The Pandoran biosphere, from James Cameron's Avatar, teems with a biodiversity of bioluminescent species ranging from hexapodal animals to other types of exotic fauna and flora. The Pandoran ecology forms a vast neural network spanning the entire lunar surface into which the Naʼvi and other creatures can connect. The strength of this collective consciousness is powerfully illustrated when the human invaders are defeated in battle by the Pandoran ecology, after the resolute Naʼvi were nearly defeated. Cameron utilized a team of expert advisors in order to make the various examples of fauna and flora as scientifically feasible as possible.
In Avatar, the Naʼvi are an indigenous species that live on Pandora. They are humanoid in appearance and are 9 to 10 feet (2.7 to 3.0 m) tall, having pairs of eyes, ears, arms, legs and feet like humans, as well as a nose, a mouth, and expressions recognizable to humans. The Naʼvi differ from humans in having blue striped skin, pointed and mobile ears, large eyes, catlike noses and teeth, tails, and four fingers (hybrid avatars retain the five fingers of their human DNA). While taller than humans, they have narrower proportions in body frame. Their bones are reinforced with naturally occurring carbon fiber. The Naʼvi also have a distinctive tendril feature protruding from the back of their heads, surrounded by hair (resembling a long plait or queue), feeding directly into the brain. This organ allows them to connect with other organisms around them, transferring electrochemical signals such as thoughts and memories to the trees, plants, and other creatures. In the original script, Cameron refers to these as "Jubilees", although the word is not used in the film and may be changed by the time the novel is published. The Naʼvi were initially conceived to be more alien in appearance. Cameron recalled that when one of the main characters, Neytiri, was originally drawn, she had gills and other protuberances. In addition to feline features, the species was redesigned to seem more human so that audiences could better relate to it.
According to Cameron, the appearance of the Naʼvi character Neytiri had some specific inspirations and requirements: she was inspired by Raquel Welch's character in Fantastic Voyage and by Vampirella, noting in the latter's case, "the fact [Vampirella] didn’t exist didn’t bother me because we have these quintessential female images in our mind, and in the case of the male mind, they’re grossly distorted. When you see something that reflects your id, it works for you.... Right from the beginning I said, 'She’s got to have tits,' even though that makes no sense because her race, the Naʼvi, aren’t placental mammals. I designed her costumes based on a taparrabo, a loincloth worn by Mayan Indians."
Cameron has described Avatar as more "science fantasy" than true science fiction and has said that he would explain in the novel for the film why in the fictional universe the Naʼvi look like humans.
Culture and language
According to Entertainment Weekly, "The Naʼvi can commune with animals on their planet by literally plugging their braid into the creatures' nerve systems. To become a warrior, a Naʼvi must tame and ride a flying creature known as Ikran." The Naʼvi also use this neural bonding system, called "tsaheylu", to mate with a "life partner", a bond that, when made, cannot be broken in the Naʼvi's lifetime. This is akin to human marriage.
The Naʼvi way of life revolves around their religion, and the Home tree. The Naʼvi sleep in hammocks in large groups for comfort and as a warning system.
Conceived for the film was the Naʼvi language, a constructed language often spoken by the actors when they played Naʼvi characters. The Naʼvi language was created by communications professor emeritus and linguistics consultant Paul Frommer of the University of Southern California. He designed the language so as to be speakable by human actors, combining syntactic and grammatical rules from other existing languages. Frommer created over a thousand words for the Naʼvi language and coached the actors who narrated Naʼvi characters. When communicating to humans in the film, Naʼvi characters – especially Neytiri – speak in accented and broken English.
On religion, the chief and possibly sole deity of the Naʼvi is a benevolent goddess known as Eywa. The Naʼvi are able to "connect" to Eywa when they use their braids to connect to the Tree of Souls and other similar flora. Eywa is said to have a connection to all things Pandoran.
Political power is exceedingly diffused, with each clan being a sovereign entity under either the diarchical rule of both a temporal chieftain and a spiritual chieftain, or the monarchical rule of a single individual who holds the two separate offices simultaneously. The numerous clans are seemingly only ever brought together as a tribe by Toruk Makto, a messianic war chief whose office is both impermanent and apparently the only one with an authority that covers the entire race of Naʼvi. By the time of the film, there had only been five Toruk Maktos in the history of the tribe, and the last one had ruled no fewer than four generations before the present day. This may be due to the fact that the Toruk Maktos seem to draw their power from a situation of explicitly external danger, and therefore are not really necessary for the day to day internal running of the tribal clans. Succession to the various offices is smooth, however, based more on popular recognition and customary worthiness than on anything else, and respect for hierarchical superiors appears to be high.
