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Avatar Showcases Bruin Talent

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By Bethany Powers '11

Published Mar 1, 2010 7:34 AM


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The native Na'vi aren't the only true blue in James Cameron's blockbuster hit, Avatar. UCLA alumni were instrumental in creating this spectacular fantasy film that has taken the country — and the Academy Awards — by storm. Laeta Kalogridis MFA '94, was the executive producer for Avatar. And Wanda Bryant Ph.D. '95, M.A. '89 was a consultant for James Horner M.A. '76, the composer who wrote the movie's music.

But it is in creating the Na'vi moon of Pandora that Bruins shone particularly bright:

Andy Jones

Considering that this graduate's first big break was Titanic, it's no wonder that Cameron wanted Andy Jones '95, to lead the team creating the scarily lifelike characters that live in the world of Pandora. Jones, a Design Media Arts grad, is nominated this year for an Academy Award for Visual Effects. [Editor's update: congrats to Jones for winning the Oscar!]

"It's amazing to be on a film with so many nominations," says Jones, who was also nominated in 2004 for Visual Effects for his work as animation director on I, Robot. "It's really exciting and I'm thankful to be nominated because there were 800 plus individuals working on Avatar.

Jones says his favorite part of the work he does — from films, to the Final Fantasy video games, to short, animated movies he directs — is constantly pushing the limits of what is possible in the world of digital rendering. For Avatar, he devoted careful attention to facial close-ups and the facial expression of the Na'vi.

"To make something that is computer generated look completely real is my ultimate goal, and it's driven me for so long," he says.

Lula Washington

If you think the Na'vi move with the grace and poise of a modern dancer, then you've nailed their inspiration. Lula Washington M.A. '84, and her dance company helped create the movement and cultural presence for the alien people of Pandora.

Using motion-capture suits that covered dancers' bodies in nodules to capture their movement, the group breathed life into the other-worldly creatures. Modern dance-based works became the basis for much of the lifelike characteristics of the Na'vi.

Washington said working on Avatar was an amazing opportunity for a contemporary modern dance troupe, and that her group of dancers was able to show movement from a different point of view.

"We were just doing the best job we can [when working on the film]," she explains. "People were amazed and glad to participate."

Washington founded the Lula Washington Dance Theater in 1979, while attending UCLA. Since then, the company has appeared across the United States and abroad. Washington choreographed the movie The Little Mermaid and worked on NASA's Mars Millennium Project, which envisioned what dance would look like in the first human colony on Mars.

Washington has won numerous and awards and accolades not only for her accomplishments in dance but for the ways she has given back to her community. She advocates using dance as a way to stay fit, has offered opportunities to thousands of impoverished kids who might otherwise not be able to afford dance class, and is a powerful role model to aspiring dancers.

Giving back has also brought her back to UCLA. Most recently, Washington performed at a Design for Sharing show in Royce, which enriches the lives of students by showing the value of culture and creativity through free presentations by top-notch artists.

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