Avatar: The Way of Water is James Cameron’s third movie to gross over $2 billion at the box office, and it’s just become the fourth (at the time of writing) highest-grossing movie of all time.
And even if you haven’t yet immersed yourself in James Cameron’s latest blockbuster, it is hard to escape what The New York Times has called the “visual bedazzlements” of this record-breaking epic.
It’s no surprise then that it has already won a Critics Choice Award for Best Visual Effects, and been nominated for a record 14 VES Awards (that’s three more than the original Avatar, which previously held the record). Most recently, the film also received four Academy Award® nominations for the March 12 ceremony: Best Picture, Best Production Design, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects.
Many tools and solutions were used in order to bring the world of Pandora to life for the second Avatar film; a number of those are from Wētā Digital – now a part of Unity.
Together, Unity and Wētā Digital have been working to bring these content creation tools – some of which were used in Avatar: The Way of Water, as well as in other 2023 Oscar®-nominated films – into the hands of developers, artists, consumer creators, and you, with the first being released this year.
“Unity and Wētā Digital can create a pathway for any artist, from any industry, to be able to leverage these incredibly creative and powerful tools. Offering aspiring creatives access to Wētā Digital’s technology will be nothing short of game-changing, and Unity is just the company to bring this vision to life.” – Sir Peter Jackson, chairman and cofounder of Wētā Digital, talking to FXGuide in 2021
Wētā Tools used in the creation of the visual effects for Avatar: The Way of Water include Barbershop, Loki, deep compositing (deep comp), Lumberjack, Manuka, and Eddy. Our teams will be bringing these tools to you over the next couple of years. Here’s a brief introduction to each.
“Avatar: The Way of Water's ambitious development pushed Unity Wētā Tools to strike an unprecedented balance between technology and artistry, elevating scalability and quality of the visual results to a whole new level" – Alexey Stomakhin, Principal Research Engineer, Wētā Digital x Unity
Barbershop allows artists to create and edit the entire grooming workflow using a combination of procedural and artist-guided tools to produce simulation-ready models. For Avatar 2, this helped to support the complexities of the Na’vi’s braided hair, which would then be simulated together with the dynamic environment – for example, water or wind – using Loki.
Loki is a framework for physics-based simulation of various phenomena and their interactions, including hair, cloth, water, fire, and smoke. It also provides powerful compositing graphs to combine simulation results in a spatially varying and lossless form for rendering. In Avatar: The Way of Water, Loki was used for simulating the majority of water effects, such as large splashes, underwater bubbles, foam, and high-fidelity interaction with a character’s skin.
In order to enhance the storytelling experience in Avatar, deep comp tools were used to provide a better perception of depth in any given scene. The addition of depth data means objects and effects can be rendered separately, and elements from different renders can be combined without affecting occlusion.
Lumberjack is a tool for generating and manipulating trees and plants that was employed in combination with Loki to create the fantastical water and plant effects in Avatar: The Way of Water.
Manuka is a physically-based production renderer, enabling high-quality rendering of highly detailed and large scenes to be rendered in a very efficient and scalable manner. It supports a rich layered material system, spectral light transport, water primitives and uses various novel sampling techniques to effectively handle very challenging lighting phenomena. This includes in particular elements such as godrays, caustics, multiple scattering, complex indirect illumination, accurate wetness and specular highlights that were used in Avatar: The Way of Water.
Eddy is a plug-in for simulating realistic gaseous phenomena inside of Nuke in order to establish interactive control of smoke, fire, vapor, explosions, and much more during compositing. This was used during the planning stages of various scenes in Avatar 2.
In addition to Avatar: The Way of Water, Unity Wētā Tools and Ziva VFX were used in other Academy Award-nominated projects, including Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, The Batman, and The Sea Beast.Sign up here to register your interest for the Eddy and Deep comp tools beta program.