Friday, December 11, 2009

The Future of Science Fiction Movies

It seems like the new age of science fiction technology in movies is about to start. With the release of James Cameron's movie Avatar, if it is successful it will seriously raise the bar of the technical side of science fiction movies forever. And any movies that use any sort of cg effects. James Cameron spent the last couple years since he made Titanic doing deep sea diving and developing new camera's and computer software to help him realize his vision of Avatar.

The storyline of the movie is that planet Earth is dying and marines have been sent to the moon Pandora to retrieve resources to help save the planet. However the natives the Na'vi (9 foot tall blue humanoids) don't appreciate the marines "borrowing" resources British colonization era style and attempt to drive the marines off the moon. The Avatar part comes in when the marines are given control of "Avatars" bodies that are the result of the mixing of genes of the Na'vi and the marines, which the marines control to infiltrate the natives ranks.

While the storyline sounds like a pretty typical Hollywood action movie, it's actually the technology that interests me more. As i mentioned James Cameron spent years developing special camera's and software for this movie. A stereoscopic image is a picture that is made to look like it is three dimensional. (Look it up on google they are really cool and will give you a greater appreciation and understanding of what i am talking about.) This is accomplished by taking a picture, then moving the camera just a slight bit to one side or the other and taking another picture. The two pictures are then swapped back and forth repeatedly at a high speed making the image appear to have depth. Cameron has invented camera's that have the same effect but in video instead of a still picture. So instead of some shitty 3-D effect from spykids where only certain things look 3-D when the camera pans sharply and you need to wear those stupid glasses that make you nauseous. The whole movie looks like it has depth constantly.

Evidently he accomplished this by building a camera with two lenses that are placed right next to each other. And have special software to sort the video out properly. You still have to wear glasses but they are clear instead of tinted and have something special about each lense that allows you to see the "depth" in the movie.

While the cameras sound impressive, the software he developed is even more impressive. While usually for computer generated images in videos the scene would be filmed in front of a blue or green screen and then the computer generated images would be added later in the studio. He invented software that allows him to point the cameras at the actors in special suits which the camera and software automatically add the cgi to. He can literally point the camera and it will generate the scenery and characters as they will appear in the finished movie. I have no idea how it works not being a software engineer but it sounds complicated, and expensive. The cost of the movie is estimated at $500 million though Cameron and fox have yet to announce how much it cost. Regardless it sounds like a visual experience to be looked forward too, if for no other reason that because movies in the future will hopefully look as good as this.

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