In a conversation between Dune director Denis Villeneuve and Avatar director James Cameron, for Variety, Cameron has discussed how he prepared his actors to perform in an almost entirely CGI world. And this included a “sense-memory odyssey” into the rainforest.
Cameron is currently working on – checks notes – four sequels to 2009’s Avatar, a film which held the global box office record for a decade, until Avengers: Endgame was released. It is set on a world called Pandora, in which a peaceful race of people called the Na’vi live, in harmony with their environment.
Villeneuve asked Cameron; “For your actors, if they are in a forest, do they have live reference in front of them, or is just like blue structure in which they are walking on? How can you bring sensuality, something tactile?”
And Cameron replied; “I took the actors on what I called a sense-memory odyssey. We went to Kauai. We lived in the rainforest for a few days. We cooked in underground fire pits. We drank water from the leaves.”
He continues; “I said, “All right, we’re going to walk up a trail and I want you to observe as much as you can about how you place your feet, how you place your hands when you go up a steep section. You’re going to have to remember it, what it felt like, what it smelled like, and you’re going to have to bring it back into a relatively sterile environment.” We all just embarked on that journey.”
Cameron also discussed the process of filming multiple films at once; “Avatar 2 is fully in the can. We have a working cut that we’re filling in the visual effects within. I feel pretty confident with that film. Avatar 3 is still a bit shadowy. It’s way too long. But I know I’ve got the performances. That’s the important thing. I’ve done all the capture. I’ve done most of the live action shooting. We were concerned with the kids aging out.”
He continued; “We mixed the schedules for Avatar 2 and 3 together, based on the types of scenes and the environments. I said, let’s just treat it like it’s a six-hour miniseries and we’re only going to go to Frankfurt once. We’re going to shoot all the scenes from 2 and 3 at the same time. That was more or less the motif.
He concluded; “Actor availability was an issue as well. Anything that had to be done with a specific actor, we did all the scenes for 2 and 3 together — and a little bit of 4. Because once again, I had to shoot the kids (before they got too old). They’re allowed to age six years in the middle of movie 4. So I needed everything before then, and then everything after, we’ll do later.”
It sounds as though Cameron has certainly planned these films out in meticulous detail and we look forward to seeing the finished results. While we wait, check out our guide to the best science fiction movies.