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What Producer Jon Landau Thinks Avatar: The Way Of Water Accomplishes That The Original Couldn't

Having officially crossed the $1 billion benchmark (per Variety), "Avatar: The Way of Water" has proven to be a triumph for director James Cameron and the ambitious Pandora project as a whole. In the lead-up to the film's release, much was made of how Cameron and the team at Wētā pioneered visual effects with the sequel, featuring a staggering 3,240 VFX shots (nearly 1,000 more than "Avengers: Endgame," via Insider) almost unanimously focusing on water — an element notoriously difficult to recreate on a computer (per the New York Times).

Even animated films struggle with this — as Creative Bloq recounts, Disney's "Moana," with its island setting and aquatic sorcery, challenged VFX house Industrial Light & Magic to go beyond what they had previously accomplished. "Avatar" producer John Landau teased that the sequels will continue to explore new biomes on Pandora, which will likely stretch Wētā even further than "The Way of Water" did. 

Digitally recreating water is just one feather in the VFX cap of this "Avatar" sequel, however. The cast is also almost entirely comprised of actors performing as Na'vi through motion capture. Relying on computer-generated characters would be audacious enough, but "The Way of Water" takes it a step further by having them physically interact with real human actors. Though this happened during certain moments of the original "Avatar," Landau recently admitted that this level of realism simply wasn't possible until now.

It's all about the close-up

In an interview with Collider, producer John Landau opened up about how impressed he was by the technical achievements made since the first "Avatar" film. To him, the amount of detail on the sequel's many computer-generated characters gave them a "photo-reality," which in turn allowed them to be treated and shot like human actors.

"Where we really got to on this movie is about the close-up," he told Collider. "I think that when you see Jake [Sully] and Neytiri and you see [their son] Lo'ak, and his feeling — we could not rise to that level of performance on the first film ... In this movie, we have those CG characters standing right next to human characters and you don't even think twice about it." Indeed, "The Way of Water" allows the camera to linger incredibly close to many Na'vi faces throughout the film, giving the audience a chance to appreciate the emotional performances given by the cast. For some viewers, this intimacy may have even been crucial to empathizing with the Na'vi struggle.

James Cameron has also spoken with the press about the film's undeniably impressive visual effects, making a comparison to what many consider to be Marvel Studios' best CG character. Speaking with Brandon Davis of ComicBook.com, he stated, "Industrial Light & Magic [the VFX studio responsible for the MCU] does great work, but when it comes to the kind of emotive facial stuff that we're doing ... Thanos? Come on. Give me a break ... It's not even close."