July 26, 2009 / 12:13 PM / 9 years ago

James Cameron talks tech, "Avatar" at Comic-Con

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Even before Oscar-winning writer/director James Cameron unveiled 25 minutes of 3D footage for his upcoming space adventure “Avatar” at Comic-Con last Thursday, 20th Century Fox had blanketed downtown with “Avatar” posters unveiling the alien race, Na’Vi, from planet Pandora.

Director, writer and producer James Cameron speaks during a panel discussion for his upcoming movie "Avatar" at the 40th annual Comic Con Convention in San Diego July 23, 2009. The convention runs from July 23 to July 26. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

And Once the adoring crowd at Comic-Con got their first glimpse of the actual film footage, the focus turned from cutting-edge 3D to performance-captured, computer-generated magic. Cameron talks about his love of technology and his 14-year quest to bring his world of Pandora to the big screen.

Q: With “Avatar,” “TRON Legacy,” “Toy Story 3D,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” and “Alice in Wonderland,” 3D is a big theme at Comic-Con 2009. How does 3D move beyond this upcoming slate of movies.

A: 3D is going to be a lot like color was. It was initially introduced on the biggest movies, and it gradually spread ultimately over a 25- to 30-year period to the point where you couldn’t make a black-and-white movie without the permission of the studio. I think the acceptance is really accelerating now that it’s market-driven. Audiences love it and the quality of the 3D is so much higher than it’s ever been in the past — in terms of the acquisition technology like our fusion camera system, in terms of how animators are using it, and in terms of the projection technology. They are taking away all the impediments that kept it from being anything but a fad in the past, and now it’s all upside.

Q: So you don’t see this current wave of 3-D as a fad?

A: The last couple of years have demonstrated audiences will pay for this premium experience. We’re off and running on what I call the 3D Renaissance. I think it’s definitely here, and it’s here to stay. When I was looking at ‘Avatar,’ — whether to make the picture or not and how to make it — for me, 3D was not a question. I thought it was superior. There was a question of how fertile a ground it would fall on in terms of available theatres, but it looks like we’re there. It looks like we’re going to have more than enough to make back the additional costs of 3D, assuming the film’s successful.

Q: What is it that you like about telling stories in 3-?

A: I don’t know if you tell a story in 3D. I think you share your story with the audience in 3D. I think I tell it the way I’ve always told it. My compositions don’t change. The way I direct actors doesn’t change, and the way I cut scenes doesn’t change. I think it’s really more of a bonus at the moment that you sit down and watch the movie that you feel more immersed in it and more physically present. I actually think 3D engages more areas of the brain, just the way we process 3D images. It makes you more aware and more present as you’re watching the film because there’s more brain activity.

Q: Outside of 3D, what types of CGI technology have been developed for this movie?

A: The irony with ‘Avatar’ is that people think of it as a 3D film and that’s what the discussion is, but I think when they see it, the whole 3D discussion is going to go away. I think the discussion is going to be about the fact that you’ve got synthetic characters that are so true to what the actors did in terms of the performances that they actually have a soul, they have an emotional reality, and they have life. They are kind of unassailable in terms of their visual reality. I think that’s going to be the story. I think that’s going to be the story of this world that took us four years to create, and all its detail — the creatures, environments, and the reality of all these fantasy characters that don’t seem like fantasy at all. They feel like they are sitting right there with you, and I think with that it just boils down to storytelling. Is it a good story? Does it satisfy? Do you get roused up?

Q: Is introducing new technology and filmmaking techniques as much fun for you as telling a story?

A: I’m kind of a techno geek. I like the engineering. I like the challenge of complex solutions for problems that have not been solved in the past. That kind of gets me out of bed in the morning, but that’s only one part of it. The other part of it is, I got cool characters, I got a great story and I got a world that I want to show. One serves the other, and ideally in the watching of the film the technology is advanced enough to make itself go away. That’s how it should work. All of the technology should wave its own wand and make itself disappear.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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