How Dolby worked with James Cameron to return to the world of “Avatar”
When “Avatar: The Way of Water” director James Cameron decided to take audiences back to Pandora, he really wanted to do that. “James knew there was only one partner that he trusted to ensure people were really transported to his world,” said Jed Harmsen, head of Dolby Labratories’ cinema and group entertainment. “It was us and we were honored and wanted to make right on our promise.”
The promise of Dolby’s partnership with filmmakers and theatrical exhibitors is simple according to Harmsen: to provide the best moviegoing experience anyone can have. Dolby accomplishes this through their proprietary technology created for sound (Dolby Atmos) and picture (Dolby Vision/3D). The combination of them both to create Dolby Cinema in partnership with exhibitors is how Cameron wanted to present his long-awaited epic.
Working collaboratively with Cameron, producer Jon Landau, their Lightstorm Entertainment banner, and legendary digital production company Wētā FX worked alongside Dolby engineers to create tools so that filmmakers could already make content that would format perfectly for Dolby Cinema presentation, allowing filmmakers to fully and authentically express their storytelling intentions on screen.
“Our mission always is to give creative talent an ever-expansive palette of colors to allow them to tell their stories in more evocative ways,” said Harmsen. He continued, “It’s a creative freedom that allows for a whole new sandbox for creatives to play in.”
One of the more unique challenges that came with discussions with Cameron was to be able to show the movie in 3D. Since the film clocks in with a runtime of over three hours, Dolby engineers needed to create a format and accompanying spectacles that wouldn’t be uncomfortable for audiences since traditional 3D can cause headaches and eye strain. According to Harmsen, Dolby Vision 3D accounted for that and made a system that would rid all of those traditional 3D symptoms for the entire length of “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
The relationship between Dolby and the Avatar filmmakers was mutual, however, with Harmsen saying that collaboration meant that Cameron, in his signature way, challenged their engineers to think bigger as well. “Jim is a master craftsman of how to use our tools, but he often made us think more about our tools and how we could make them better or to develop new ones to just make all movies better,” Harmsen said.
And that desire to make movies better is the special hope that Harmsen and the Dolby team are holding as audiences go out and see the sequel Avatar film.
“It’s been a tough past few years for the movie industry with the pandemic, but I can’t think of a better film made by a better group of people who can essentially welcome audiences back into cinemas. We’re all incredibly proud of this collaboration,” Harmsen said.