James Cameron Speaks on Avator, 3-D Usage

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James Cameron's upcoming Avatar ranks as one of the most anticipated film projects in recent memory. The film will mark the Oscar winner's first narrative movie since Titanic, while also representing Cameron's long-held dream of melding digital 3-D stereo with epic big screen storytelling.

Below, the director discusses the project with Variety. You can read the full interview here.

We're seeing that audiences like 3-D and it's becoming a main driver for adoption of digital cinema systems in movie theaters. But speaking strictly as a storyteller and director, what does 3-D add to the creative side of a project?
I believe that Godard got it exactly backwards. Cinema is not truth 24 times a second, it is lies 24 times a second. Actors are pretending to be people they're not, in situations and settings which are completely illusory. Day for night, dry for wet, Vancouver for New York, potato shavings for snow.

The building is a thin-walled set, the sunlight is a xenon, and the traffic noise is supplied by the sound designers. It's all illusion, but the prize goes to those who make the fantasy the most real, the most visceral, the most involving. This sensation of truthfulness is vastly enhanced by the stereoscopic illusion. Especially in the types of films which have been my specialty to date, the fantasy experience is served best by a sense of detail and textural reality supporting the narrative moment by moment.

The characters, the dialogue, the production design, photography and visual effects must all strive to give the illusion that what you're seeing is really happening, no matter how improbable the situation might be if you stopped to think about it -- a time-traveling cyborg out to change history by killing a waitress, for example. When you see a scene in 3-D, that sense of reality is supercharged. The visual cortex is being cued, at a subliminal but pervasive level, that what is being seen is real.

All the films I've done previously could absolutely have benefited from 3-D. So creatively, I see 3-D as a natural extension of my cinematic craft.

A 3-D film immerses you in the scene, with a greatly enhanced sense of physical presence and participation. I believe that a functional-MRI study of brain activity would show that more neurons are actively engaged in processing a 3-D movie than the same film seen in 2-D. When most people think of 3-D films, they think first of the gimmick shots -- objects or characters flying, floating or poking out into the audience.

In fact, in a good stereo movie, these shots should be the exception rather than the rule. Watching a stereo movie is looking into an alternate reality through a window. It is intuitive to the film industry that this immersive quality is perfect for action, fantasy, and animation. What's less obvious is that the enhanced sense of presence and realism works in all types of scenes, even intimate dramatic moments.

Which is not to say that all films should be made in 3-D, because the returns may not warrant the costs in many cases, but certainly there should be no creative reason why any film could not be shot in 3-D and benefit from it.

When I started down the path of developing the 3-D cameras with Vince Pace in 2000, we were looking for an alternative to the massive film-based cameras I'd used in the past. Two years later, while deep in stereo technology development and production, I had an epiphany: that the digital projectors being proposed to replace 35mm film, could support 3-D perfectly, because of their high frame rates.

They could actually display 3-D by projecting left and right eyes sequentially, at crazy high frame rates, which we perceive as simultaneous. So I figured this would mean that a whole new era of 3-D was now possible, and that our humble 3-D efforts would ride to market on the broad back of the digital cinema rollout, which was seen as imminent and inevitable.

It is ironic that half a decade later, the rollout is happening, but largely because it has been catalyzed by 3-D. D-cinema is riding 3-D to market. And that's because audiences are seeing something they like and are demonstrating a willingness to pay more for it. The new 3-D, this stereo renaissance, not only solves all the old problems of bad projection, eyestrain, etc., but it is being used on first-class movies that are on people's must-see lists.

These are fundamental changes from what happened with the flash-in-the-pan 3-D craze of the '50s. 3-D is also a chance to rewrite the rules, to raise ticket prices for a tangible reason, for demonstrable value-added.

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