Ula, SA’s star of Avatar

By admin
12 March 2010

Who wouldn’t want to wander dreamily through the forest on the moon Pandora? Anyone who has seen the movie Avatar in 3D will know what a magical place it is.

And if you’d read the screen credits to the end you might have noticed an Afrikaans name in the visual effects team that created this fantasy world.

South African born and bred Ula Rademeyer (32) recently won a sought-after Visual Effects Society (VES) award – the big one in America in the run-up to the Oscars – for her creative work on Avatar, which won three Oscars and has, in dollar terms, made more money than any other movie in history.

Ula was a member of the team of four that won in the category Outstanding Created Environment in a Feature Motion Picture at VES awards evening in Los Angeles. They created the other-worldly scenes in the movie that resemble underwater landscapes and sometimes magical fairylands, with tree seeds wafting to the ground like gossamer insects.

Ula’s colleagues haven’t nicknamed her the “plant woman” for nothing – Pandora’s enchanting plants were her baby.

Director James Cameron of Titanic fame had wanted to create a hitherto-unknown digital plant kingdom and Ula was part of this creation.

“I enjoyed every minute. That’s what I focused on for three years,” says the talented young woman from Wellington, New Zealand, where she works as a lead texture painter at the visual-effects studio Weta Digital.

Avatar went on to win three Oscars, one for visual effects, a category in which Ula had played a major role.

“For us as parents the awards are the crowning glory after years of involvement,” says her mom, Marianna. “It struck me how prominent the plants were in the movie, almost like a character in their own right. Usually the contributions of the artists aren’t featured prominently. I have seen many of Ula’s paintings but here her work fills the whole screen in a big theatre. We’re just overwhelmed with pride and amazement.”

Not bad for a Pretoria-educated girl who went on to teach herself the computer skills she’d need to land a job at Weta Digital, the company famed for its Lord of the Rings movie work.

Now her name is up there on the big screen alongside those of movie greats for her work on Avatar, The Lovely Bones and The Day the Earth Stood Still among others. And in the pipeline at Weta is Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.

“There’s a saying in the industry that films aren’t finished; they are abandoned,” Ula says. “But when I see my name on the screen I know the work is finished.”

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