Today sees the release of the biggest and best selling movie of all time in the form of the Avatar Extended Collector’s Edition. This edition is seen to be the definitive and after you see everything that’s included on the three Blu-rays (scroll to the bottom of this post), you’ll see why! 6 weeks ago, I was invited by the very nice people at Twentieth Century Fox to go along to a ‘press’ day (that’s right people, I am now press!) hosted by Avatar Director, James Cameron and Producer, John Landau to find out everything there is to know about Avatar, the way it was made and to meet the people behind each part of the movie.

During the event, there were 10 different presentations which ranged from how the 3d worked to how the Na’vi language was created. This all happened after an introduction from James Cameron who was still so passionate about this movie. He really knew everything there was to know about it, from the inside out. Although he assigned various roles to the department heads, it was clear that his creativity and knowledge was very much at the heart of the project and that he was the driving force to push boundaries in every aspect.

I’ve placed the James Cameron / John Landau introduction below where they’ll explain exactly what this event is all about and if you continue to watch, you’ll also see a clip of an alternate opening scene from the movie which was cut out and which you’ll find on the Avatar Extended Collector’s Edition.

Being at the event was incredible and this post is by no means going to do justice to what I saw but I’ll do my best to set the scene. We walked into a studio which is used for filming to be greeted by numerous plasma screen TVs mounted on a rig set either side of a corridor with various behind the scenes footage from being show. Walking a little further in was a set of sofas where the James Cameron introduction and Q&A would take place later but what caught my eye straight away was the huge life-size Amp Suit standing 15+ feet tall at the end of the very large room. Approaching further were multiple props including many machine guns and other weaponry from the movie which we got to play with later on in the day.

Turning the corner further were multiple model heads from the movie which showed all of the main character in their Na’vi form including models of the animals seen in the movie, the machinery used and a TV screen with concept art on a loop. All of which was still dwarfed by this gigantic amp suit which I think all of those attending were rather impressed by!

Moving down the corridor we got to see loads of the costumes used by the cast but these were slightly different to normal since all of what you see used by the Nav’i was digital. Yet still, the costume department (led by Deborah Scott) had to create life-size replicas of the costumes used so that the computer chaps could then create and digitise them all. This whole process really was fascinating and quite difficult to get your head round.

As we continued to walk into the building we realised that an entire motion capture stage had been created with actors dressed in the suits ready to show us how motion capture really works. John Landau was present at this point to give us the run-down on the system which we all got to inspect in great detail. All around the room were cameras ready to capture the actors every movie while on a TV screen, we got to see them in the Pandora world in which they had created in the computer. This is exactly what James Cameron would have seen while shooting the movie.

I think the part that I didn’t really understand before seeing this in action was that once the actors had completed their scene, the footage is my no means locked. Or at least the camera angles. Since there are so many cameras around the room capturing the movements in 3d, it means in post production, a camera angle can be achieved from literally anywhere on the stage. The actors don’t need to re-shoot because their movement are locked but they can then the shown from any angle possible in the world created within the computer.

Other sessions included how the 3d camera worked looking in detail at the system and we also got to see ourselves in 3d, then moving on to how the editing was accomplished using the raw footage shot from the mo-cap stage with Joe Letteri and Stephen Rosenbaum, then learning how the Nav’i language was created with Paul Frommer, how all the botany (plants) from the movie were created  with Jodie Holt and then onto how all the sound effects and score all came together with James Horner and Juan Peralta. FInally we got to speak with Joe Letteri and Stephen Rosenbaum from Digital Effects house WETA who were responsible for the special effects and turning all the motion capture into the shiny bright characters that we have now come to know and love.

The whole event was spectacular, being in the presence of five Oscar winners from one movie was amazing and I felt very privileged to be there. Over the course of the coming week, I’ll bring you a few more posts showing images from the event and giving a little more information from what we learned.

If you haven’t already, have a watch of the video above and it’ll give you a much better insight into the day and what we got the chance to do.

Avatar Extended Collector’s Edition is released on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Content on Disc:

Special Features
This extended collector’s set includes more than eight hours of bonus features.

Disc 1: Three Movie Versions
• Original Theatrical Edition (includes family audio track with objectionable language removed)
• Special Edition Re-Release (includes family audio track with objectionable language removed)
• Collector’s Extended Cut with 16 additional minutes, including alternate opening on earth

Disc 2: Filmmaker’s Journey
• Over 45 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes
• Screen tests, on-set footage, and visual-effects reels
Capturing Avatar: Feature-length documentary covering the 16-year filmmakers’ journey, including interviews with James Cameron, Jon Landau, cast and crew
A Message from Pandora: James Cameron’s visit to the Amazon rainforest
• The 2006 art reel: Original pitch of the Avatar vision
• Brother termite test: Original motion capture test
• The ILM prototype: Visual effects reel
• Screen tests: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana
• Zoë’s life cast: Makeup session footage
• On-set footage as live-action filming begins
• VFX progressions
• Crew film: The Volume

Disc 3: Pandora’s Box
• Interactive scene deconstruction: Explore the stages of production of 17 different scenes through three viewing modes: capture level, template level, and final level with picture-in-picture reference
• Production featurettes: Sculpting Avatar, Creating the Banshee, Creating the Thanator, The AMP Suit, Flying Vehicles, Na’vi Costumes, Speaking Na’vi, Pandora Flora, Stunts, Performance Capture, Virtual Camera, The 3D Fusion Camera, The Simul-Cam, Editing Avatar, Scoring Avatar, Sound Design, The Haka: The Spirit of New Zealand
Avatar original script
Avatar screenplay by James Cameron
Pandorapedia: Comprehensive guide to Pandora
• Lyrics from five songs by James Cameron
• The art of Avatar: Over 1,850 images in 16 themed galleries (The World of Pandora, The Creatures, Pandora Flora, Pandora Bioluminescence, The Na’vi, The Avatars, Maquettes, Na’vi Weapons, Na’vi Props, Na’vi Musical Instruments, RDA Designs, Flying Vehicles, AMP Suit, Human Weapons, Land Vehicles, One-Sheet Concepts)
• BD-Live extras (requires BD-Live-enabled player and Internet connection–may be available a limited-time only): Crew Short: The Night Before Avatar; additional screen tests, including Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, and Laz Alonso; speaking Na’vi rehearsal footage; Weta Workshop: walk-and-talk presentation