The Nonverbal Elements in “Avatar”

By: Shannon Seay

Avatar is a very popular movie which debuted in 2009. It was a different kind of film. It was a combination of real and animated characters. James Cameron wanted this film to be beyond what anyone else had created, including himself. He wanted it to look realistic. He wanted his characters to show emotion and to have realistic expressions.

Nonverbal communication is a very important aspect when making movies. We can’t feel what the supposed characters are feeling, we need to be able to look at them and decipher what their expressions mean. We need to understand their gestures and postures. James Cameron was set on being able to provide this for his viewers with this particular movie. Anne Thompson wrote in Popular Mechanics, “He prefers to call it “performance capture.” This may seem like semantics, but to Cameron, the subtle facial expressions that define an actor’s performance had been lost for many of the digital characters that have come before.”

When watching this movie, you need to pay close attention to to those subtle attributes. There are numerous times throughout the film that the actors use gestures and facial expressions to show how they are feeling. What is the most amazing, though, is those same gestures and expressions that the animated characters made. We see these creatures of sort having the same feelings that we have and they are displaying them properly using nonverbal behavior.. It makes you forget that you are watching animation and not an actor. It’s very important that we understand that actors were used to play these parts but they were wearing equipment that animated them into the creatures.

This is a movie packed with action. This means that they had to make sure that not only the facial expressions were right but also the action. We can see that the movements of the characters look realistic. There is running and jumping. All of this was made to mirror that of a human doing these actions. The postures are important here to. These people of another world are terrified and fighting for their lives. Many major emotions are portrayed through their postures. This includes being terrified, sad, in love, among others. This was all so tactfully done, this is why the movie became so popular. It is so easy to relate to the characters. You can not only hear the emotions but see it and feel it through their actions.

Movies have used animation for many years, the difference is how realistic James Cameron was able to make this film. He knew the importance of his viewers to see and feel his film. He did not want to make a film where the characters could not show you how they feel. Times are changing, filmmakers need to be able to create something that hasn’t been done before. Cameron was able to do this, his film is very successful and he was able to make viewers feel something to a degree that no other film has. It just shows that nonverbal communication is more important than many of us think it is.


Thompson, Anne, 2010. How James Cameron’s Innovative New 3D Tech Created Avatar, Popular Mechanics, Website.

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