Stuntmen find a place in new digital landscape

With the release of James Cameron’s “Avatar” today, the helmer introduces new motion-capture technology that would seem to make the job of stuntmen obsolete, but in fact, the opposite has resulted.

Not only have directors like Cameron continued to use stunt crews on their pics, but stuntmen have adapted to the new technology and found new ways to contribute to a shoot.

Garrett Warren, stunt coordinator for “Avatar,” says that stunt crews have undertaken new responsibilities that weren’t part of their job description 10 years ago.

The stunt crew’s job on a film like this is trying to help create and facilitate all of the action and movements you would see in the real world,” Warren said. “One example I can give is if one of our actors is suppose to ride the back of a bear, it may not look like a stunt, but it’s our job to help create that look and movement of that bear for the motion capture team since we can’t have a bear doing all the movements. So we do all the research and development on what the movements are and then create an apparatus of some kind that would give off all the proper movements of that creature.”

Warren has been a stuntman for more than 15 years but as of late has been the go-to guy to for stunt work on any film dealing with motion-capture technology.

Warren has headed up the stunt team for “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” “Avatar” Steven Spielberg’s upcoming “Adventures of Tintin.”

Warren says it was Robert Zemeckis who brought him into this world during the filming of Beowulf” and says it was his creativity that helped lead to future jobs on other motion-capture films. “With being a stunt coordinator on a film like ‘Avatar’ or ‘Beowulf,’ I had to be as creative as possible and really use my imagination for coming up with stuff like the Grendel fight scene,” he said.

Having worked with several different filmmakers in motion capture, Warren says Cameron brought a meticulous, scientifically oriented mind, which helped since they weren’t researching movements but practically inventing them for each alien species.

Besides being a great storyteller, Jim knows every screw to what’s going on this film,” Warren said. “He would give us his ideas for how he wanted a particular creature to move or act, we’d begin working on it, and then later he would come in and put his tweaks on it, so he was very hands throughout the whole process.”

While films like “Avatar” haven’t eliminated stuntmen by any means, they have decreased the number of jobs available for each film.

With “Titanic,” Cameron used close to 150 stuntmen; on “Avatar” the number was a shade over 50.

Warren doesn’t worry too much about this predicament, adding that the past may have already given us an idea about how technology and stuntmen can work together in the future.

For years now they have been using ‘massive-capture’ in films, which is a process where you shoot something like a big battle scene and, since you can’t have thousands of men fighting, they add a lot of them in digitally. A lot of those digital doubles are stuntmen performing all of the movements,” he said. “It may not be quite the same as what Jim is doing, but it is a whole lot smarter to be using this type of technology on such large-scale films like ‘Avatar’ when extras are sparse.”

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