James Cameron "wanted bright colors" for his wildilfe, especially the Mountain Banshee (the flying dragon) and the Leonoptrix, says designer Neville Page. The challenge was how to make these creatures brightly colored without making it obvious where the patterns came from.
"There are tons of things in nature that have bright colors," adds Page, including poison-dart frogs, butterflies and birds. But if you just lifted a monarch butterfly pattern and put it onto a flying alien creature, "it would be too obvious: You're a Mountain Banshee with a monarch butterfly pattern." So he drew on some weird inspirations, including Art Nouveau prints. The different Mountain Banshees had to have different colors, including bluish ones, purple-ish ones, and greenish ones.
Daphne Yap, Page's former student, did most of the work on the creature patterns, surface textures and glow-patterns of Pandora's creatures. Says Yap:
Things I had to worry about were [whether] the patterns flowed on the animal or not, and if the glow made sense on the creature. We were definitely not going for cute.
Yap also worked on the costumes for the Na'Vi people on Pandora. She says you can tell which clan a particular Na'Vi belongs to, based on the materials that he or she wears. "Status wise, one can tell by how much jewelry they have on, or certain animal teeth they use for their costumes."
So how bright is too bright? Were Page and the other designers worried that these crazy color schemes would turn off audiences? Page says it's definitely a concern, but you'll be won over:
You know, it's always a concern, because what is fascinating about reading people's responses [to Avatar] on various blogs, talking about how it looks too colorful, it looks too synthetic — What's odd about that is, in the real world, we didn't invent these colors. They exist on animals today. We didn't invent a whole new palette. I think the problem is — the challenge is — you don't often see large creatures with this much color on them.
There's a continual argument about dinosaurs: were they colorful, or were they shades of brown and green and earth-tones? And the [argument] has been, you never see predators with bright overtones. I've gotten this before with Star Trek, the big red creature. "It's bright red on a white planet. This doesn't happen." [But] it's an alien planet — anything goes.
We're still discovering stuff on this planet that makes no sense to us. But when you think about animals in nature, there are tons of predators that [have] very bright colors. Bottom line is: Yes, it's a recognizeable challenge to have an audience buy into the amount of color, because it's foreign and unique. But I think in the end, like anything — there's a little bit of a learning curve when you first start watching anything that is new. And I kind of equiate it to, when you buy a new car, and it's totally different to your old car. How do you work the windshield wipers? This isn't how it goes, this isn't what I'm used to. [But after a while,] iit just becomes second nature, and then you just enjoy the drive. There's going to be a moment where people are just getting used to the blue people, and the bright creatures, and the bio-luminescent environment that's unique for the average person.
Jim's been down at the bottom of the ocean, so he's seen the bizarre [coloration patterns.] For him, it's not as alien, but those of us who've never been to the bottom of the ocean, this will [feel like] "Wha? That's not possible!" But I do think those that are concerned about the film in the blogs I've been to... I think they'll love it.