CGSociety (Computer Graphics Society - the society for digital artists) interviewed Jeff Unay, the Facial Lead at Weta Digital (Peter Jackson's production studio) about his experiences in production with James Cameron on AVATAR. With nine Oscar nominations, including one for Visual Effects, the crew on AVATAR have broken new ground in digital animation.
Transforming the actor's performances from the sound stage actions into digital animation required new technology that was developed to capture close up video of the actors' faces through the use of a helmet with a small camera pointed a few inches away from the actors' faces. This provided a record of what the actor's faces were doing at all times.
Andy Jones, Weta's Animation Director on AVATAR, oversaw the character and creature performances from all stages of production to ensure continuity between motion capture, motion edit and keyframe animation.
The Weta facial team is the group that designs and constructs the various facial rigs that are driven by the motion capture and animation departments. They use the face cam video as reference to learn how each actor uses their face during performances by breaking down the expression into what facial muscles they're activating.
The Facial Team at Weta working on AVATAR was made up primarily of 12 people, nine modelers and three creature TDs. The modelers were Peter Syomka, Jinwoo Lee, Mark Haenga, Howard Sly, Maurizio Memoli, Roja Huchez, Ramahan Faulk, Alessandro Bonora and Jeff Unway.
The creature TDs were Steve Cullingford, Ron Miller and Marco Barbati. This team of 12 people delivered over 100 hero level facial puppets for the AVATARs, Na'vis, digital doubles and creatures.
Click on the heading above to see the interview with photos at the CGSociety website.