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D I R E C T O R ' S C H A I R H OLLYWOOD — It's been 12 long years since James Cameron's last feature film, a little production called Titanic, lived up to its name and all the hype, conquering the world and every box office record in histor y. Now the visionar y director is back with Avatar, a four-years-in- the-making 3D sci-fi epic featuring the world of Pandora populated by blue-skinned locals and human-engineered avatars. Here, in an exclusive interview, Cameron talks about making the film, which stars Sam Wor thington, Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver, and the groundbreaking technology that went into the ambitious project. POST: What sort of film did you set out to make? JAMES CAMERON: "Pretty much the one we made, which was a film that's like the stuff that played on the projection screen of my mind when I was a teenager, informed by science fiction. I used to read it voraciously, since there wasn't so much of it in theatres back then. Except for 2001, there wasn't anything really vivid — maybe Planet of the Apes. So ever y time I'd read a science-fiction novel, I wanted to see that stuff in the movies, and the only film I've re- ally made so far that was a space subject was working in Ridley Scott's house, doing the Alien sequel. And I wanted to do original stuff, all those creatures and landscapes and plants and animals that I'd been drawing and noodling with over some 20 years. "So I looked for a wrap-up project that could do all that — start with a clean slate, a brand-new world, make it up from scratch and make up my own rules, so I could pick the color of the sky basically. Then I realized that historically there are some pretty suc- cessful examples of this, such as Star Wars and Star Trek — even The Lord of the Rings. And fans really love this kind of depth and detail, so when I began Avatar I really put a lot of energy and focus into a sense of com- pleteness in detail of the world, for that very reason. So if we fail it all ends there, but if we are successful — and I think all your de- cisions should be made as if you're going to be successful, as nothing else makes sense — don't bet against yourself, right? — then we'll make more films and that world will continue to flesh itself out and be a place that fans can go to." POST: What were the main challenges of bringing all that to life? CAMERON: "The design was a huge challenge. It took two years to design all the nuances and so on, but to me that's less of a challenge and more just fun. I love doing all that. I'd say that in terms of just butting our heads against the wall, it was breaking through the barrier of emotional reality in the CG characters. And we did it in the end, because we knew it'd be the biggest and toughest challenge of the whole film — that the film would succeed or fail not on its beautiful wide vistas but in its tightest close- ups. And once we cracked the code — and it wasn't one code for all characters, it was eight different codes and each one had to fall into place perfectly before we could re- ally relax — and we'd gotten all the main characters with their CG characters operat- ing properly and being truthful to the actors' performances, then we knew all we had to do was work for another year to get the other 2,000 shots done. Which was the other big challenge." POST: You love technology. How much fun was it developing the new 3D Fusion camera system for this? CAMERON: "I like imagining something that doesn't exist yet, that's just around the corner in terms of what's possible, then building it and firing that sucker up and watching it run.There's nothing more satisfy- ing to me in the world — and that applies to robotics, the underwater systems we used on the expeditions, the little box we used to explore inside deep ocean ship wrecks, lights, subs and all the technology we developed and used on this. It's just a whole separate part of my brain. It gets its own ya- yas out from doing this sor t of film and has almost nothing to do with the director side of me that loves to work with actors, create characters and make an audience laugh or cry.That's a whole other lobe." POST: Didn't you also develop another camera system? CAMERON: "Yes, the Simulcamera. It happened like this: I was working on the vir- tual stage, playing with this vir tual camera, which isn't a camera at all — it's just this ob- ject the computer says is a camera, and it renders what the object would be seeing if it were a camera, and shows it to you on a screen mounted on the object. "So it becomes essentially a camera in a vir tual world, but it's not an optical device. So I said, 'What if it was a camera, and it could actually photograph what was is front of it? Could we not put up a greenscreen with actors in front, run it through a switcher, key it back to me at the eyepiece, and me be able to move the camera around and see both the CG world and the live-ac- tion actors at the same time? Wouldn't that be possible?' And everyone stood there and went, 'Oh fuck! We think you're right —we just don't want to have to build it.' "It took them years to make it. Glenn Derry built it, the guy who set up the original head rigs and our whole process of capture. James Cameron — Avatar By IAIN BLAIR This new film further blurs the line between production and post. Over a dozen Avids were used on Avatar — a combination of Media Composer and Symphony Nitris systems. The editors — Steve Rivkin and John Refoua — cut in DNxHD 36. 14 Post • January 2010 Jim Cameron on set: "I like imagining something that doesn't exist yet, that's just around the corner in terms of what's possible, then building it..."

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