‘Troupe’ gears up for ‘Avatar’

Performance-capture artists on set for years

The “Avatar” filmmakers often found themselves in jobs so new there was no name for them.

So it was for “The Troupe,” those who worked on the performance-capture stage, wearing markers and suits, for a relative eternity.

“They were our family for three years,” says James Cameron. “We worked together every single day.”

Among those who worked longest were Jahnel Curfman, Kevin Dorman, Woody Schultz and Julene Renee.

“They’re actors,” Cameron says. “They’re also gymnasts, dancers, vocal performers and utterly fearless to do anything, whether it’s a stunt or sing a song in Na’vi or dance or whatever it is. Three or four of them wound up playing probably most, if not all, the parts in the movie at one time or another.”

Schultz, who with Renee also played one of the med techs who test Jake when he first tries his avatar body, calls “Avatar” “the hardest and most exciting thing that I’ve ever been a part of in my professional career.”

The Troupe did “virtual scouts,” pre-blocking the stars’ scenes on Pandora. Renee recalls Cameron would say, “‘OK, you’re standing in the middle of a tree. You have to scoot to the left.’ We had to map out the entire world.”

By the end, says Renee, “We had the same relationship as the Na’vi people in Hometree: Each person needs everybody.”