"Avatar: The Way of The Water". Filmed in New Zealand

"Avatar: The Way of Water" opens this week in the USA. Variety Magazine USA reports that "Journalists who have seen the movie are blown away once again by Cameron’s boundless imagination and pristine visual effects". In this Blog, we focus on the work of New Zealand company Wētā FX, who did all of the special effects for the movie, as they had done for the Lord of The Rings trilogy.

Avatar director James Cameron has a long standing association with, and love for New Zealand, going back to his first visit back in 1994. He divides his time between his home in California and his home in New Zealand. In 2012, he purchased over 2,000 acres of farmland in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand where he and his family intend to reside indefinitely, and to operate their property as a working farm.

The Wairarapa is located at the bottom of New Zealand's North Island, just over an hours drive north of the capital city of Wellington. Or 10-minutes by helicopter.

Lord of The Rings director Sir Peter Jackson and wife Fran Walsh live in the same region.

In addition to their Oscar winning work on the original Avatar movie, Wētā FX was responsible for the effects on movies like The Lord of the Rings, Aquaman, and Doctor Strange.

Avatar: The Way of Water

Traditionally it has used its own data center to render its films, but the creation of the Avatar sequel posed a serious challenge for the company. It usually uses its data centers to process multiple films at the same time. With Avatar: The Way of Water, even their entire data center could not meet their needs. There was even a suggestion that New Zealand could not provide enough power from the national electricity grid for their purposes.

"There’s the complexity of the water and all those simulations, and what you saw in the trailer is really only a small slither of the massive task and challenge," producer Jon Landau said.

The film also doubled its frame rate from 24 to 48 frames per second. “Right there [that] doubles the render workload,” he said.

To get the perfect shot, the company averages around 500 iterations per shot, each of which contains thousands of frames. Rendering each frame took 8,000 thread hours, or the combined power of 3,000 vCPUs in the cloud for an hour.

As a result, Wētā FX entered into an agreement to use US based Amazon Web Services, AWS, to render the compute-intense Avatar: The Way of Water. This involved Wētā using capacity across three Australian AWS data centers.

In total, more than 2400 New Zealanders worked on the movie, including 1400 crew. “Avatar: The Way of Water”, Avatar3 and parts of Avatar4 were filmed concurrently.

Indigenous cultures are a huge theme in the Avatar movies and Cameron said this was partly inspired by New Zealand's indigenous Māori culture. In particular, the Polynesian sounds inspired Cameron's writing for place names and family names on the planet of Pandora.

So, when the movie opens in New Zealand theaters on December 15, there will be thousands of excited New Zealand attendees who are proud to be a part of the movies production team.

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Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Dec 08, 2022