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New iTunes Edition of ‘Avatar’ Pulls Back the Curtain on Green-Screen Magic

Special digital versions has six hours of extras that show Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in their performance capture finest

By revealing the digital tricks behind the blue-skinned Na’vi, Fox is expecting to start seeing lots of green this holiday season.

“Avatar” fans will be able to get an in-depth look at the groundbreaking performance capture and green-screen technology that helped James Cameron craft the alien residents of the planet Pandora thanks to a new iTunes special edition of the 2009 blockbuster.

The latest extras-laden version of the film will be available exclusively through the Apple platform starting on Dec. 20.

Also read: 'Avatar' Deleted Scenes Revealed (Video)

“This came about because we were trying to figure out how we can elevate the iTunes space,” Aubrey Freeborn, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Product Management for Worldwide VOD and Electronic Sell-Through, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, told TheWrap.

“We’re trying to make digital copies of films more compelling,” she added.

The thinking is that offering more interactive features might persuade viewers to buy movies rather than just streaming them. 

To that end, Freeborn said that the studio worked closely with Cameron and the “Avatar” director’s Lightstorm entertainment to create the supplemental materials.

Among the more eye-popping attractions are features that allow viewers to watch the green screen and other technological magic behind 17 of the film’s scenes. Viewers can simultaneously view the film’s Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and other “Avatar” actors hooked up to their performance-capture gear alongside a computer template of the scenes and the finished product.

It's amazing to see just how physical the performances are, as Worthington and Saldana are tossed around in a dizzying array of harnesses and contraptions, as well as how challenging it must have been for the actors to  imagine that they were fighting, flying, or romancing on a lush, distant moon when they were surrounded by floor mats and green screens. 

There’s also a nifty feature that allows users to guide their cursor across scenes from the film to expose what elements of a shot are green-screen creations.

(Article continues below trailer)

Fox says the “Avatar iTunes Extras Special Edition” comes with a total of six hours of extras.

The digital copy sells for $19.99 in high-definition and $14.99 for standard-definition. The timing of the release was picked to capitalize on the onslaught of iTunes gift cards typically purchased during the holidays.
 
The copy also features an original screenplay by James Cameron, Cameron’s "scriptment" (a novella with some scenes broken out into dialogue), a gallery of 1,700 images and some "making of" features.

Fox executives say that the extras are specifically designed for digital consumption and that there are no plans to make them available on DVD or Blu-ray.  

For fans, it's a chance to keep returning to Pandora and an opportunity to make the long wait until "Avatar 2" hits theaters in 2014 a little more bearable.