Avatar has captured the imagination of millions of people from around the globe. Creating a completely new world from scratch, one with hundreds of species of flora and fauna and breathtaking landscapes is a daunting task that Cameron completed with flying colors. Let’s see what companies and software were involved.
Updated on January 16 with more details. Also, in a new article I’m providing some details on the challenges and innovations involved in the making of Avatar.
Although usually only big names like Weta Digital or ILM are mentioned in the making of high-budget CGI, there are always tens of companies involved (possibly hundreds considering that work often gets outsourced), with thousands of digital artists, 3d modelers, animators and compositors working to bring the script to life.
It’s also too bad that many of the companies (the ones involved in the production and the ones making the software) do not promote their software more. Adobe was the quickest to show how their line of software was involved, even though it wasn’t really crucial to the project and this is why I decided to make a list and try to give proper credit to everyone involved.
For Avatar, these are the companies credited for the visual effects:
- Weta Digital, New Zealand (most of the work, character modeling, animation, rendering)
- Industrial Light and Magic, USA (180 non-character shots, mostly the human aircraft in the final battle)
- Stan Winston Studios (most of the props, including the Ampsuit and the Samson helicopter)
- Framestore, UK (70 shots of the Hell’s Gate)
- Hybride, Canada (graphics for the link room)
- Prime Focus, USA (design and compositing of the control room screens, HUDs, etc)
- Look Effects, USA (compositing)
- Hydraulx, USA (digital extension shots of crematoria and cryovault)
- Giant Studios, USA (motion capture)
- Blur, USA (4 space shots of ISV Venture Star)
- Pixel Liberation Front, USA (screens and HUD design)
- BUF (the conscience-transfer tunnel)
- Lola VFX, USA (digital cosmetic)
And here are the main software used:
- Autodesk Maya (most shots)
- Pixar Renderman for Maya
- Autodesk SoftImage XSI
- Luxology Modo (model design, e.g. the Scorpion)
- Lightwave (low-res realtime environments)
- Houdini (Hell’s Gate scenes, interiors)
- ZBrush (creature design)
- Autodesk 3d design max (space shots, control room screens and HUD renderings)
- Autodesk MotionBuilder (for real-time 3d visualisations)
- Eyeon Fusion (image compositing)
- The Foundry Nuke Compositor (previz image compositing)
- Autodesk Smoke (color correction)
- Autodesk Combustion (compositing)
- Massive (vegetation simulation)
- Mudbox (floating mountains)
- Avid(video editing)
- Adobe After Effects (compositing, real-ime visualizations)
- PF Track (motion tracking, background replacement)
- Adobe Illustrator (HUD and screens layout)
- Adobe Photoshop (concept art, textures)
- Adobe Premiere (proofing, rough compositing with AE)
- many tools developed in-house
- countless plugins for each platform, some of them Ocula for Nuke, Ktakatoa for 3ds max, Sapphire for Combustion/AE.
The list of tools is not exhaustive and you can see there’s overlap in capabilities, depending on each company’s pipeline.