Last Friday, I got up incredibly early to go watch a bunch of four-year-olds in bathrobes sing some Christmas songs and carry around a rubber doll they called Jesus. And as low-tech as it was, it was absolutely thrilling to each and every parent in the room. Toshi may not have remembered all the words to "Away In A Manger," but he bellowed every one he did remember with all the heart any parent could ask. As soon as that was done, I was out the door and in my car and on my way to Burbank, where I sat down for coffee with Joe Letteri, a guy I've been waiting to meet for a while now, so we could talk about the absolute opposite of that Christmas pageant, the mega-expensive and cutting-edge technological marvel of "Avatar".
As FX supervisor for WETA Digital on "Avatar," he's been buried in secrecy for the last five or six years, and that whole time, I've been itching to sit down and ask him about the work he's been doing. Since Letteri was also a key player on "Lord Of The Rings," one might argue that there are few people in the business better suited to talk about world building on a certain scale right now. As soon as we had our drinks, we sat down outside and I turned on my tape recorder:
DREW MCWEENY: I grew up watching these films. Like I said, I was seven when “Star Wars” came out.
JOE LETTERI: Yeah, yeah.
DM: It rewired me. I staggered out of the theatre and said to my parents, “All right. Who made that?” We looked at the poster and they were like, “Okay, written and directed by George Lucas”. That was the first movie where they really did the big behind-the-scenes thing, where for a year we saw specials and magazines and it kind of lit the fire for a lot of kids my age. It basically said to us, "This is a craft. You can learn to do this. It’s not something that’s magic or impossible."