Arts, Culture & Media

High-tech filmmaking and "Avatar"

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"It's a pretty incredible-looking film," said "The Takeaway" film contributor Rafer Guzman of "Avatar."

"When I go see computer animation movies, not something like 'Toy Story,' but something like 'Lord of the Rings,' where you are seeing these entirely dreamt-up creatures and people-like forms on the screen, I always put it through a smile test -- to see if people's faces can actually do a smile that makes you feel good.

"You can always make computer faces scowl and growl, and drool saliva, and do things like that.  A smile is pretty difficult to do. This film pretty much does it. You really see the emotion on these creatures' faces. It is pretty incredible."

"It's a corny film, but I think it works.  It is a lot of fun," Guzman added.

Unlike "Titanic," which is a well known story, "Avatar" is a new story, with even new words for the language, including "novie."  Cameron is know for his big ideas, but will this film succeed on that level?

"He has taken this technology and proven once again that he is a master of putting technology in service of this medium, as opposed to putting the medium in service of technology," said Jeff Yang, trend forecaster for market research firm Iconoculture and columnist for the "San Francisco Chronicle."

Part of the realism is is inherent in the story, which is about shedding your body and becoming this avatar. The quality of the animation really is about the story itself.

"He has really woven the two things together," Yang continues. "It is important to note here that the very fact that he has taken these alien beings as the representative here, is part of what makes the story work.  He is not forcing us to believe photo-realistic human beings are coming to life. There is still 10-foot-tall cat people. He is putting human emotions on them."

Sigourney Weaver, who plays Dr. Grace Augustine in the film, said of the animation: "The level of technology is so refined in this particular movie that all of the facial expressions, everything you see is not painted on, it's not us voicing these faces, these puppets. This is the actor coming through the movie identity as these other people."

This technology will have an impact on the future of filmmaking, but is it the experience that movie-goers are looking for?

"One of the things that movies do is help propel us out of our seats and live in the beings, or these avatars on screen.  This is taking it one step further with technology," said Yang.

Watch the "Avatar" trailer:

"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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