After a long hiatus due to the global lockdown, Avatar 2 has resumed filming in New Zealand. Producer for the movie John Landau has taken to Instagram to celebrate the production getting back into its groove with the following post featuring a behind-the-scenes photo from the set that was taken last year.
"Still photographer Mark Fellman snapped this photo last year of Britain Dalton during underwater performance capture on the Avatar sequels."
The image shows actor Britain Dalton decked out in a motion capture suit, riding a vehicle underwater in a pool. The surface of the pool is littered with tiny balls, which are supposed to prevent reflection ruining the shots from the above-ground cameras filming the scene.
Back when James Cameron was making the first Avatar, industry insiders were dumbfounded by the huge amount of risk the filmmaker was taking in using groundbreaking motion-capture technology to make a very expensive movie that few expected to do well at the box office.
Now, the preparations and a steadily ballooning budget for the sequel make the original Avatar seem like a walk in the park by comparison. A significant part of the action in Avatar 2 takes place underwater, and Cameron, an avid underwater explorer in real life, has gone to great lengths to have the aquatic scenes in the film be as authentic as possible.
This means creating a lot of new filmmaking equipment from scratch to facilitate underwater movement and videography, instead of, say, sticking the actors on hanging wires in front of a green stage, and letting the VFX team take care of the rest. That is what was done for James Wan's Aquaman, but Cameron has stated in the past that Aquaman's approach would not work for him personally because it is impossible to capture the interplay of water and gravity on the human body on a soundstage:
"People just kind of zoom around underwater because... they propel themselves mentally? I guess? I don't know. But it's cool. You buy it on its own terms. But I've spent thousands of hours underwater. I'm very literal about my underwater. It needs to look like it's real. And while I can enjoy that film I don't resonate with it because it doesn't look real."
The upcoming Avatar movie takes forward the narrative from the first movie, where human soldier Jake Sully was recruited by a military company to assume the body of an alien species known as the Na'vi so he could infiltrate their ranks and betray their secrets to the humans.
Instead, Jake ended up falling in love with the aliens and remained on their planet Pandora to live out his life as one of them. Avatar 2 will introduce Jake's Na'vi children, and the underwater parts of Pandora. Cameron has already written the scripts for multiple Avatar sequels, meaning the world of Pandora is going to get its own cinematic universe. Although considering how long it takes for a single movie in the franchise to get made, it might well be several decades until audiences get to see the final movie in the series.