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PLANET BUILDING . . . JAMES CAMERON STYLE (PART TWO)


 

Pandora’s many wonders include the world’s neural network, through which all its plant and animal life are connected . . .

Akin to a human nervous system, this network enables all life on Pandora to function as a single harmonious system. The center of this network – and the moon’s heart and brain –is a massive, gnarled and ancient willow tree that is the Na’vi epicenter, an extension of their lifeblood, and a place of regeneration and knowledge. This “Tree of Souls” is situated at the center of Pandora’s most powerful magnetic field, the Flux Vortex. Eons ago the invisible field created the unusual geological formations of arches that form rainbows of stone, above a deep caldera, with the Tree of Souls at its center.

Living amidst these incredible environments are myriad creatures, some of which were created by Avatar’s in-house creature design team under Neville Page, with the others designed by John Rosengrant’s team at Stan Winston Studios. The most fearsome of Pandoran creatures is the Thanator. “The Thanator could eat a T-Rex and have the Alien for dessert,” says the filmmaker. “It’s the panther from hell.” Then there are the Viperwolves, which Cameron describes as “hairless with shiny skin that looks like overlapped armor. Most disturbing are its paws, which are like leathery hands.”

A winged creature known as the Banshee is a key figure in Jake’s journey; in a Na’vi rite of passage, Jake must dominate and ride a banshee to assume a rightful position in the clan community. The test’s stakes are further heightened by the fact that the banshee that most wants to kill him is the “chosen one” he must capture.

"The Thanator could eat a T-Rex and have the Alien for dessert. It’s the panther from hell!"

Pandora’s Direhorses, as the name suggests, resemble in some ways terrestrial horses – but with several important flourishes as conceived and designed by Stan Winston Studios and Cameron, the latter describing the animal as a “six-legged alien Clydesdale with moth-like antennae.”

Pandora’s diverse menagerie also includes the deer-like Hexapede; the ferocious Hammerhead Titanothere, a rhinoceros-like herbivore with a bad attitude and a head like a sledgehammer; and the Leonopteryx, a the king predator of the sky, striped scarlet, yellow and black, with an 80-foot wingspan. A smaller and gentler Pandoran species is the jellyfish-like Woodsprite, which waves silky tendrils to move gracefully through the night air. Called Atokirina by the Na’vi, they are actually seeds of the sacred Utraya Mokri “Tree of Voices,” and thus an important part of the “soul” of the rainforest. When they land upon Jake, Neytiri interprets this as an important sign, and things take an unexpected turn.

Academy Award winner Richard Taylor and his team at WETA Workshop designed props and weapons for both the Na’vi and the heavily armed RDA. While renowned artist TyRuben Ellingson designed many of the vehicles used by the military forces based at Hell’s Gate –and which figure prominently in the an epic third-act battle pitting machine against banshee, and hardened soldier against Na’vi warrior.

The AMP Suit (“AMP” is an acronym for “Amplified Mobility Platform”) “amplifies” the movements of its human operator. The AMP Suits and their soldier occupants are transported by what is perhaps the RDA’s deadliest aircraft – the C-21 Dragon Gunship. This giant rotorcraft resembles a predatory insect and has multiple canopies.

Almost as destructive is the AT-99 Scorpion Gunship, a high speed, highly maneuverable military attack aircraft. And on a world with no landing strips, these tilt-rotor aircraft have the important capability of vertical takeoffs and landings. While the military aerial vehicles in Avatar are futuristic rotorcraft, they were intended to seem as familiar as the Huey gunships of the Vietnam era, to ground the audience in a strong sense of reality.

Avatar’s largest vehicle, over a kilometer in length, is the ISV Venture Star, an interstellar ship that transports RDA personnel – including Jake –to Pandora. Its antimatter engines propel it to seven tenths the speed of light, but the voyage to Pandora still takes almost six years, during which time the passengers are frozen in cryogenic suspended animation. To reach the planet’s surface from orbit, the newcomers board the Valkyrie TAV (Trans-Atmospheric Vehicle), a distant descendant of the space shuttle.

The costume designs by Mayes C. Rubeo and Deborah L. Scott provide yet another gateway into the Na’vi culture. Although many of the costumes and accessories are worn by CG creations, the items were created practically, to best communicate the subtleties of the costume textures, the weaving styles, and the translucency of the jewelry. Practicality and comfort define the Na’vi clothing, reflecting the grace and beauty of Pandora’s indigenous people.
 

- Taken from the production notes
 


 



 

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