'Avatar' gets top billing at Seattle museum

June 2, 2011 - 4:43 AM
Avatar Exhibit

Brooks Peck, an associate curator at the Experience Music Project, stands next to a figure of Jake Sully's avatar character from the movie

SEATTLE (AP) — A music and popular culture museum in Seattle is banking on fans of the Oscar-winning film "Avatar" to take in a new exhibit on how director James Cameron brought Pandora and its inhabitants to the big screen.

The exhibit at the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame opens at noon Saturday after a Friday event featuring Cameron, some of the movie actors and Richie Baneham, who won the Academy Award for best visual effects.

The goal is to educate and entertain, but not go so deeply into the "Avatar" world that it resembles an amusement park, museum associate curator Brooks Peck said. It will be the first of its kind to showcase artwork and props from the blockbuster film.

The exhibit at the museum — built by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen — should also appeal to people interested in the science and technology behind movie making and set design. Anyone who heads straight to the interactive displays when they visit a museum may be surprised by how much of a taste they will get of how the movie and the world of Pandora were created.

Visitors can try a virtual camera, like the one Cameron used, to see how the motion capture filming of the actors fit in with the virtual world created on computers. The gadget was created especially for the exhibit, which took more than a year to develop, Peck said.

Another interactive allows visitors to take the place of an actor from the film using motion capture technology. Cameron "directs" the guest actor in a scene and afterward they can watch themselves and their avatar on a video screen and post a copy on YouTube.

The main part of the exhibit experiences night and day with the lighting cycling back and forth about every 20 minutes. Tendril-like light tubes hang from the ceiling and change colors as the time switches.

The 40 artifacts on display from the film — which is a combination of live action and animation — include the skeletal robot weapon or "Amplified Mobility Platform" used as a weapon in the film and the motion-capture suit worn for filming by one of the actors. The robot is only 13.5 feet tall in real life but everything in the movie is larger than human scale and the exhibit illustrates this fact with a giant backpack and some giant shoes just waiting for a giggling 4-year-old to try on.

The exhibit is populated with the original sketches and models of the Na'vi people and creatures that guided the animators, from models of the heads of the main characters to intricate, feather-and-bead covered head pieces and necklaces,

Some of the art is used as a basis for two other interactive modules: a create-your-own Pandora plant station and a large touch screen library of hundreds of drawings and short films.

One of the coolest parts of the exhibit is located before the entrance: a large screen showing what appears to be a film of the Na'vi forest, but when visitors step closer, they'll be able to interact with the playful "woodsprites" floating around. Peck said he hopes this screen will keep people entertained if they have to wait to get into the exhibit.

A few steps back from the exhibit, clips from the movie will loop on the EMPs giant screens along with clips from other science fiction flicks.

The exhibit is expected to travel to other museums in the United States and Canada — the EMP is in talks with museums in Canada, Chicago and the East Coast — but not until it finishes its run in Seattle in late 2012.

Cameron brought the idea for the exhibit directly to Allen a few years ago and asked if he wanted to work together to bring the world of Pandora to the public, EMP spokeswoman Anita Woo said. The exhibit was created in partnership with Twentieth Century Fox and Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment and Woo said Cameron was involved throughout development.

The museum won't have timed entries or an extra charge to see the Avatar exhibit. Visitors will have access to all the museum's exhibits including a recently opened retrospective on Nirvana and Seattle's grunge music scene.

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Donna Blankinship can be reached at http://twitter.com/dgblankinship

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Online:

EMP: http://www.empmuseum.org/index.asp