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Live Action Photography
The work of director of photography Mauro Fiore, ASC was focused on creating the gritty look of the industrial complex at Hell's Gate. "What they were capturing in performance capture and what I was creating in the live action sequences needed to cohesively exist in one movie,” says Fiore, who also shot "The Kingdom” and "Smokin' Aces.” Fiore embraced the 3D Fusion camera system, and after extensive testing, tackled the live action shooting with style and precision. The resulting images blend seamlessly with the CG created by WETA Digital and ILM.

Most of AVATAR's live-action scenes were shot in Wellington, New Zealand, where enormous sets were erected. This endeavor was an incredible undertaking; the production created a huge sub-structure of over 150 contractors to build the sets. The practical sets included the Link Room, which houses the sarcophagus-like link that transports the humans' consciousness into the avatar bodies, the Bio-Lab – a science facility and home to the amnio tanks that house the avatar bodies that have grown to adulthood during their six-year journey from Earth to Pandora; the Ops Center, which is the central nervous system of the Hell's Gate base; and the Armor Bay military stronghold, which houses the AMP Suits and choppers.

In all of AVATAR's environments, Cameron creates an immersive experience in which audiences will feel like they're alongside the characters on their adventures. He and Landau have long been champions of 3-D cinema and have worked tirelessly to use that format to enhance film's immersive qualities. But they note that they intend AVATAR to also be an immersive experience in 2-D, and the film will play widely in that format.

"Jim and I have been sharing our passion for 3-D with Distribution, Exhibition and worldwide audiences,” says Landau. "We feel a 3-D renaissance is finally here. We live our lives in 3-D, so why not experience movies that same way. That being said, in either 2-D or 3-D, you will feel like you've been to a distant world and walked among its inhabitants.”

Many 3-D films of an earlier era used the format as a "gag” or effect unto itself – throwing objects at audiences or arranging characters or props that would appear to come out of the screen and into the theater. For Cameron, 3-D is a window into a world, where the format, instead of calling attention to itself, disappears into the narrative.

As he was developing AVATAR, Cameron set to work on a new digital 3-D camera system, which he developed with partner Vince Pace of Pace Technologies, using Sony and Fujinon HD technology. But before AVATAR became a reality, Cameron's goal with the new digital 3-D camera was to bring back the experience of deep ocean exploration with unprecedented clarity to a global audience. His historic exploration of the inside of the Titanic was the subject of Cameron's 3-D IMAX film, "Ghosts of the Abyss,” followed by "Aliens of the Deep.”

Cameron's experiences on these films not only advanced his vision for AVATAR's three-dimensional presentation, it also informed one of the film's signature design and lighting elements: At the bottom of the ocean, Cameron had witnessed a phenomenon in which certain life forms literally glowed with an almost otherworldly light amid the relentless gloom. Cameron applied this "bioluminescence” to Pandora's environment, which comes to life at night via this affecting radiance.

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