The Amazing Tech That’s Powering The New Avatar Movies


The original Avatar was nothing short of a technological breakthrough for the film industry. Its ground-breaking 3D technology, which took decades to develop (and was then copied ad nauseam), helped spur the movie to becoming the most lucrative box-office film worldwide of all-time. So how does James Cameron “one up” that in the pending sequels of the franchise? Welp, with even more technical advancement. 

The second Avatar film is slated to release at the end of the year. If you trust bookies that run popular betting apps, the odds are high it will turn out to be one of the most successful films of the year money-wise. It’s going to have to be to recoup the costs to produce it because, to no one’s surprise, technological innovation is not cheap. 

To this day, the original Avatar remains the highest-grossing movie of all time at the global box office with $2.84 billion — just slightly ahead of Avengers: End Game at $2.79 billion.

A lot of things about the making of the new Avatar films remain under wraps (including the storylines), but not everything. In this article, we’re going to show you what Cameron has in store from a tech standpoint for the looming Avatar films. Let’s dive right in (literally): 

Underwater Motion Capture

Aside from making blockbuster movies, Cameron’s other life passion is exploring the vast oceans and seas the Earth has to offer with submarines. That’s why it should come as little surprise that Cameron has merged the two passions into Avatar. The sequels will take place in and around waters (a departure from the forest setting of the original), and due to that, motion capture was needed — while submerged completely in water. 

Cameron said his production team begged him to do underwater shots “dry” and fake the actual water part. But true to form, Cameron didn’t take no for an answer. After testing both methods side-by-side, he felt the truly submerged shots blew the doors off the “fake” ones. With that settled, the team got to work actually creating underwater sets at scale. 

For one, there was a 900,000-gallon water tank built for the sequels. No, that’s not a typo either — 900,000 gallons is for real. As for the motion capture, Cameron has said little beyond it’s never been used in film-making before. Producer Jon Landau released a single Instagram image of an actor underwater, riding some kind of vehicle. It’s tough to explain the picture mostly because it’s completely unprecedented. 

A preview of the underwater set for Avatar sequels was released by James Cameron. It’s one of a few images that exists in an otherwise secretive production.

Long Wait Out Of Necessity 

Avatar 2 drops December 2022 and then subsequent sequels release in 2024, 2026 and 2028 to bring the franchise to five full movies. The first movie dropped in 2009 — so it’ll be a 13-year absence for the franchise. Surely, that has many in Hollywood questioning whether audiences will still “care” about the characters after such a long layoff.

It’s an entirely valid concern, but also one that Cameron could do little about. That’s because the technology he envisioned for Avatar sequels — such as the underrated motion capture — flat-out didn’t exist. For better or worse, production delays are just a natural byproduct of creating technology out of thin air. As Cameron put it, he eventually “cracked the code” for underwater shots. And that’s more than just motion capture, but also teaching actors how to hold their breath underwater long enough to act out scenes. 

And like all things over the past two years, the COVID-19 outbreak also caused Avatar production to go off the rails. The team was shooting in Australia in early 2020 when the virus outbreak forced production to halt entirely. It ended up being a four-month-long shutdown before filming restarted. 

All four sequels were shot together — which didn’t help production times either. But when you combine all these factors, from the breakthrough technology to the delays to the four-movie workload, it’s believed the sequels will cost Disney a whopping $1 billion to produce. $1 billion! 

That’s why the pressure is so high on Cameron to deliver. Even if you’re a prestigious brand like Disney, a cool $1 billion is not a small write-off. But then again, this is Cameron we’re talking about. He’s at his best when the pressure is on, evident by films like Terminator 2, Titanic, and yes, the first Avatar. All three redefined movies from a tech standpoint and we wouldn’t expect anything less from Avatar sequels. Brace yourselves, film fans!


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Jay Decrame
Linux Certified Engineer, Technology and Linux/Unix enthusiast.

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