The digital world is affecting film technology, especially the technology used in animation, and bringing about significant change. Rocky Shi, founder, and CEO of TAOST, explains some of that new technology.
Avatar, directed by James Cameron, set some of that new technology in motion by providing audiences with a unique 3D experience, says Shi. Cameron used a modified version of a Fusion camera, which created an Augmented Reality view. The technology helped immerse theater-goers in the action so that they felt a part of the world of Pandora. It also made the characters more believable, Shi says.
Avatar also takes place mainly in a computer-generated world. He says only about 25 percent of it was filmed using live performances on sets. According to Shi, creativity flourished in that setting, allowing for unique plants, trees, and floating mountains.
Director Cameron also introduced some innovations to directing. Directing actors in a virtual world are challenging, so Cameron wanted a virtual camera that provided a low-resolution view of Pandora. To meet his needs, the production supervisor invented the swing camera that allowed Cameron to shoot the actors in real-time or to go back through a deserted soundstage with the swing camera to shoot additional angles.
The cast donned motion capture suits, just as in other 3D movies. However, Cameron also innovated again. He wanted to capture the actors’ facial expressions during the performance rather than using digital brushstrokes. He attached a camera to the actors’ helmets to capture more data from the actors’ faces. The camera provided information for a digital framework of the actor’s face called a rig. According to Shi, the rig then translated the human’s expressions to the digital face.
Viewers used polarized glasses, not traditional 3D glasses, to view the film. Polarized glasses are less likely to cause headaches than old-fashioned 3D glasses.
“In many ways, Cameron created the film using techniques more like high-end video games than traditional movies, says Shi.
Rpcky Shi understands and appreciates Cameron’s innovations because Shi, himself, is very involved in new technology. TAOST is a startup dedicated to digital artists, animators, visual effects artists, writers, directors, and studios who want to share content.
In his studio work, Shi uses the knowledge he gained through his work in traditional theater and what he is learning through his study of 2D and 3D animation, gaming design, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs.) Shi was an actor in the Karate Kid. Before founding his studio, he also invested in several films, including Chinese Doctors and Flowers in the Field.
“The technical revolution has brought new vitality to the film industry,” Shi says. “I look forward to continuing to work and innovate in this new environment.”