Hungarian Balázs Kiss, lightning technical director of the Oscar-winning movie Avatar talks about his job and life.
There are not many people in the world who have not yet heard about ’Avatar’. Academy Award winning director, James Cameron’s grandiose epic science fiction film has broken box office records since its premier with more than USD 2 billion income worldwide. Although, the movie was almost ignored by the American Film Academy early March as it won only three Oscars out of nine nominations, it is still considered as a milestone in film history due to the balanced symbiosis of a great story and never-seen-before technological innovations in 3D. Balázs Kiss, 35, from Hungary also had the opportunity to spend a year on working on the movie’s spectacular visual effects.
“I’ve been working on Hollywood films for ten years now as a lighting technical director”, says Kiss. “I’m originally a graphic artist who is responsible for the lighting of digital effects.” Kiss began his career in London working on films like ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and ’Superman Returns’, working for directors Ridley Scott, Mike Newell and Alfonso Cuaron. “In 2005, I arrived to New Zealand to work on Peter Jackson’s remake of ‘King Kong’. Then, in 2008, I returned for the film ‘When the Earth Stood Still’ and later that year for ‘Avatar’. Originally, I came to New Zealand to work on James Cameron’s movie, at that time no one heard anything concrete about the project but a small group of fans. There were some rumors about something in development that might rewrite film history but most of these were quite vague. It was a bit more than a year before that I started to work on the first scenes; from the very beginning I was astonished of what I saw and experienced during this time”, reveals Kiss.
Works with Cameron
Kiss was primarily responsible for the sequence of scenes in which the leading characters, Jake and Neytiri flew to the Saint Tree for the first time. This sequence appears in the international trailers and other promotions, too. “We had about two months to make this part of the film. In the actual movie, this was the first time when the stone arches are shown, thus, me and my team were responsible for developing their look and solving all the related technological problems,” tells Kiss, adding that besides these, he also worked on the lighting of further, even more complex scenes.
James Cameron is known among film-makers to be a really charismatic and most demanding person. He always knows precisely what he wants; he always has concrete concepts of the tiniest details that others might not even recognize when watching the film. “Cameron visited us once for half a day, but during those couple of hours, I was convinced of his extreme maximalism. He really impressed me. The last time I felt such impression was with director Ridley Scott when I was on working on ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. Cameron himself is also a graphic artist and he wanted to collaborate with the best professionals, with people who are able to mesmerize him. He provided us all possible support.” The over-the-top development was, of course, left for the company, itself that is to carry out such innovative procedures of which Kiss is not entitled to talk about.
Film critics appreciated and welcomed the film for its being able to combine proper story-telling and visual effects. Most CGI blockbuster movies fail to present a strong story-line and script; there is too much emphasis on the visual part. As opposed to this, ‘Avatar’, both in form and story, is able to enchant the audience, or as many critics said it is able to bring back people to the movie theater, to get people recognize again why it is worth going to the cinema. All in all, it is able to offer the magic of movies. Besides these, of course, there is a list of novel technological innovations such as transmitting the acting of real actors to digital characters and the more developed 3D technology.
“In every way, this film was the most outstanding and biggest task in my career”, says Kiss who began to engage with computer graphics in the 1990s by making pictures for demo and computer games using pixel-graphic programs. “In the case of Avatar, certain scenes were discussed for hours and went through several hundreds of variations until they were approved. Unfortunately, in Hungary similar productions are not made.” Thus, Kiss does not think it possible that he is coming back to his mother-country to work and live in. “Most of my friends are scattered around the world and I have more friends here than in Europe”, he adds.
As for the future, Balázs Kiss is proud that the film he was working on so hard is gradually conquers the world and now, he enjoys a well-deserved relax. “Now, I have the opportunity to spend some time on one of my favorite hobbies, photography. First on an abandoned island near Tonga, then, I’m going to stay on the northern island of New Zealand for a couple of weeks.”