Giovanni Ribisi: Avatar’s Biggest 3-D Convert?

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There’s already been a whole lot of talk out there about Avatar – about the quality of the writing, the imagination of the special effects, and the brilliance of a motion capture process that made the Na’vi just about the most believable fictional beings in the history of movies. (Read our morning-after review, and the transcript of our Techland roundtable).

But what’s been less discussed is the way that the movie has already converted some serious Hollywood heavyweights to James Cameron’s way of thinking. Not only did Fox fund the Avatar experiment for a year without seeing any significant footage, but just a few nights ago Sigourney Weaver was on The Daily Show, touting Cameron’s motion capture approach as the future of acting.

And more than seemingly anyone else, Cameron’s 3-D euphoria has changed the life of Avatar star Giovanni Ribisi – the man who plays the bean counter of sorts in the film, deciding when to utilize the military option to wipe out the Na’vi in order to gain access to the precious unobtanium under their village.

“I had gotten involved in CG and visual effects a while back – it’s fascinating to me and ultimately I want to direct, so it’s important to know this part of the language. So I became a partner with the company Stereo D that actually did a portion of the 3-D work for Avatar, converting 2-D images into 3-D,” Ribisi said during an interview earlier this week. He noted that as far back as 2004’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, he started to fully appreciate the ways in which 3-Dspecial effects could create entire worlds. “Here it finally was. Somebody made a full-length feature film of epic proportions, creating a universe you could explore all on the computer, and I definitely wanted to be able to understand and work with that. Think of that power.”

So for Avatar, Ribisi not only took to the set as performer for some of the film’s most fascinating live-action sequences but then spearheaded his company’s efforts to win bids to do some of the film’s overwhelming 3-D work. “All these companies did demos, trying to hop on board, and then we won the contract to handle some of the Avatar images. And Jim didn’t even know anything about the fact that we were trying to compete for this; when he found out he sort of looked at me and said: ‘I could tell that about you, you’re one of those people who needs to keep their mind busy.’”

In the wake of Avatar, Ribisi’s Stereo D has worked closely with Hewlett-Packard in upgrading to state-of-the-art hardware – much of the same standardized hardware that outfits DreamWorks’s 3-D studios – and the actor has gotten used to 18-hour days spent hunched over computers, pushing a 3-D image to the point of perfection.

Will Avatar change movie forever? Who knows. But Cameron has convinced at least one of his actors to throw all of his creative energies into a 3-D state of mind. “I believe ultimately that film is predicated on storytelling and whatever devices help a filmmaker in telling a story will change from case to case,” Ribisi says. “But in the past, 3-D has been looked at as more of a gimmick. But today, I feel like it’s becoming that tool that expands the horizons of the visual medium, that gives filmmakers all these new options and tools to create with. It really is the future.”

See Techland’s Complete Avatar Coverage (and come back Monday for our review of the IMAX 3-D Avatar experience)