‘Avatar’ ups the ante

Wins for art direction, cinematography and visual effects

“Avatar’s Oscar wins for art direction, cinematography and visual effects will likely be seen as Hollywood’s official stamp on the pic as a “game-changer” for filmmaking.

But what game is it going to change, exactly? Will it usher in a new era of ultra-high-tech movies, as “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park” did before it? Or will it prove — to borrow a phrase — an “unrepeatable phenomenon”?

The answer depends on what part of the business you look at … and who you ask.

“Avatar” is clearly a game-changer for 3D movies. Simply by being nommed for best picture it proved that stereoscopic 3D has moved beyond gimmickry and can have a place in Oscar-worthy movies.

More importantly, auds’ enthusiasm for “Avatar” in 3D, even at higher ticket prices, and the record-breaking grosses that resulted, have the majors rushing to either shoot tentpoles in 3D (Sony’s “Spider-Man 4”) or convert them in post (Warner’s “Clash of the Titans”). Theater owners, too, are scrambling to go 3D, even in theaters that haven’t gone digital.

With its vfx Oscar, pic will be seen as a triumph of visual effects, even though it doesn’t debut revolutionary new techniques as “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park” did.

Instead, as Oscar winner John Knoll told Variety, “Avatar” reinvented filmmaking by “the sum total of all the procedures that were put into place.”

“Avatar” may have its greatest impact, though, in the minds of filmmakers.

Eric Barba, last year’s Oscar-winning vfx supervisor for “Benjamin Button,” said, “What he’s done is inspire us. Look what we can do when we have all these tools to tell our story. I think every tentpole made after it will try to replicate that recipe for success.”

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