Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fantasy World Building and Avatar

The Space Needle over the EMP/SFM
Over the Fourth of July weekend, Vinod and I visited the EMP/SFM (translation: the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame) in Seattle Center to see the Avatar Exhibition. The collections are housed in a Gehry-designed building that looks a lot more interesting up close with its varying colors and textures of metal than it does at a distance, from which it looks like a smooshed blob of Play-doh. The Science Fiction Museum normally contains a collection of historically important science fiction books along with a timeline of the development of the genre in various media, as well as props, production art and costumes from science fiction and fantasy movies and TV shows. The first time we visited I had hoped to see the alien queen from Aliens, but apparently she's either away for repairs or was blasted out of an airlock.

For the Avatar exhibit, they must have moved out all the usual displays to make space for the installation, which they modeled after some of the sets from the movie.

Wayne Barlowe creature sketches
While I'm not particularly a fan of Avatar as a movie, I was impressed by the special effects, and like many other artists I appreciated the thought and time put into the character, environment and creature designs. When creating a fantasy or science fiction world, it's important that the world feels plausible, and the people who worked on this film did an excellent job immersing the viewer in the world of Pandora.
Bust of Neytiri
Reproduction of one of the creature maquettes. The magic "Pandora lighting" made it difficult to photograph some of the items in the exhibit.

There are many things to take into consideration when building an imaginary world. Artists need to keep in mind what they want to say about their world, and how to keep things realistic and consistent within the rules of the world they have set up. When developing a fictional world, an artist should consider:

• how to make the world look lived-in
• keeping the look of items, clothing and technology consistent across certain cultures or groups
• how items are made and from what
• how and for what purpose items are used
• adaptations of both humanoid and non-humanoid creatures and how those adaptations allow them to fit into their environment
• how creatures or people use, shape or change their environment

Neytiri's necklace
Na'vi knife

One of the most innovative parts of the exhibit was an interactive installation consisting of a large horizontal touchscreen that mimicked the screens people used in the movie. A series of coaster-like plastic cards could be placed on the screen to activate images of production art such as the design of the Na'vi, creatures of Pandora, etc. This was my favorite part of the exhibit and I wish there had been more installations like this showcasing the production art rather than the gimmicky "Take a picture of yourself next to these giant shoes!" stuff they had.

Another section of the museum had a circa 1970's chimpanzee torture device...

We were pleasantly surprised to see a Spinner from Blade Runner on our way out of the museum. Somehow we missed it on our previous visit.

For pictures of the Avatar exhibit space and additional information, check out the museum's Avatar Exhibition webpage.

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