Jodie Holt, the real-life botanist behind the Oscar-winning imagery in the science-fiction/fantasy film Avatar, will be making an appearance at Miami’s campus Thursday.
Holt, the on-set botanical adviser to Sigourney Weaver and consultant to James Cameron for Avatar, will be speaking about her involvement in the film and the role of botany in society. Holt’s lecture, Taking Science from the Lab to the Public — Plant Life on Avatar’s Pandora, will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16 in Psychology Building 125.
Richard Moore, the coordinator of the Belk Lecture Series, responsible for bringing lecturers like Holt to Miami, is very excited for the upcoming lecture.
“Dr. Holt made sure that there was some sort of biological accountability for the plant life found in Avatar,” Moore said. “So a lot of things in the movie — like the interaction between organisms — are borrowed from real life.”
According to Holt, there is a definite basis in reality for the plants featured in the movie.
“I was given images of plants that had been designed for the movie,” Holt said via e-mail. “For each one I created a Latin name, developed botanical descriptions and described their ecology and ethnobotanical uses by the Na’vi.”
Holt helped design the world of the Na’vi , the alien civilization in Avatar, who are characterized by their respectful relationship with nature.
Holt, a professor of plant physiology at University of California-Riverside, said she was surprised to find herself so involved in the creative process behind Avatar.
Holt said her involvement in the film was more than she had originally anticipated.
“After the first phone call I thought my involvement would probably consist of just answering a few questions, so I thought it would be an easy job,” Holt said.
Holt said the work was much more involved than she had anticipated and she ended up becoming an invaluable member of the Avatar team.
“I naturally thought it might be outside my comfort zone because I had never worked on a film,” Holt said. “I hadn’t met anyone involved in it.”
Holt was pleasantly surprised by her Hollywood colleagues.
“I realized that they (James Cameron and Jon Landau (producer)) are all very down-to-earth, hardworking people who had a very exciting job to do,” Holt said. “They greatly appreciated and respected the expertise I brought to the job and I felt, and still do feel, like a member of Team Avatar.”
According to Moore, an important aspect of Holt’s lecture is to engage the undergraduate and Oxford communities.
“We like to bring in someone as part of the Belk Lecture Series who we feel will promote interest in plant biology in general,” Moore said. “We look for people who have exciting, stunning research in the realm of plant biology and can convey that to an audience.”
Moore said it was a pair of graduate students who originally came up with the idea of inviting Holt to Miami.
Hans Waldenmaier, one of the students who initially asked Holt to come speak at Miami, is interested in the possibilities the lecture could offer.
“I invited her because I saw Avatar and liked that it was focused on plant biologists,” Waldenmaier said. “(Holt) coming to Miami would bring botany into the larger sphere of society as Avatar did.”
According to Waldenmaier, Holt is also going to speak on “plant blindness,” or the general tendency to see plants but not be aware of their true value.
“I figured she would be a great person to come and help expand the role of botany,” Waldenmaier said.
According to Moore, the Belk Lecture Series honors Ethel Belk, the university’s sole botany professor from 1929 to 1968.
“The goal of the lecture series is to raise awareness of plant biology and engage students, and that’s what her role was for the university,” Moore said. “She was a great educator at Miami.”
According to Moore, the lecture will be followed by a small reception afterward.
“It’s our way of forming an outreach to Miami students and the community as well,” Moore said.