James Cameron's core idea for the Avatar's fictional creatures was for them to be "superslick and aerodynamic, and be like a race car with racing stripes". Neville Page worked on Avatar as the lead creature designer. He, Wayne Barlowe (author, artist, and initial lead creature designer), and Yuri Bartoli (concept designer and supervising virtual art director) adapted Cameron's conceptions of the fauna into a design that served three purposes: to appear expressive, to function with animation technology, and to seem realistic. He and creature designer Wayne Barlowe sought to base the design of Pandora's creatures on race cars, but they struggled to adapt the concept. Page drew on his education in automotive design, recognizing the irony that race cars were based on real-life animals in having "bone lines". Existing automotive designs drew from seashells, turtle shells, and insects, so the designers returned the design to the fictional creatures. They found that the prime challenge in designing most creatures was to give them organic appearances, including skin texture. Some creatures were also designed to have special breathing holes located in the trachea, copying how cars have intakes. Challenges that the creatures posed for visual effects technicians were to form "walk and run" cycles for six-legged creatures and to impart credible flying for creatures that had four wings.
The fictional creatures are not connected telepathically according to Cameron and the designers. However, even though they discussed the idea of the creatures being part of Pandora's "Worldmind", they preferred to interpret the creatures as having heightened instincts. Page explained, "Animals are hooked up to this planet. We're the ones who are detached.... The way I dealt with it was, We have so much rich [material] here to reference, that we don't have to dream up a whole new process of animal awareness."
The fictional moon has less gravity than Earth, so the creatures' larger sizes match their environment. Most Pandoran wildlife are hexapodal, or six-legged. Much of the fauna and flora are bioluminescent, which is seen in creatures on Earth such as fireflies, many deep sea animals, and some microscopic algae. The aforementioned breathing holes, located on multiple parts of a creature's body other than the mouth, are similar to spiracles in some of Earth's animals. The flying reptile-like creatures in the film can be compared to extinct flying reptiles such as pterosaurs and to the modern gliding lizard Draco sumatranus.
List of fauna
- Direhorse (Pa'li in Naʼvi) - The Direhorse is a bioluminescent hexapodal equine-like animal. It is scientifically known as Equidirus hoplites. The Naʼvi use the Direhorse to hunt. The Direhorse was conceived and designed by Cameron and Stan Winston Studios. The Direhorse is grey with blue stripes and stands thirteen feet (3.9 meters) tall, fourteen feet (4.2 meters) long. The Naʼvi "break" a Direhorse by connecting the fleshy tip of their hair to the animal's antennae. Xenobiologists call this a neural whip. Once intertwined, the Naʼvi rider can communicate motor commands instantly through the neural interface; however, this connection does not lead to a lifelong, exclusive bond, as it does with the Mountain Banshee. Cameron described the creature as a "six-legged alien Clydesdale with moth-like antennae". The Direhorse uses its long tongue to eat the sap out of Pitcher Plants.
- Mountain Banshee (Ikran in Naʼvi) - The Mountain Banshee is an airborne predator who lives in mountainous territory on Pandora. Naʼvi warriors attempt to bond with a Banshee, a dangerous and required rite of passage. They are cousins to the Great Leonopteryx and they are scientifically known by Xenobiologists as Pterodactylus giganteus. A Banshee bonds to a Naʼvi warrior for life. They are four-winged creatures that, like the Leonopteryx and Direhorse, have a biologically produced carbon fiber flexing on the skin. Neytiri had a Banshee named Seze (translated from the language of the Naʼvi roughly as "blue flower"). Page spent the most time designing the Banshee for the film so it would be convincing when it flew or perched. The designer said, "The hardest thing of all was having a Naʼvi on top of it and flying it. You had to backwards engineer it. It was like designing and engineering an aircraft." Barlowe, who contributed to the Banshee's design, was influenced by manta rays and skates as well as relatively little-known pterosaurs and plesiosaurs that had "many, unique aerodynamic and hydrodynamic" characteristics. Like the color scheme for the Great Leonopteryx, color schemes based on Earth animals were used for various Banshees, though Page was inspired by Art Nouveau prints to warp the schemes so they would not look familiar to film audiences.
