the Hallelujah Mountains
film stills from Avatar by James Cameron
Fantasy artist Christophe Vacher was doing the floating mountain thing for years before Avatar.
Update: apparently, for those of you who remember the 1970s, Roger Dean was doing it too:
Jason R suggests this link for more images. (None of them look even remotely familiar to me).
The floating mountains were probably the thing I liked least about Avatar. I'm not sure why they would work so hard to be at least semi-realistic in other areas, and then throw in floating mountains with no explanation whatsoever. The fact that they floated was totally irrelevant to the plot and could have been omitted without impacting the story a bit.
Speaking of borrowed ideas, I happened to catch a snippet of The Incredibles on TV the other night. They had essentially the same helicopter things with the maneuverable circular rotor assemblies on each side that were in Avatar. (Whether Avatar borrowed them from The Incredibles or whether both borrowed from an earlier source, I have no idea.)
Jonathan Swift was doing a floating island years before either. Do an image search on "Gulliver's Travels Laputa" to see illustrations over the years.
Don't forget artist Roger Dean either!
bsci: I was going to mention Miyazaki's great anime "Laputa: Castle in the Sky". I didn't realize the concept came from Gulliver's Travels. That's pretty cool.
Christophe Vacher does create some amazing images. I first came across his work in the collection of the excellent Museum Morpheus. He used to be a Disney background artist, and I believe he worked on the movie Number 9.
Another artist that pre-dates Vacher's floating mountains is Patrick Woodroffe (check out the book Pastures in the Sky, it's pretty cool). A bit less grand and more pastoral but still pretty.
I agree with commenter Jason R (#1). The whole movie was like being inside a Roger Dean/YES album cover.
This is awkward, but I don't know who Roger Dean is. YES is a band, but I don't remember them. I'll Google them.
Late to the party. But having just seen Avatar I do feel the influence from Patrick Woodroffe is very strong - even down to the naming of the floating mountains - Hallelujah- Patrick's book with relevant art work was called Hallelujah Anyway!
Roger Dean designed several album covers for bands such as Yes, Uriah Heep, Asia among others ... totally crazy covers .. the floating islands are basically the same with little difference. James Cameron used a lot of these images .. check the news .. Roger Dean should sue James Cameron for using his images. Just Google on images and type Roger Dean and then you will see a lot of similar images from Avatar... but during the 70's, 80's and 90's