Exclusive: James Cameron talks Avatar

11 facts about the most important film of the decade


Ask us to name the film we’re most excited about in 2009 and we’d have to say Avatar – despite the brilliant MASSIVE robots in the Transformers 2 trailer.

After all, it’s not every year that we get to experience a total cinematic revolution.

We weren’t around for the dawn of the talkies in 1927. We didn’t witness the first three-strip Technicolor feature in 1935, and totalfilm.com was a gleam in the internet’s eye in 1998 when The Last Broadcast ushered in digital cinema.

But we are going to be there when James Cameron finally brings his immersive 3D epic to your local Odeon, changing the way we watch films forever.

To celebrate, we’ve gathered together everything we know about Avatar – including exclusive new quotes from James Cameron, Steven Soderbergh, and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Avatar will be the most important film of the decade - possibly century. So here’s what we know about it...

1. Cameron’s been working on it for quite a while.

Cameron first wrote the treatment for his groundbreaking 3-D sci-fi actioner Avatar in 1995. He started by working with Microsoft, researching the way people see.

He teamed with WETA to develop new motion-capture techniques and photorealistic CG.

He made seven deep-ocean expeditions in five years (along with two 3-D Imax docs) to develop a new 3-D camera technology.


2. Avatar will be a 3-D experience unlike anything you’ve seen before.

The new technology allows Cameron to do something no one has ever done: shoot in live 3-D. Not poke-your-eye-out 3-D, but a totally immersive environment.

You don’t see a screen. You see a window. “Sharing a reality,” Cameron calls it. “You’re there. A scene in the snow with two people talking? You’re in the snow. You feel the snow.”

3. The CGI is photorealistic – it’s impossible to tell the difference between effects and location footage.

 “The audience has no idea which they’re looking at,” says Cameron. “Avatar will make people truly experience something.”

4. The synthespians will convey real emotion.

“One more layer of the suspension of disbelief will be removed. All the synthespians are photorealistic. We discovered that CG characters in 3-D look more real than in 2-D. Your brain is cued it’s a real thing not a picture and discounts the part of image that makes it look fake. I can say with absolute certainty that you'll see stuff you’ve never imagined.”

5. Cameron’s Virtual Production Studio is insanely powerful.

Standing on a bare stage while looking at Pandora through a handheld  camera, Cameron walks, crawls and soars around his alien world, as the VPS system tracks every CG cloud and blade of CG grass in the film.

“It’s like a big, powerful game engine,” he explains. “If I want to fly through space or change my perspective, I can. I can turn the whole scene into a living miniature.”


6. The cast is typical Cameron.

Take an unknown hunk (Sam Worthington) a couple of strong powerful women (Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez) add a couple of character actors, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, a sprinkling of Sigourney Weaver, and you’ve got yourself a Cameron movie.

7. The plot is ace.

Unfolding in the distant future on an exotic alien planet called Pandora, it’s the story of paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully.

 After undergoing an experiment to exist in the alien world as an avatar – a blue, 10ft-tall, genetically engineered biological body, controlled by his human mind – Sully finds himself torn in a fight for his own survival and that of Pandora’s indigenous people, the Na’vi.

Cameron’s script sets up an epic war between the native race of an incredible world and the humans who want to exploit it.


8. Other cinematic pioneers have been drawn to the set.

VIP guests have included Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Steven Soderbergh and, um, even shockrocker turned filmmaker Marilyn Manson.

9. Soderbergh liked what he saw - a lot.

 “Yeah, I went to the set,” said Steven Soderbergh, when Total Film quizzed him recently. “I can tell you that shit was mindblowing. The shit I saw was crazy. Like, craaaazy.I I think it’s gonna be gigantic. It’s gonna be another one of those benchmarks. There’s gonna be Before that movie and After.”


10. Avatar is already changing cinema.

Cameron says he will never make another movie in 2-D. DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg predicts that one day soon, no one will.   “What you’re seeing today in film in the 2-D image is actually the equivalent of listening to vinyl,” said Katzenberg, when he invited totalfilm.com to visit DreamWorks’ newly developed 3-D studios last month.

11. Cameron is aware that with great power, comes great responsibility.

“This is the ultimate immersive media,” says Cameron. “It’s my fundamental belief that when you’re viewing media in stereo, more neurons are firing, learning rates and engagement levels are higher. How will you use the deeper levels of engagement?”


For more Avatar, see the latest issue of Total Film Magazine, out Thursday 5 February.

Click here to see a preview and subscribe.


    • sleepwalker

      Feb 3rd 2009, 13:01

      feel sorry for those kids who ran with scissors and lost an eye. It sounds like this 3d experience is going to be outstanding.

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    • goldfarb

      Feb 11th 2009, 17:54

      I'm looking forward to Avatar as much as the next person...however, it might be prudent to avoid statements like the following: a total cinematic revolution changing the way we watch films forever Avatar will be the most important film of the decade - possibly century ...the fact that neither you nor anyone else has seen any footage and/or is able to comment on it objectively makes these statements ridiculous hyperbole "He teamed with WETA to develop new motion-capture techniques and photorealistic CG" a gross exaggeration...that ignores the past 15 years of VFX work that has led to the work being done all over the world right now. "the VPS system tracks every CG cloud and blade of CG grass in the film" this is factually incorrect. Katzenberg's statements MUST be taken with the understanding that he has a vested interest in attracting people into the theater...the future of 3D cinema will be very different than what he, or Cameron for that matter, claim. ...

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    • Yonatan

      Apr 30th 2009, 9:03

      "Jeffrey Katzenberg predicts that one day soon, no one will film in 2-D." Yeah, right. There will always be making movies like Frost/Nixon, Doubt, Milk, etc. Drama movies, about characters and emoitions with real recognizable actors. They aren't better movies, and Avatar might be great, but there will always be room for both kind of movies. image is actually the equivalent of listening to vinyl,” said Katzenberg

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