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Exclusive: Avatar: The Way of Water VFX supervisor Pavani Rao Boddapati unpacks the film’s visuals


At least everything you see in Avatar: The Way of Water is mesmerizing. From Pandora’s newly introduced CG creatures to realistic waters, the Avatar (2009) sequel, directed by James Cameron, is an absolute triumph in terms of visual effects. Much of the film’s spectacular shots come from WÄ“t FX, the studio behind some of the film’s splendor. Their visual effects supervisor, Pavani Rao Boddapati has been a part of Pandora’s decade-long journey since the original film and the energetic sequel is her return to the moon. outside the solar system. That’s when she wasn’t in films like The Hobbit Trilogy and Maze Runner: The Sorch Trails.

In an exclusive chat with Filmfare, Pavani Rao Boddapati opened up about working with James Cameron, Avatar’s underwater world, etc.

Avatar is the highest-grossing film of all time. Did the anticipation surrounding the movie affect you?

That feeling first came in 2009 when I went from Los Angeles to New Zealand to make my first film. I’m a big Pandora nerd. Every time there’s a Pandora-themed project, I’m the first to sign up. In 2018 when I started Avatar 2, it was super fun. I want to work on every movie that Jim (James Cameron) is doing.

Avatar: The Road of Water, VFX

When it comes to such a big project, do you ever feel like you’re nearing completion?

We knew this was going to be a project that had been in the works since 2009. There was a technology in development so we knew it was going to be a very complicated movie. So 3,000 shots and 2,200 water shots is a huge number for a visual effects project. We started 5 years early to work on this project. Of which 2 years is just research and development. So all we did was evaluate what kind of shot we had to do, plan it out, and shoot the references. When we started, we knew we had the recipe and the team to execute this project.

What are some of the signals you got from James Cameron and his team?

It’s very spacious and it’s very cooperative. This is a collaboration that started with Dylan Cole, concept art director, Deborah Lynn Scott and the team we’ve worked with since 2009. They give us something and we can always come back to the his scenes and designs. Jim was extremely approachable in New Zealand while filming the movie. We had a lot of discussions. The goal was that we were part of a bigger picture and we needed this movie to live up to Jim’s expectations. To take one example – our costume designer Deborah Lynn Scott often shoots very broad references to motion research like adding air or water and whenever we do a CG version of those outfits, we will always communicate with her to discuss when we order the costumes to check if the colors match or the movement is correct in the water.

Avatar: The Road of Water, VFX

What does a typical response from James Cameron look like?

Jim is generous with compliments. There are things he will say when he loves the scene. It was pretty quick as he loved it – no critique and you passed. But he would say “you nail it” or “bingo bongo” and every time he said something like that, the whole crew would go crazy because it meant he loved the scene.

Avatar: The Way of Water has a lot of underwater scenes. What kind of challenge is that?

We knew that with this movie, water would be a big part of the 2,200 shots and over the last 5 to 6 years we’ve started working on getting the right water source. There are a lot of movies coming out in the last few years that have water and audience reviews are important. Humans are very sensitive and anyone can detect whether the water is fake or not. You don’t have to be a visual effects artist or know the movies to realize that. You see it’s wrong and people can tell right away. So the first underwater scene we did was Jake Sully’s kids diving into the water and they were learning to breathe. That will be our first shot at building the fantasy world. I remember when I watched Avatar (2009), the scene where Jake followed Neytiri into the woods and it all lit up and I thought what the hell is this place? I want to go there. And this underwater shot is for that purpose. It’s your first time in the water and you see the beautiful coral reefs and the kids swimming and you want to be there and feel like you’re there in stereo. We’ve done a lot of work to make the water look believable and also make it feel like you’re in it with stereo sound. So we used a high frame rate, added tiny particles and gelled the camera. And Jim, who has spent most of his life underwater, was there to tell us, “Wow, that looks like something I’ve seen in real life”. It was one of the first scenes and one where we put a lot of time and effort into creating this beautiful moment.

Avatar: The Road of Water, VFX

It needed something like a sequel to Avatar to bring audiences into 3D cinema. Do you think the medium has lost its relevance?

There have been a lot of projects that are not original 3D. They had a converted stereo in the post that the movie itself was not designed to be stereo. I think what’s unique about Jim’s movies is that he designs movies in stereo. It’s not an after-conversion, it’s not an afterthought. He designed each shot to be an immersive experience. So for me, it’s a very successful stereo. When we were able to get these rough samples from Jim of the hot people representing the camera or the performance, the first thing we did was put on our glasses and look at representative images of the footage. And we see exactly what he’s trying to do, there’s very little nuance with depth perception, the placement of characters, tiny particles in the water, and even high frame rates. It’s also something that Jim used very successfully in the movie. Even in Avatar which doesn’t have a high frame rate – when watching movies, in things that often flicker, the underwater scene often looks a bit fat, 48fps combined with the stereo here is extremely successful. because it was designed with that in mind.

What can we expect from the sequels?

I have not read the script because I want to create a surprise when I start working. But I’ll tell you this, before 2018, Avatar was the most beautiful movie I’ve ever been in. But now I have changed my mind and I think The Way of Water is the most beautiful movie I have ever been in. And I’m sure if we talk after the sequel, it’ll be the best movie I’ve ever made. These are just great movies and I’m happy to be a small part of the big picture.

Avatar: The Way of Water is currently showing in theaters.

Avatar: The Way of Water Ending, Explained: What happened to Sullys?

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