Avatar art director studied Alberta oilsands

An Alberta man who was the art director for the blockbuster Avatar says he turned to oilsands engineers to get the movie just right.

An Alberta man who was the supervising art director for the blockbuster  Avatar says he turned to oilsands engineers to get the movie just right.

The film has been praised by some environmentalists, who say the destruction of the alien world Pandora is an allegory for what is happening in Alberta's oilpatch.

But art director Todd Cherniawsky, from Ardrossan, Alta., said the film from Canadian-born director James Cameron was more likely making a statement about the U.S. military.

The art director did, however, turn to oilsands engineers in the Athabasca region for help.

"It was very helpful in understanding how a control room would be laid out [and] what type of personnel would be involved to run these factories," Cherniawsky said.

"On Pandora, at this base, there's a full refinery in the background, so we had to know what that would look like, what the ore would look like that the trucks were bringing in — so there's all those factors that we had to know."

Avatar won the Oscar for art direction and was nominated for a total of nine Academy Awards, including best picture.

Tough assignment

Cherniawsky already has several Hollywood hits under his belt, including Ocean's Thirteen and Superman Returns.

But he said Avatar was one of the toughest movies he's ever worked on.

"We were making up everything as we went. None of the technology existed. The overall process and technique of making this kind of film had never been done before," he said.

"So on top of trying to make a difficult movie, we were trying to build a pretty complicated computer and technical pipeline to support and facilitate everything that needed to get done."