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Avatar Tests Academy Live Action Bias: Exclusive Video

by Anne Thompson
January 19, 2010 2:43 AM
18 Comments
  • |
Thompson on Hollywood

Over the past decade, movie technology has become so sophisticated that it's tough for critics and even industry insiders to discern where an actor's performance stops and the work of hundreds of artists and digital technicians begins. The groundbreaking Avatar and Lord of the Ringssaga are two examples.

NPR critic Bob Mondello and Golden Globe winner Meryl Streep are two smart folks who aren't sure what's animation and what's performance capture. That's one reason why James Cameron used Streep as an example backstage at the Golden Globes, saying that actors should recognize an entire living, breathing performance (rather than just a voice) when they see it.

Last year Paramount waged an effective consciousness-raising campaign for Brad Pitt's performance in The Curious Life of Benjamin Button. This year, Fox, Cameron and producer Jon Landau aren't sitting back either. They mounted an Avatar show-and-tell for 500 actors at the Fox lot and assembled this behind-the-scenes feature. Nominations are at stake.


18 Comments

  • new category | February 14, 2010 8:01 AMReply

    (1) Zoe Saldana produced a noteworthy performance worthy of professional recognition - a fictional character that will become very well known. Great performance from Zoe, here and credit where credit is due.
    (2) The delineation between live action and performance capture is becoming more fuzzy and these definitions will be discussed even more.
    (3) Editing already transforms live action performance in numerous ways just as true performance capture is much more live action than animation alteration, augmentation or adaptation. Information and instinct therefore prevent nominations that are in word legitimate if not intuitively so, hence Zoe Saldana has a right to feel acknowledged in the traditional sense.
    (4) The context of this in movies should not be confused with an actor's work being nominated legitimately, ie as in law setting precedents with specific instances of acting.
    (5) A new category may need to be included as live action performance and performance capture are distinct but becoming equally worthy.
    (6) Computers may get to the stage where they can combine a database of vital statistics to produce a lifelike performance not based specifically around any individual performance capture, stored as data.
    (7) Performance capture will not replace live action actors but a lot of rubbish films may be made including it!

    Look forward to seeing more of Zoe Saldana's work and her character Neytiri's next chapter to the story.

  • Randolph | January 22, 2010 3:10 AMReply

    Wow what's with all the hate on this board for Cameron and Avatar? The movie is amazing. I took my seventy year old mother to see if for Christmas and she loved it. All my 20-30 something friends loved it as well. Yes it's not a small arthouse film. That does not disqualify it or all the amazing work that went into making it from all the technicians, actors, craftspeople etc. I think it should be nominated for best picture as it brought something amazingly "new" yet familiar to audiences worldwide. The fact it is making money is due to the fact so many people of different ages across the world are being touched by it. Some wanting to see it again and again. If that does not make something award winning I don't know what does. Plus the technology they created to make the movie is mind blowing and industry changing. And if you think it's easy to "act" covered in strange marking balls, on a stage surrounded by no environment, just foam, cameras, technicians, etc... you don't really understand what acting is. It is amazing that these fine actors where able to achieve such lifelike performances creating emotional investment in their characters when they had NOTHING to work off of. In a way it's actually harder than acting on a "real" set with all the advantages of having something tangible to play off of. May the best picture and actors win of course... but I would be happy to see Avatar among the nominations.

  • Avawho? | January 21, 2010 1:37 AMReply

    Cameron, get over yourself. This is simply the next wave of film making, you didn't just invent fire or the wheel, you didn't cure cancer and you didn't solve poverty, hunger or level the social playing field. The story has been told before and if you hadn't developed a new way to look at it visually, this film would have been one of a dozen average sci-fi films this year.

  • ProgGrrl | January 20, 2010 11:35 AMReply

    Any time I see these comparisons of the raw motioncap performance footage with the final feature animation, my respect for what these guys did on Avatar jumps up another notch.

    Just as amazing is the "virtual camera" work. What an incredible thing for a director to play with...

  • Jane | January 20, 2010 11:16 AMReply

    Of course it's real acting in Avatar. It's just not particularly good acting. If anyone from that movie gets nominated, then it would prove that awards are really bought.

  • ponc | January 20, 2010 7:00 AMReply

    wow! great work behind. dir., take a indian theam.

  • brian | January 20, 2010 5:21 AMReply

    Have a look at today's New York Times for a fascinating article 'You saw WHAT in Avatar?' and 'its immodest director....and its philosophy, if it has one'. I'm not knocking Cameron's undoubted achievement, but merely noting its unworthiness as a Best Picture winner. Of course people have different tastes, and some people prefer Annie Hall to Star Wars, but try telling this to Cameron. The main reason for my my earlier posting was due to his berating Meryl Streep for her supposed ignorance of his techniques. Must we all attend night school to satisfy him? In his numerous interviews and statements, the king of the world leaves one with the impression, to paraphrase a good line from Streep's own The Devil Wears Prada, that he believes 'You just don't get it , do you - mine is the only opinion that matters'.
    Anyway, the smart money [incidentally agreeing with the NY Times Film Critics Circle awards] is on The Hurt Locker/Bigelow for Best Picture/Director, and hopefully the Academy confirms this.