- Great Leonopteryx (Toruk in Naʼvi, meaning last shadow) - The Great Leonopteryx is the apex airborne predator native to Pandora. It is scientifically known as Gavilandora maxima. The fierce beauty and nobility of the Leonopteryx gave the species a place in central Naʼvi lore and culture. The Leonopteryx is scarlet with black stripes and a midnight blue crest on top of the head and on the lower jaw. It is celebrated in dance and song; elaborate totems symbolize both the fear and respect accorded to the creature. The Leonopteryx is considered crucial to the Naʼvi sense of destiny and interconnectedness. Prior to the events of the film, it had only been tamed five times, and Neytiri tells Jake that the riders (Toruk Makto) brought peace among the Pandoran tribes. This makes Jake the sixth Toruk Makto. He manages to capture one by jumping on it from above from his Banshee but release it after the battle with the humans ended. The Great Leonopteryx and the Banshee were designed with bright colors. Page based the colors on Earth's birds, poison dart frogs, and Monarch butterflies, though he altered the patterns so that their inspirations would not be so conspicuous to moviegoers. The skull and crest shapes appear to be derived from pterosaurs from the genus Tapejara.
- Hammerhead Titanothere (’Angtsìk in Naʼvi) - The Hammerhead Titanothere is a large hexapodal herbivore whose massive, low-slung head features bony projections on either side of the skull, similar to those of Terran hammerhead sharks. These protrusions are often used to push and destroy objects: a single sideways thrust of the neck being sufficient to down a significantly sized tree. The Titanothere has exceedingly thick, gray skin. There is a small "fan" feather structure on the head that it flares up as a warning symbol seen in the film and in the video game. The creature, which resembles a cross between a rhinoceros and a hammerhead shark, is easily aroused. Its hide is impervious to human ammunition, though firing on it is known to anger it. This massive, grazing creature travels in moderately large herds or packs of 10–20 animals. Avatar creature designer Yuri Bartoli explained to io9.com about the creature's colorful threat display: "Originally, the Hammerhead just had to be a huge creature, big enough that even a Thanator would think twice about attacking one. A threat display is meant to be seen, so it required bright colors that would stand out against its more muted body". It is moderately social, but also extremely territorial and hierarchical. A soft ungulate mouth is protected by a rigid, beak-like jaw structure. The species is scientifically known as Titanotheris hammercephalis. In the climax of the film, a bunch of Hammerhead Titanothere assist the Naʼvi in their battle against Colonel Mile Quaritch's army.
- Hexapede (Yerik in Naʼvi) - The Hexapede are hexapodal deer-like creatures. They are dark blue herbivores with white and yellow stripes. Twin horn structures sheathe a thin, patterned membrane structure. Their small, sloped skull is topped by this light-colored fan structure. This fan has an eye pattern on it similar to those found in Terran insects. A skin membrane hangs under the jaw and runs the length of the neck. Twin lines of dark hairlike bristles run down the Hexapede's back. The antennae are at the back at the head. As a threat display, the Hexapede flares up its twin membrane structure like a satellite dish and retracts both lips. It is scientifically known as Sexcruscervus caeruleus.
- Prolemuris - The Prolemuris are blue, hexapodal creatures based on Earth's lemurs. They have two eyes, small nostrils, and their two upper arms are partially fused. Like most Pandoran creatures, they have a queue on the back of their heads. They have lateral skin membranes on each side of the body. They have large eyes and grow 1.5 meters tall.
- Thanator (Palulukan in Naʼvi) - The Thanator is a large hexapodal land predator that is believed, by the RDA, to be the apex land predator. It is scientifically known as Bestiapanthera ferox. Cameron personally designed the creature. The Thanator is first seen when Jake wanders off into the jungle and touches multiple Helicoradian leaves, at which they retract to reveal a family of Hammerhead Titanotheres behind. The Thanator frightens the Titanotheres and pursues Jake. Jake later escapes the Thanator by jumping down a waterfall. The Thanator is black with white fleshy skin under each hand. Its appearance is similar to a panther; Cameron describes the Thanator as "the panther from hell". The Thanator has ten sensory quills connected to six pads at the rear of the skull that flare up before it attacks the prey. The director explained how the Thanator is the most fearsome creature on Pandora, "The Thanator could eat a T-Rex and have the Alien for dessert."
