WETA’s Joe Letteri Says the AVATAR Sequels Are the “Most Ambitious” Things They’ve Ever Worked On

     December 23, 2014

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Back in 2009 (it boggles my mind that it’s been five years already), James Cameron pushed the envelope with Avatar.  Hard.  While the narrative was rather conventional, the technology on display was anything but, rendering the film an unprecedented global box office success fueled by the sense that this was the type of thing that just had to be seen in the theaters.  So it should come as no surprise that Cameron is looking to push the needle even further with his three upcoming Avatar sequels.  And, with a December 2016 release date looming for Avatar 2, WETA Digital’s Joe Letteri is busy getting all of his ducks in a row for what may very well be the biggest challenge of his already incredibly accomplished career.

Steve recently sat down with Letteri to talk about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.  While the bulk of the interview focuses on Peter Jackson‘s final foray into Middle Earth, we wanted to bring you this snippet separately.  Hit the jump for more on Letteri’s take on the Avatar sequels.

Here’s the video of Letteri talking about the Avatar sequels followed by the transcript

joe-letteri-weta-digitalCollider:  Obviously we all know that you guys are involved with the Avatar sequels.  I love James Cameron and love the way that he pushes technology.  What is it like working with him on the sequels?  And are you guys pushing the boundary forward again in terms of technology?

JOE LETTERI: We will be. We know that because we know what’s coming.  But the work now is very much the nuts and bolts.  There’s a lot of engineering work going on just to build the infrastructure for what we’re going to need to do throughout the next three films.  There’s a little bit of creative work that we’re just starting to dip into, but there’s infrastructure that needs to be built and that’s where most of our work has been so far.

What you’re setting up for the Avatar sequels, is that the most ambitious thing you guys have tried to do?  Or was The Hobbit and LOTR even more [ambitious]?  How do you compare it?  

LETTERI: I think what we’re trying to do for the Avatar sequels will be the most ambitious things we’ve ever tried.  James [Cameron] just has such a complete idea of this world – and it is a whole world and it’s a story he wants to tell over three more films.  It’s huge in terms of breadth and it’s detailed in innumerable ways I couldn’t get into.  It’s the kind of project that requires both very specific high level realism at a small micro-level and that micro-level realism needs to work across an entire planet.

When you guys bring in people for these kinds of movies and you’re setting up for such an ambitious project, do people sign a contract for all of the movies?  Or do people come and go?

avatar-sequelsLETTERI: It varies depending on people’s circumstances.   If we know we’ve got a multiple year project we’ll sign them on for the length of it.  Sometimes people like that.  Sometimes they want to stay longer, sometimes they only want to come for part of it because they have other commitments.  Family or other projects they want to work on.  It really varies.  We’re open towards however people want to work.  But, like any endeavor that has a creative side like our projects do, it comes down to casting.  So we try and find the right people for the right roles and then figure out what works for them.

I know one of them, I think the second one, does a lot of stuff underwater. I don’t know of any motion capture that’s been underwater yet.  How is it trying to research that kind of technology?  It seems like a major step forward. 

LETTERI: That will be major but for us it’s still on the drawing boards.  We haven’t put anybody into water yet.  We’re just trying to work out the infrastructure for it first.

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