Avatar – part 1

Over the next few days I’m going to throw out some musings that I have regarding the latest movie by James Cameron.

My wife, our four daughters (all over the age of 18) and I, went to see it last weekend. You have to understand that this, in and of itself, is a minor miracle. Even though my wife and I work in the entertainment industry, we don’t often go to the theater.

Our main gripes with the theater experience are the cost and atmosphere. It cost us just over $175 Canadian dollars to go and see Avatar. That, for us, is a fairly expensive endeavor. Considering that for some people in the world that is rent for a month. Also, almost every time we go, someone in the herd has to be doing something to pull us out of the show – texting, talking, laughing at inopportune moments, well, you name it. So instead of the theater we’ve invested our ‘entertainment’ dollars into a regular home theater and a small collection of blue ray and DVD movies (Blockbuster gets frequent visits as well). This, for us, leads to a much better experience.

So why did we decide to actually go to the theater after a 3 year hiatus? The short of it is: the hype of the new technology. We’ve never seen a stereoscopic feature and everybody seems to be going crazy over this particular film and the associated technology. Since we can’t currently watch this movie in stereoscopic grandeur on our home entertainment unit – and this film Avatar, is said to be the film to see using the new technology – we decided to go to the IMax 3D version of the film.


First, I think there is some confusion, at the public level, about the term 3D. It’s thrown about and it’s meaning seems to change like a chameleon.

One way the term ‘3D’ is used is when it refers to 3D models. That is, movies which rely on 3d technology which creates the world and/or characters using mathematical models that have depth which are then rendered out into frames (for example animated films like Toy Story, Wall-E or Tales of Despereaux). This version of the term 3D is used opposite the term 2D (which refers to hand drawn animation – like in Princess and The Frog, Snow White and so on). In 3D we create the worlds using polygons, we can rotate the objects, we can apply textures to them, light them and then ‘render’ them – capturing the image into a frame. All these captured frames then make up the movie. This is what we do at Lost Pencil. We help people create 3d characters, animate them, build their worlds and so on. This is useful not only for feature films, but also for television, commercials, games, still images and so on.

The other way the term 3D is used is to refer to the depth effect when wearing special glasses (be they the old fashioned ones with red and blue (or green) lenses, or the new polarized lenses). The way that the movie is projected in combination with the glasses create a sensation of depth in front of the viewer. Things feel like they are behind or in front of other things. This is called stereoscopy or 3-D (hence the confusion). Note that sometimes the two are differentiated by: 3D (3d modeling) and 3-D (stereoscopy).

What is Avatar, 3D or 3-D? Well, actually it is both. It uses 3D modeling, texturing, rendering, lighting and animation to create a believable world. The world of Pandora. It then uses stereoscopic 3-D to give it additional depth when viewed with the cool polarized glasses. Avatar is a mix of live action (actors and real props) and a 3D animated world all projected and viewed using stereoscopic technology that gives it added depth.

In future posts when I talk about 3D I will always refer to the modeling/rendering version. For the other 3-D I will use the term Stereoscopy.

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