Autodesk says “zola'u nìprrte'” to James Cameron

For those who don’t know, “zola'u nìprrte'” is Na’vi for “welcome”


Friday was no ordinary day at Autodesk in Montréal. Academy Award-winning director and virtual production pioneer James Cameron stopped by for a special visit – along with Lightstorm Entertainment Producer Jon Landau, VFX Supervisor Richie Baneham and President of Franchise Development Kathy Franklin.


This visit gave Autodesk a great opportunity to celebrate our longstanding relationship with Cameron, Lightstorm and Weta Digital and also to recognize the technical strides that we’ve made together since “Avatar” was first released in 2009. As we continue to collaborate and build upon the virtual production workflow and technologies established for the first film, we’re integrating those tools into products like the Entertainment Creation Suite, so that all filmmakers can benefit.

The team was in town for the C2MTL Commerce + Creativity conference, where Cameron announced a new partnership with Cirque du Soleil. Cameron and his Lightstorm Entertainment team joined an enthusiastic crowd of Autodesk employees to talk about their latest work for the upcoming “Avatar” movies.


There were more than 100 Montreal-based employees in attendance, and many more dialed in for live-stream video viewing from all corners of the globe. Autodesk Media & Entertainment Vice President for Film & TV Solutions Marc Stevens kicked off the special event by playing a behind-the-scenes video that showcased the virtual production process for the upcoming “Avatar” sequels and showed off some amazing 3D environments.


In the video, Dan Neufeldt, Virtual Production Supervisor says, “MotionBuilder is our core virtual production tool, we can run an entire virtual production process within it.” Autodesk’s own Virtual Production Designer Joel Pennington is also interviewed in the video – he spent 3 years embedded with the Lightstorm team and working with WETA in New Zealand. . Joel says, “We implemented many new features, such as an API to completely change MotionBuilder’s renderer. With this new API, anyone can put their own renderer in MotionBuilder and make it suit their production.” Neufeldt added, “We will have Jim [Cameron] direct the lighting and the shading to a much closer approximation of the final render which will let the initial shots back from WETA be much closer to his vision.” Many of the key virtual production innovations developed on set will benefit MotionBuilder and Maya users as new features are added into the respective software packages. As Joel says, “It has been fantastic working for the preparation and production of the next Avatar films. MotionBuilder would not be where it is now if Lightstorm and WETA Digital had not pushed us.”

After the video presentation, David Morin, Autodesk Senior Director of Media & Entertainment Industry Relations and Business Development took the floor to moderate a candid Q&A with Cameron and crew. Cameron and his team praised Autodesk’s partnership and collaborative spirit on the films and continued development of MotionBuilder 3D character animation software.


“Thanks to everyone here who’s been working on MotionBuilder,” said Cameron. “It’s the heart of our production methodology. We’ve stretched the concept of what the software was supposed to be and truly appreciate how Autodesk has stepped up to create all of the things we need.”

Jon Landau added, “Thank you to everyone, from Carl [Autodesk CEO] to Chris [Autodesk Senior VP] to David [Morin]. We have always felt that we’re in this together. So I want to say thank you.”

Cameron, Landau and Richie Baneham dished out personal anecdotes and lessons learned during production on the first “Avatar,” in addition to tidbits about the sequels currently in production. And Kathy Franklin called her recent visit to the Autodesk Pier 9 Workshop in San Francisco, “the most fun ever.”  


Throughout the Q&A, the group also revealed their insights about the future of filmmaking, rapidly advancing technologies; the promise of Virtual Reality as a potential new cinematic art form with the recent buzz around Oculus Rift; and the hope for technology making their jobs that much easier.

“Avatar” broke many filmmaking barriers: it was one of the first virtual productions, it pushed 3D to create an immersive environment and, of course, the movie set a few box office records. The collaboration has been exciting for Autodesk and has lead to the democratization of technology for filmmakers around the word.


Thanks again to James Cameron, Jon Landau Richie Baneham and Kathy Franklin for joining us last week, and to Weta Digital for its ongoing collaboration. We’re looking forward to sharing more about the sequels when Avatar 2 & 3 hit theatres….stay tuned.