You did some shooting in China and Hawaii. Where were you?
I just thought it was important, if the actors were going to play these characters living in a rainforest, that we should go and do a kind of sense memory exercise acting exercise in a real rainforest.
So we went to Hawaii, up onto the hills in Kauai. And they don't call it a rainforest for nothing. It was raining pretty much the whole time and we just had a great time. We rehearsed scenes; got into character. We figured out how you walk, how you move in a forest.
Of course, they had all done that before but it's different when you try to remember all that, to bring it back into a very sterile shooting environment where we did our performance capture so that's what the Hawaii thing was all about.
Where were you in Hawaii?
We were in Kauai. Way up in the hills, up in the mountains. It was really wonderful.
And then China; we didn't go as a unit to China. We just sent somebody over to take some pictures, take some stills because we had references from all over the world, really. Most of it we just sort of nicked from magazines and books. But I actually wanted somebody to go to the Yellow Mountains and photograph these rock structures we were using as a guide for the floating mountains in the movie.
There's an interesting full-circle thing where there's one mountain in particular that we used as a guide for the main floating mountain and they have actually named it, in China, "The Avatar Mountain". That's life imitating art, imitating life I guess.
When creating another planet did you draw on your own travel experiences, places you have been, or was it really just another world?
Well you know you can't just do another world from a clean slate. You have to have reference to the real world or people are not going to feel grounded in a sense of reality.
For me it was every scuba dive I had made in a coral reef, every deep-sea dive to the deep ocean, hydra-thermal vats and so on and lots and lots of pictures from magazines. And everyone brought their experience; all the different artists brought their experiences from their various travels and studies so it was a really fun time. We spent two years designing this world.
You spent some time in New Zealand. How was that?
We spent a lot of time in New Zealand. We had four months of shooting the live-action part of the film and then we worked with a New Zealand company for four years. A lot of that was done remotely by teleconference, but I made an awful lot of trips to New Zealand. I love New Zealand; it's spectacular.
Have you been to Australia?
I have been to Australia a number of times and we just finished shooting a film in Australia called Sanctum
, which my co-expedition leader produced. Andrew White had worked with me on the deep-ocean films, produced a film called Sanctum
there starring Richard Roxburgh.
What's your vacation spot when you're not immersed in all these other worlds?
I'm not going to say because I don't want everyone showing up there. But I will say it's a group of islands in the South Pacific with excellent diving.
So you're a water guy?
I am a water guy. I gotta go by the water.
What was your favourite Australian travel experience?
Well it was my first experience on the Gold Coast. So going into Brisbane and then driving out to the Gold Coast studio there, where we did our underwater filming. I was very impressed by the climate and the beauty of the land.