In an interview with IndieWire, “Avatar: The Way of Water” editor Stephen Rivkin talked about the ongoing discussions surrounding animation and live-action. He argued that the films qualifies as live-action due to one key element — the actors’ performances:
“Animation is something where they create characters and usually an actor comes in to replace an assistant’s voice and create the character afterward. This is live-action filmmaking in the sense that it starts with the actor’s performance and it ends up fully rendered with the actor’s performance. When people say it’s animated, it’s not an animated film. It is a live-action film with real actors performing everything, and these actors did an amazing job.“
A lot of blockbuster movies employ motion capture technologies to create fully-CG characters to varying degrees of success, but “The Way of Water” is a virtually seamless translation of real-life work. Every nuance of a cast member’s facial expressions is captured, and the filmmaking behind the camera, such as blocking and camera movement, remains intact. The live-action or animation conversation will probably never end, but Rivkin raised an important point. And since he and James Cameron share the same sentiment, it’s hard to argue against them. With that in mind, there’s still room for a more nuanced conversation regarding what should truly qualify as “animation” in cinema.