It’s been nearly a decade since James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar changed the cinematic landscape by using state-of-the-art, motion capture 3-D technology. As fans wait patiently for four planned follow-up sequels to the 2009 film, they’ve had to make due with an Avatar-inspired Cirque du Soleil performance piece, a traveling science exhibit, and a recently opened themed area at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The much-delayed films, at a cost of a reported $1 billion, are now expected in December 2020, 2021, 2024, and 2025.
At a studio in Manhattan Beach, California, that formerly belonged to Marvel, Cameron and his company, Lightstorm Entertainment, are working steadfastly to meet those deadlines. The space, designed by Lynda Murray, is, unsurprisingly, a nod—perhaps some might even go so far as to say a shrine—to the Na’Avi and their planet Pandora.
“We’ve joked around the office that we should change the name of the company from Lightstorm to Avatarstorm,” says Cameron’s producing partner, Jon Landau, who oversaw the renovation. “We want to give people who come up to the office a sense of where we’ve been and where we’re going with the Avatar films. Without revealing any of the story, of course.”
It’s no spoiler that protecting the Earth is a major theme in the films. In turn, it was imperative to Cameron and Landau that the 100,000-square-foot office—which includes a THX screening room, a yoga studio, and a full-blown gym, as well as a private one specifically for Cameron—be as eco-friendly as possible.
“It had to feel like Avatar and be completely green,” says Murray, who has designed homes for Landau and recently renovated the Fairmont Miramar in nearby Santa Monica. (She has also worked with filmmaker Michael Bay on the design of his offices). To make sure she nailed this, she watched Avatar at least eight more times during the process. “I really, really wanted to get the colors right,” she explains. Murray adds that Cameron gave her “very good, concise directions” on overall architecture and design plans and says, “Now I see why he’s the most successful director on the planet.”
“I think it’s important as an environmental advocate to walk the walk in all areas of my life and art,” says Cameron, who has also stocked the building, as well as his personal office, with memorabilia from his other blockbusters, including *Titanic,* Aliens, True Lies and The Abyss. (A space dubbed the “museum,” according to Landau, even has several large-scale models of items from past blockbusters).
But it’s Avatar that is the main focus. “Our new offices were designed to primarily function as the nerve center for the four new Avatar films, so it was critical that they represent the height of sustainability. The office is a reflection of our values, as are the Avatar films,” says the Academy Award–winning director.
Cameron explains that his goal for the space was to create “the greenest set in Hollywood.” That meant improvements to the preexisting building with sustainable materials and fabrics, including bamboo and porcelain tiles; a water filtration system complete with reusable “Avatar” water bottles for all employees; 100-percent vegan food in the dining room for 150 cast and crew members; and outfitting the soundstage roofs—where new Avatar film scenes are shot—with a solar panel system, “the largest we know of in the entertainment business,” he says. This means the company has operated for four years at net-negative power.
Of course, there are very specific nods to Avatar throughout the space, from lots of blue carpet to a one-of-a-kind lightbox in the screening room lobby that simulates looking at Pandora from the ground up through a canopy of leaves.
“It’s not something we open up to a lot of people,” says Landau. In part, the attention to detail is so Lightstorm employees feel pride in the Avatar experience they’re toiling so diligently to create. “But it’s also nice to see the reaction on people’s faces when they visit,” he adds.
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