It's been 13 years since Avatar premiered, leaving viewers captivated by the story of the resilient Na’vi people on the breathtaking moon of Pandora. It quickly became a classic, and has sat firmly at the top of the box office records as the highest grossing film of all time. Yet there is much about Na’vi culture and their way of life on Pandora that still has never been seen. To further our knowledge of this mysterious world, Joshua Izzo has curated The World of Avatar: A Visual Exploration to share every detail.
The newly released book is filled with vibrant illustrations and facts about the floating mountains, bioluminescent plants, and fierce creatures found on Pandora. Additionally, there is not only a reflective foreword from Avatar actor Zoe Saldaña, but also a powerful introduction by the film’s producer, Jon Landau. Joshua Izzo currently serves as Vice President of Franchise Development at Lightstorm Entertainment, James Cameron’s production company, so he was ultimately the perfect person to edit and curate The World of Avatar. In the book, he masterfully showcases the lessons we can all learn from Pandora.
Pandora was meant to feel like a remote place far away, but it was actually modeled after somewhere much closer. “Everything that was developed for the film, all of the culture, flora and fauna, is inspired by the beauty, majesty, and incredible diversity that is found here on Earth,” said Izzo. When readers open up this vast Avatar encyclopedia, they will finally get a chance to get close-ups on the individual plants that make up nature on Pandora.
Readers will be able to see the purple Episoth Tree, with its spiny fruits that explode and propel hundreds of sticky seeds onto intruders. Another cool plant is the Cat Ear, which is shaped like it’s named, and can turn toward any animal moving through the forest despite being attached to the ground. Some may even recognize plants that serve similar functions as their counterparts on Earth. Plants and trees on Earth, for example, clean the air and minimize unhealthy effects of pollution; likewise, on Pandora, the carbon-rich atmosphere is detoxified by a plant called the Flaska Reclinata.
The amount of research involved in the creative process for Avatar truly worked to the book’s advantage. That initial research contributed not only to creating plants and animals for the Avatar universe, but also its concepts of space and time. “The world of Avatar is not science fiction,” said Izzo. “[Creator James Cameron] looks at his storytelling as science fact.” Cameron worked closely with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California to create realistic scenarios for faster-than-light space travel, among other topics, which were later used by Izzo for the book.
Izzo also praised Reymundo “Rey” Perez, who was the very first hire on the project that became Avatar and was in charge of recording Cameron's notes throughout the production process. “He’s our Creative Operations Manager, and knows where everything is for every piece of content, every piece of art, every character, every weapon, every creature. So without Rey, we wouldn’t have been able to actually put the entire book together,” said Izzo. Because of James Cameron’s attention to detail and diligent research, readers will be able to experience a scientifically familiar yet mystical world. “Avatar feels so real and grounded because it wasn’t just designed for the sake of design, or art direction for the sake of art direction,” Izzo explained. “There’s a reality underpinning everything that was ever created in the world of Avatar that makes a viewer feel like this could actually be happening.”
Ironically, that same research shows just how differently humans live their day-to-day lives compared to the native Na’vi people. Cameron and his team studied the practices and beliefs of indigenous people to form the basis of Na’vi characteristics. As a result, readers will find that the entire Na’vi way of life is guided by their respect for Eywa — their culture’s version of our “Mother Earth.” The harmony that they maintain with nature can easily be observed across the pages of the book. They befriend and bond with animals like the noble direhorse and fierce flying ikran.
Even when the Na’vi must hunt, they only take what they need. “They literally live in harmony with their world,” Izzo emphasized. “They use the whole animal. There’s no waste. There is no hoarding. And everybody participates in the clan. When you hunt the whole animal, you use the skin, you use the fat, you use the bones. ‘I don’t hunt for the sake of hunting. I hunt for the sake of my clan. Because we need to be fed, we need clothing. I’m here to exist in harmony with the world around me.’”
In this way, the Avatar universe serves as an allegory to how nature should be respected on Earth. When humans, or the “sky people” as the Na’vi call them, land on Pandora in the film, it creates immediate chaos. Their greed-driven efforts to mine Pandora of its natural and rare deposits of Unobtanium lead to war. The World of Avatar highlights what’s really at stake because of this destruction. The robust number of plants, animals, and Na’vi jumping across the pages of the book are an important reminder of the species on Earth relying on humans’ sustainable living. “All life is connected,” said Izzo.
Ultimately, The World of Avatar is a book full of surprises, showing us that the Avatar universe has even more in store. This became especially apparent when Izzo and the Lightstorm team were deciding what material would be going into the book. Many of the pictures are stills from the film, but not all — and while trying to include every animal in the Avatar universe in The World of Avatar, the team decided to update and revamp some original concepts that never made the final cut: the Slinger and the Slinth. “They were part of our world, but we never really did anything [with them],” said Izzo. Thankfully, the Avatar art department came to the rescue and created stunning new art for much of the Pandoran life featured on the book’s pages. “Some art had existed. But working with Jon Landau and the art department to make those as if you would have seen them in the feature and bring them to real life was super exciting.”
Grab a copy of The World of Avatar: A Visual Exploration today.