could capture every single little piece of expression from them without losing anything. That’s really what makes everything work with mo-cap. When you can get every little bit of the performance in there, which makes it feel more realistic. (Otherwise… have you guys seen the end of The Mummy Returns?)

Microsoft also created an entire new kind of cloud storage for them, just so they could store all of the rendering. I know very little about all this stuff, but I know enough to where this is – impressive. They had a 10,000 square foot server farm, with 4,000 servers, 35,000 processor cores with 104 terabytes of RAM and three petabytes of storage. For reference, if you work in a standard business office… say, 50 employees with 50 computers… you’re probably not even using close to 1 terabyte of RAM in that entire office. Which is pretty crazy.

The original budget was intended to be about $240 million. Final estimates have the budget closer to $300 million, with an extra $150 million spent to promote it. So, as is the case with Cameron’s movies, they pretty much have to be the biggest film of all time to justify how much was spent.

Current total of Avatar” $760 million domestic, and $2.79 billion worldwide.

And, I guess, the biggest impact this film had on the film industry was when everyone freaked out about, “Well shit, does this mean 3D is the future now?”

And then everyone hastily post-converted to shitty 3D and everyone got over it within 18 months and now things aren’t really in 3D unless they’re big event films. Though this film did fuck up the future of film prints, and really signaled the end of those, even though the end was coming anyway. Now pretty much everything is digital projection.

But yeah, Avatar. Anyone making this list would choose this film 99.9% of the time. And that .1% are people who are deliberately not choosing this. This is 2009.

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2 responses

  1. this film was definitely fascinating for all the work that went in to make it happen. The visual effects were great but more time could have been spent on the story, which disappointed me dearly.

    November 23, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    • Honestly, the writing (which…were people really expecting James Cameron to improve his writing at this point?) has only become a disappointment in hindsight. No amount of crappy writing could earn nearly $2.8 billion.

      March 22, 2018 at 8:40 pm

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