Set, Stage & Projections
Pandora is a fictional moon orbiting the gas giant Polyphemus in the Alpha
Centauri system, the closest star system to our sun. It is home to the Na’vi,
a highly spiritual people with a deep connection to nature. The moon’s
environments range from tropical rainforest and equatorial desert to boreal
forest, mountains, ocean shorelines, wetlands, and archipelago. Nature galore!
As there are no constructions on Pandora, Set Designer Carl Fillion made it a
point to avoid straight lines and to use only curvy, organic lines in his designs.
Five main elements make up the set – Hometree, the Island, the Green Belt, the
Dream Catcher, and the two Lateral Screens.
The show’s performance area (a stage 85 by 162 feet) is based on the
Fibonacci spiral. This shape is determined by the ancient number sequence in
which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers. It is said that
botanists on Pandora have recognized this mathematical pattern in many
botanical specimens with a fiddlehead shape. If one were to place the design
of the Fibonacci spiral on the stage, the Tree of Souls would be in the
exact spot at the heart of the spiral.
- The Omaticaya Hometree – On Pandora, Hometrees are two to three times the height
of the redwoods that once covered the Pacific Northwest on Earth. The bottom part
of the columns of the Omaticaya Hometree loom 25 feet above the stage floor. Amid
the bustle of daily life inside Hometree, one can see a Giant Loom – a kind of
weaving machine that plays an important role in the daily lives of the Omaticaya.
(Hometree is 80 feet wide by 40 feet high. The structure is equipped with wheels
and stands on nine pivots. It can be moved by hand.)
- The Island – There is an “island” at the center of the stage on which performers
move about. The Island also houses a Fire Pit, a Circular Drum as well as the
Tree of Souls, an inflatable structure stashed in a tiny trench under the stage
floor. The tree structure is inflated as it is hoisted from the trench using
cables attached to the structure above the stage. The branches of the tree are
covered in thousands of LED lights.
- The Green Belt – The terrain on Pandora is neither smooth nor flat. To create a
fragmented topography that evokes the uneven landforms on Pandora, the Set Designer
created an elevated, padded bank – or Green Belt – all around the stage on which
performers can climb and move around. The Green Belt ensures that images projected
on the ground look more three-dimensional. It also doubles as a cover for the rink
board. As Pandora is a world lush with vegetation, threedimensional retractable
plants pop out of the Green Belt during scenes to evoke the forest environment.
- The Dream Catcher – The Dream Catcher is a structure suspended 45 feet above the
Island. It houses several props and set elements, including a huge plant 35 feet
in diameter that serves as an acrobatic device. The structure recalls the Aboriginal
- The Lateral Screens – The two large projection screens flanking the Omaticaya
Hometree on each side extend the projection surface further out into the audience.
Directors Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, who also wrote the show, sought to convey
beauty and vital impetus of the world of Pandora – its rich textures, lush flora,
and youthful buoyancy. The multimedia projections that evoke the awe-inspiring
landscapes – from the Floating Mountains and the Omaticaya Hometree, to the
Anurai’s animal sanctuary and the lush jungles where the Tawkami live – create
a visually stunning environment for the performers. So do the large-scale effects
that come from the storyline, such as the earthquake and volcano eruption, the
rivers of lava rising from within, and the Shaman’s visions projected on a huge
floating, ethereal veil.
The fabric that covers the entire performance area used as a projection surface
during the Prologue comes in two parts, each measuring 200 by 90 feet wide.
Total projection surface, excluding projections that reach out into the
audience, is approximately 20,000 square feet, more than five times the
size of a standard IMAX screen: 12,750 for the stage, 3,600 for the two
lateral screens, and another 3,600 for the two columns of Hometree.
Some video effects are synched with the performers’ movements, such as the
bioluminescent trails they leave in their wake as they meander through the forest.
Some effects are mere evocations meant to create mood, like the creatures circling
the sky appearing only in shadow form on the ground.
Video projections sometimes overflow beyond the set and right into the audience,
giving spectators the feeling they’re not merely gazing at Pandora, but they’re
actually ON Pandora. At one point, waves start in the audience before washing up
on shore on stage; in another scene, a starry sky is projected all over the arena,
virtually turning it into an upside-down planetarium.
"Set changes, which sometimes occur in the wink of an eye, are not
mechanical, but optical," says Michel. “It’s the language of film applied to the
performing arts,” adds Victor. “And we alternate between large-scale, spectacular
effects and more intimate moments that evoke emotion.”
In a projections-rich production, lighting is crucial to adding volume to the
performers, set elements and props. It focuses the audience’s attention on story.
In TORUK – The First Flight, a state-of-the-art tracking system is used in
unprecedented ways to help with this task. Hidden in their costumes, the artists
wear a tracking device linked to follow spots and video projectors that react to
their movements in real time.
There are 40 video projectors in all: half are 30,000-lumen each, the
other half, 20,000-lumen.
22 video projectors are used for projections on the ground; 6 projectors
send video images on Hometree; 2 projectors are dedicated to the two lateral
screens; and 8 projectors are used for immersive projections into the audience.