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Avatar 2 Will Take James Cameron’s Performance Capture Tech Underwater

Avatar 2, the long-awaited sequel to the highest grossing film of all time, required years of research to work out the kinks of underwater performance capture.


At this point, it may be hard to believe that Avatar 2 will ever come out.

With the release date currently set for December 15, 2022, the long-awaited sequel will arrive nearly 13 years after James Cameron first took audiences on a guided tour of Pandora (and after multiple delays). Its progress may have been slowed by Cameron’s ambition for the series’ return: the new film is set to be followed by three more sequels. As such, and as reported by Entertainment Weekly, the intervening decade-plus has been filled with research.

Cameron said that the massive success of the first film gave him the clout to dedicate the necessary time and resources to the project. "It sounds kind of nuts, the process," he said. "I mean, if Avatar hadn't made so much damn money, we'd never do this--because it's kind of crazy."

The resulting film is set similarly far in the future, 14 years after the events of the first. Cast members Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldaña are returning, and the sequel will focus, in part, on their preteen children.

Cameron’s decision to set the second film primarily in the ocean and on the surrounding land required “years of technological research and months of training actors to hold their breath for lengths that would impress even a Navy SEAL.” EW reports that returning cast member Sigourney Weaver “could easily” hold her breath for over six minutes, while newcomer Kate Winslet topped out at seven-and-a-half. Avatar 3 will have a similar setting, and both films feature a new aquatic Na'vi tribe called the Metkayina.

Winslet and Weaver's feats of endurance were required because Cameron didn't want to shoot “dry-for-wet,” meaning he rejected the option to shoot underwater scenes on land with the aid of wires. But, scuba equipment and the resulting air bubbles would have interfered with the performance capture technology, which required significant work in order to be adapted to working underwater. So, each actor had to undergo training with professional divers in order to learn to hold their breath for extended periods of time.

As Avatar 2 is being prepped for next year, principal photography on its sequel is already complete. Avatar 3 is set to release in 2024, with the subsequent films following in 2026 and 2028. Cameron expressed uncertainty about the state of the box office these films will be released to, as theaters have not fully rebounded from the pandemic-induced slump.

"The big issue is: Are we going to make any damn money?" Cameron said. "Big, expensive films have got to make a lot of money. We're in a new world post-COVID, post-streaming. Maybe those [box office] numbers will never be seen again. Who knows? It's all a big roll of the dice."

Fortunately for Cameron, effects-driven blockbuster sequels have performed best during the pandemic. The top five domestic releases of 2021 — Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Black Widow, F9: The Fast Saga, and Eternals — are all new films in existing franchises. But, can Avatar 2, a sequel to a film released before the full-on cultural dominance of the MCU, still perform as well as its predecessor, a film buoyed by cutting edge 3D effects, managed to in 2009. Only time will tell.

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