It’s been more than a decade since James Cameron introduced groundbreaking photoreal technology in “Avatar,” and he’s set to wow audiences again on Dec. 16 when the highly anticipated sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” opens. This time, he explores the oceans of the film’s fictional planet of Pandora.

Dylan Cole and Ben Procter served as the film’s production designers, building ships, vehicles, the dry world and the dazzling new water world, dividing the mammoth task of expanding Pandora. To that end, Cole focused on Pandora, while Procter handled other items.

In the first film, the jungle-inspired look of Pandora actually came from the oceans. “We mined the oceans and you’ll see that we have [vegetation] that looks like anemones and coral,” says Cole. “This time, we did the opposite, we took land-based stuff and put it under water. We amplified the coral and played with scale.”

When it came to the sapphire-inspired color palette, Cole says water turned everything blue. “We oftentimes made things very brightly colored so that you could retain some color differentiation as we move further away from camera.”

Ryan Champney, virtual production supervisor, takes underwater performance capture to new levels. Cole says Champney did initial water tests in Long Beach before building four different water tanks for the film. “The final one took up an entire soundstage. It was rigged in such a way where the performance capture could capture above and below water,” Cole says. “We have a lot of scenes where people are surfacing or diving, so it wasn’t about just underwater, it was about this transition” to the surface.

Cole and his team designed virtual sets, figuring out what they needed for action, and where to put proxy sets that would hold up in water while making sure sets didn’t cloud the water and the design allowed for “the motion tracking cameras to see all the sensors,” Cole says.

Procter’s points out the new “sea dragon” vehicle featured in the trailer. “It’s a very large vehicle that had to function on so many different levels. … It has a visual metaphor that maybe relates to an animal shape that tweaks your brain in a certain way to see it as a predator. There’s also a technological conceit behind it.”

Procter’s main challenge was the buoyancy of his designs. Building them was one thing, getting them to float was another. “We had to go through a ton of testing and a lot of that was figuring out buoyancy and how something’s sitting in the water,” he says.

A joy for Procter was that one of the boats ended up being built as a full-runner vehicle. “We built this 1,000-horsepower, fast, 42 knots boat. Jim said, ‘I want to see it jump waves, make it jump,” Procter recalls. “We used it for photography, but most of the extreme dynamics are computer-generated, but they’re based directly on captured data tests that we ran.”