- Viperwolf (Nantang in Naʼvi) - The Viperwolf is a hexapodal nocturnal carnivore. The species is scientifically known as Caniferratus costatus. It has bioluminescence for pack identification. Cameron described the Viperwolves: "[They are] hairless with shiny skin that looks like overlapped armor. Most disturbing are its paws, which are like leathery hands." They are vicious in combat but treat their babies in a loving, nurturing way. They are seen in the daytime caring for their babies and have green eyes. They have a laugh which sounds like Earth's hyenas. Like most Pandoran creatures, they have antennae. They have opposable thumbs allowing them to climb trees as well as stalk from the ground, thereby are able to create a three-dimensional hunting field.
Flora on Pandora are of a tropical type several times taller than that existing on Earth. Many, if not all, plant and animal species have bioluminescent properties. The flora specimens seen in the film were all designed by Jodie Holt, a professor of botany at the University of California, Riverside. According to Holt, Pandoran flora are able to communicate with each other through signal transduction and are larger in size than Earth flora due to greater atmospheric thickness, weaker gravity, and stronger magnetism on Pandora.
List of flora
- Helicoradian (Loreyu in Naʼvi) - The Helicoradian is a carnivorous plant that has red spiral-leaves. The plants are up to 3–4 metres (9.8–13.1 ft) tall and, when touched, instantly curl and collapse into themselves. They are zooplantae, part animal, part plant. They are first seen when Jake wanders off into a forest of Helicoradia and touches multiple leaves, at which they retract and coil up to reveal a Hammerhead Titanothere behind. According to Avatar designer Craig Shoji, the behavior and design of the Helicoradian was based on the Christmas tree worms, tube worms that reside on coral reefs. In the video games, the species has the ability to heal the player.
- Pseudocycas altissima (Tsyorina'wll in Naʼvi) - The Pseudocycas altissima is a plant akin to a tall Earth cycad.
- The Hometrees (Kelutral in Naʼvi) - The Hometrees are great enough to house hundreds of clan members. The trees are honeycombed with natural hollows and alcoves in which the Naʼvi sleep, eat, weave, dance, and celebrate their connection to Eywa. Adult Hometrees are more than 150 meters (492.1 feet) tall, and roughly 30 meters (98.4 feet) in diameter. The Omaticaya inhabit a Giant Hometree, standing roughly 460 meters (1509 feet) tall. A distinguishable feature of the movie landscape, the tree itself is central to the movie story arc. Like many sacred sites on Pandora, the Giant Hometree sits above a large deposit of unobtanium. It is destroyed by the humans using rockets and missiles, which leads to the Naʼvi clans' alliance against the humans.
- The Tree of Souls (Ayvitrayä Ramunong in Naʼvi [Cameron: Vitraya Ramunong]) - The Tree of Souls is a tree where the Naʼvi are able to communicate with the biological network that exists throughout Pandora. Cameron described the Tree of Souls as "a big input-output station", having been inspired by the bioluminescence that he encountered during night diving. In the film, the tree is seen to be capable of transferring a specific consciousness from one body to another.
- The Tree of Voices (Utral Aymokriyä in Naʼvi [Cameron: Utraya Mokri]) - The Tree of Voices is the most important tree to the Naʼvi after the Tree of Souls. It is smaller but its appearance is similar and it too is illuminated. Neytiri tells Jake that it allows the Naʼvi to hear the voices of their ancestors. It is destroyed in the bulldozer attack by the humans. This was where Jake and Neytiri chose each other as mates and mated before Eywa.
- Woodsprites (Atokirina’ in Naʼvi) - The Woodsprites are seeds of the "holy tree", appearing similar to airborne jellyfish. Neytiri describes them as very pure spirits, and scolds Jake for slapping two of them away. The Omaticaya Clan plants one of these seeds with the body of a deceased Naʼvi, so the Naʼvi's consciousness will become part of Eywa.
Various other plants and trees that look like Earth's ferns, palm trees, mosses, grasses, bamboo, and succulents. Several forest plants of Pandora resemble the Earth's zoanthid soft corals, which can be bioluminescent as in the movie.
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- "The Tet Zoo guide to the creatures of Avatar" at Tetrapod Zoology
- "The Complete History Of Pandora, According To Avatar's Designers" at io9.com
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