  • Mark | January 19, 2010 11:04 AMReply

    McMovieHype: There's an enormous gulf between Transformers 2 and Avatar. If you can't see that then I really feel sorry for you. A generic McMovie? Quite the opposite.

    Jeez why am I wasting my time responding to somebody called McMovieHype?!

  • jaycbird | January 19, 2010 10:11 AMReply

    $400 Million and it has to campaign for the Oscars. What is wrong with that picture? Oh, $400 Million and he forgot about an original screenplay...

    Maybe next time?

  • McMovie Hype | January 19, 2010 9:59 AMReply

    The bias isn't just against motion capture performances or animated performances, which this clearly is. But there is also a bias against BAD ACTING!!!

    Especially in generic "McMovies" which is what Avatar is. There is no performance, live action, motion capture or animated in that film that is anything beyond a B-movie. It is also a really, really bad script with atrocious one-liners that even Meryl Streep would have problems spitting out. Clumsy and cheesy.

    Good for Cameron that is is making a lot of money and might make back the huge pricetag it costs, but it is just greedy to try to push for Oscars for this kind of obnoxious spectacle. You would be laughing Michael Bay out of the house if he tried to push for Transformers for best acting. But here it is being taken seriously when it is Avatar? Why? The performances are god awful. Avatar is the same type of movie! Just movie spectacle, without much care to story or substance, but that's okay. It's just popcorn entertainment, not Oscar pedigree. There is room for both in this industry.

    Speaking of Avatar's riches, headlines are calling it the No. 3 Domestic Box-Office Grosser of All Time. But is ticket-price inflation taken into account? Why . . . no! BoxOfficeMojo.com keeps adjusted-rate lists, and they list Avatar as No. 34 right now. So, it's all just a pile o' barnyard gravel.

    http://www.philly.com/inquirer/magazine/82034512.html

  • coco | January 19, 2010 9:15 AMReply

    "And yes, there is clearly a push for Zoe Saldana."

    It is clearly something that Cameron had in mind from the very beginning. While Neytiri character is very well drawn (during many scenes she is very well emphasized), we still dont know how much of Zoe's performance has been altered on the CGI room.
    I watched most of the Avatar fearurettes available out there, and I must say that Neytiri is more likeable that the actual Zoe.
    She's is good as anyone else in that movie. I really cant see why should Zoe be nominated for an Oscar award, her in particular out of that cast.
    I think there are plenty of good actresses that did terific jobs on last year movies, performances that dont let the controvery get in their way.

  • alfie | January 19, 2010 8:44 AMReply

    wow all that amazing technology.
    hey, maybe next time they could develop some kind of story/dialogue tech as well so we get something with some meat to it and not a 5 years old picture book.

  • Anne Thompson | January 19, 2010 7:37 AMReply

    In order for Avatar to win best pictur--we can assume it will make it into the top ten-- it will need support from many of the live action branches of the Academy, especially the dominant actors branch. And yes, there is clearly a push for Zoe Saldana.

  • Noah | January 19, 2010 7:34 AMReply

    Wait, are we saying that any of the actors from Avatar deserve academy award nominations? We're joking right? The film is amazing to look at but I haven't heard anyone say the performances are anything of note.

  • ccc | January 19, 2010 6:57 AMReply

    @brian

    What are you talking about? People have different tastes in movies. Some prefer Star Wars over Annie Hall and vice versa. There was nothing wrong with his comment.

  • DavidC | January 19, 2010 6:34 AMReply

    His point is that he is using live actors. How he's using them, in the service of a story that's not to your taste -- separate issues

  • brian | January 19, 2010 6:00 AMReply

    Hopefully Ms Streep needn't bother to know the difference, Mr Cameron - i'm sure she will never have the remotest interest in appearing in any of your ground-breaking manufactured 'films' - this is the man who recently sounded-off in a Variety interview, dismissing Annie Hall as a nice little film, and expressing shock that it beat another ground-breaking film Star Wars for the Best Picture Oscar. See the theme with this man? Fortunately there are still many, many film lovers who are very happy indeed to find and applaud nice little films. Wonder what he has to say about the works of, eg, Billy Wilder. Let's hope, come Oscar night, he is sitting with his armful of Oscars for technical awards, leaving the main prizes to the film-makers who have the audacity to use - gasp - real live actors....

  • CCC | January 19, 2010 5:41 AMReply

    Every time he speaks it's controversy. The guy can't catch a break.

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