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Madonna’s Microphone Style Inspired James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ Cinematography

Producer Jon Landau was hung up on Madonna's use of "pore-by-pore level" intimacy onstage.



20th Century Fox

Turns out James Cameron got some of his material from the “Material Girl” herself.

The “Avatar” writer/director was inspired by Madonna’s microphone placement during her concerts and found himself “Hung Up” on the concept of staying close to actors during action sequences.

“Avatar,” which will be re-released in theaters September 23 ahead of the sequel “Avatar: The Way of Water,” premiered in 2009 with Sam Worthington starring as a former Marine who travels to planet Pandora and falls in love with a Na’vi woman, played by Zoe Saldana. The lush world of Pandora and its linked Avatars were best suited to be showcased onscreen with the same action as Madonna’s onstage performances.

“If Madonna can be bouncing around with a microphone in her face and give a great performance, we thought, ‘Let’s replace that microphone with a video camera,'” producer Jon Landau told The New York Times. “That video camera stays with the actor while we’re capturing the performance, and while we don’t use that image itself, we give it to the visual-effects company, and they render it in a frame-by-frame, almost pore-by-pore level.”

Landau continued, “Motion capture to us has always been lacking one very key letter in front of it: E. E-motion Capture.”

Cameron and Landau opted for an image-based process inspired by the concert industry, per the NYT. Madonna was the perfect basis for global superstardom to replicate onscreen with a small square camera placed in front of the “Avatar” casts’ mouths to intimately record their facial expressions to make the special effects as realistic looking as possible.

Production for “Avatar: The Way of Water” has also pioneered new technical feats, including actors like Kate Winslet being submerged for minutes at a time to film underwater sequences.

“I said, ‘It’s not going to work. It’s not going to look real,'” Cameron said earlier this year. “I even let them run a test, where we captured dry for wet, and then we captured in water, a crude level of our in-water capture. And it wasn’t even close.”

James Cameron’s sequel “Avatar: The Way of Water” premieres in theaters on December 16.

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