Daniel Restuccio
Issue: January 1, 2010


HOLLYWOOD — There’s an adage in Hollywood that there’s making the movie and there’s getting the movie made. It’s debatable which is harder, but one can’t happen without the other, and producer Jon Landau made that clear during an interview we had with him at the recent Adobe Max Conference. He discussed the role that Adobe software played in James Cameron’s epic, sci-fi adventure movie Avatar, on which Landau served as a producer.
After Landau and Cameron went to 20th Century Fox in 2005  and got the go-ahead to make this movie, he  says the first piece of software the production bought was Adobe Photoshop.
“On Avatar, one of the exciting things is that it creates a whole new universe.” They used Photoshop right at the beginning to do preliminary concept work and then later in the process to create texture maps for characters and matte paintings. “Four artists came on board,” he says, “to work with our production designer and started putting pen to paper and mouse to machine.”
That was just the beginning. Avatar also used In-Design, After Effects, Connect, Lightroom and Premiere Pro throughout the overall design and performance-capture phase of the production.
In-Design was called on to prepare print documents, such as concept art and storyboards that would be distributed to the production team. “We used Lightroom,” explains Landau, because they had over 10,000 images on the movie “that we documented and that we were able to track and catalog and use all the metadata.
“We also put together an art reel,” he continues Landau. “Where we took the concept art, worked with it in After Effects created some moves on it, effects and different things. We added ADR voices on top and I had the executives sit in the Lightstorm screening room and watch the ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of the movie set to Photoshop images.”
After Effects was also a key tool for them during production so they could show Cameron material right on the set where a CG character or live actor on greenscreen would be composited on to a background. 
During the performance capture, multiple HD cameras would shoot close-ups of the actors’ faces. Those video faces were combined with basic rigged characters so the director could see the actual actors’ facial expressions on their Navi characters. That footage got dubbed the “Kabuki mask” versions, because of how the video faces looked pasted on to the CG heads.
Landau recalls, “We were doing a shoot and one of our key artists could not be on the set. Thanks to Adobe Connect he was able to access computers that we had on the set and work with an artist who was not as familiar with what we were doing, and it was as if [simulcam supervisor] Casey Schatz was there.”
Adobe’s video editing software Premiere Pro, notes Landau, was an active tool in their production lab facility. Artists used it to “check stereo space,” since Avatar was being released in both a flat and 3D version.
“The way I look at it,” concludes Landau, “there are certain software tools that enable you to do your job and there are other software tools that enable you to do your job better. And that’s what we have found with all the Adobe products that we worked with throughout the course of Avatar.”