With a couple of months still to go before James Cameron's much-anticipated Avatar is released, the movie's production designer has been spilling the beans about what it was like to work on the project.

Production designer Rick Carter told Variety what was involved in creating the look of Cameron's CGI-filled SF fantasy:

It was literally as if Jim had been to this place. He was coming back with fragments and glimpses he could express to us, but then we had to try to figure out how to make that come alive for him and something we felt an audience could relate to.

Part of how they managed that involved recontextualizing Earthly elements in new ways:

[We created a] lush homegrown forest that's way overscale for anything we've ever experienced, but also has enough alien qualities that you realize what you're seeing is not just a few flowers poked into the midst of an otherwise normal environment. The essence of it is very different... The whole idea of (that) bioluminescent world at night is something he'd actually witnessed when he was down at the bottom of the ocean during his 'Titanic' time. That bioluminescence is almost like a nervous system of the planet, and that's what's at stake in the movie, as you start to get past the initial foray into the Na'vi culture and seeing the drama start to emerge between the military-industrial complex that wants to exploit the world.

The key, according to Carter, remains in the emotional connection the viewer feels to what they're watching:

The real challenge is whether you feel the emotion coming through from the characters, especially the Neytiri character and ultimately [Sam Worthington's character] Jake's avatar. When you look into those eyes, do you feel the connection's real? And then, can you give yourself over to it and not look at it at arm's distance and think, 'Yes, that's wonderful technically, but I don't really feel anything.'

Avatar is released in December.

Early peek at 'Avatar' production design [Variety]