Building The Tech
It's perhaps not that surprising that, like similarly the gadget-happy Robert Zemeckis, Cameron would be one of the earliest proponents of filmmaking capabilities such as 3D.
For many years, 3D had been consigned to the dustin of history, written off as a gimmick best suited to 1950s schlock horror and bad Jaws sequels. But 10 years ago, James Cameron was still thinking about it.
Driven by frustration with current techniques - something he'd experienced first hand while making the Terminator 3D ride for Universal Studios theme parks - Cameron and former Abyss crew member Vince Pace challenged themselves to make something better - quicker, sleeker and easier to use.
Part of his inspiration was a rough plan to shoot a Mars movie that would convince people to restart plans to explore the place (it's another of his big passions).
He even planned to ride into space aboard the shuttle. Before he could take his camera to space, he tested it under the sea, and the results were stunning.
His experiences fueled the likes of Ghosts Of The Abyss, which explored the Titanic wreck in a whole new way.
One thing led to another and Cameron quickly realised that technology was developing in leaps and bounds. Zemeckis' work with performance capture on the likes of Polar Express helped point the way, even though Avatar's creator figured he could make it even better.
“We basically made up a whole vocabulary to go with our new tools that we were creating. I’m not saying that we invented motion capture. We didn’t but the motion capture was just the foundation from which we went onward with the image-based facial performance capture which we did create with the simulcam system.
"It allowed us to take the virtual world and the live action photographic world and put them together.
“So that when I was operating my live action camera, my 3-D camera, when I had it on my shoulders and I was operating a scene with actors, I could actually see the virtual world at the same time in my eye piece which was phenomenal. That was unprecedented.
"We did all this unprecedented stuff but you have to be willing to go through the painful steps of creating those things and going from an idea to a prototype to a production ready tool set in a very rapid timeframe.”
And for all the talk of 3D, Cameron's true aim was capturing a new reality. "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.
“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.”
Yes, he was at a point where Avatar could be finally be realised. But would it be his next film? Because there was still some competition…