James Cameron's Inspirational Discussion on 3D and Avatar

April 11, 2008
Source: Variety

James Cameron

Out of all of the brilliant filmmakers out there, James Cameron tops the list as one of the most innovative and profound visionaries ever to step foot in Hollywood. Cameron has been working on his next project, Avatar, for years now. Its his latest narrative feature since directing the box office behemoth Titanic in 1997 and this time he's looking to show the world how beautiful 3D can be. He even invented the camera system with his engineers himself, called the Fusion system, and is expecting it to become the standard in the future. Variety recently interviewed Cameron via e-mail and posted one of the most comprehensive and inspiring interviews I have ever read. This is a must read, in every way, for every moviegoer.

There is such a vast wealth of information discussed in the interview, that it's not worth picking apart every question - that's up for your to do yourself as you're reading it. However, it's worth noting a few of the important things that Cameron says. One of the biggest concerns with 3D in this day and age is that filmmakers will lose their original storytelling aptitude when they're shooting for 3D because they then focus entirely on that aspect. With Cameron, he made sure to consider the overall impact of 3D before moving forward in production.

"Before I decided to make a major movie in 3-D, I had to resolve to my own satisfaction that the 3-D would not degrade in any measurable way the 2-D viewing experience. Could I shoot the same way? Would the camera placement or lighting be compromised? Could I cut as fast? Etc. Only when I had done enough 3-D production and testing to answer these questions was I willing to proceed."

Cameron even addresses a question that has been my exact concern with 3D from the very start: "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?" His answer (in abridged form):

"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…"

"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… 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."

James Cameron Shooting AvatarCameron eventually goes into the exact technical process of shooting in 3D, including how the cameras work and the complete Fusion system. Despite he's using such incredible technology though, he still doesn't forget about what he's doing - making a movie that's telling a story. "I compose the shots on a 2-D monitor, while in the back of my mind I'm imagining it in 3-D. That way I know I'm always making a good 2-D movie as I go along. I also edit in 2-D, for the same reason."

I almost can't believe I'm reading half of what he's saying. I'm a self-proclaimed 3D hater - I think its purely a gimmick (so far) that eventually only becomes a sales point for movie theaters. You can read my extensive thoughts on 3D in our Sunday Discussion on Is 3D Really the Future of Cinema?. I thought I was alone in the belief that 3D is only a gimmick, but damnit, it seems as if even Cameron agrees! This statement he makes is astounding - that's my exact thought and I'm glad someone like him recognizes that Hannah Montana and Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D are disgraces in the world of 3D.

"I think it is a mistake under any circumstances to make a film which is dependent on 3-D for its success, either aesthetically or commercially. The film should not be marketed first and foremost as a 3-D experience. The film should be sold on its merits (cast, story, imagery, etc.) and the consumer should be informed that they can purchase the experience in 2-D or, for a couple extra bucks, in 3-D."

Another area that Cameron addresses that was inspiring to hear about was the approach that actors take to shooting in 3D. It seems the idea, with movies like Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, is that the actors would be acting for 3D - with green screen environments and motion capture. That is typically the case and also typically why those movies lack any subsistence, but thankfully Cameron is staying away from this. He confirms that the actors, which consist of Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, and Zoe Saldana, stay true to their original acting aptitude despite Cameron's filming methods and new camera system.

"I made it my mission to keep the 3-D out of the actors' consciousness completely. Most of them forgot we were shooting 3-D, because we did playback on set at a 2-D monitor. Every once in a while one of them would go over to the theater and watch some dailies, and come back wide-eyed. But it really didn't change a thing they were doing on set. As a director, my work with the actors was not affected in the slightest by the 3-D component of the shooting."

Lastly, one of the most important questions, was whether Cameron thought 3D could ever be used in dramatic situations and films that weren't dependent on action. "Right now, 3-D is pretty much being used for films that have some spectacle in them… But there are people wondering whether it will actually enhance the impact of character-driven stories. What are your thoughts on how 3-D changes the experience of watching actors act?" In turn, Cameron addresses this by actually explaining that he'll take on a 3D dramatic project after Avatar just to prove that it's possible.

"I plan to shoot a small dramatic film in 3-D, just to prove this point, after "Avatar." In "Avatar," there are a number of scenes that are straight dramatic scenes, no action, no effects. They play very well, and in fact seem to be enhanced by the stereo viewing experience. So I think this can work for the full length of a dramatic feature. However, filmmakers and studios will have to weigh the added cost of shooting in 3-D against the increased marketing value for that type of film."

If you've gotten to this point and haven't had the immediate desire to read the entire interview over at Variety, then I'm not sure there is anything else I can do to convince you. I've been inspired and excited from what Cameron had to say in this interview alone to keep holding out for 3D. I think James Cameron know what the future is going to hold more than anyone - since he is the one who is shaping the outcome.

I firmly believe that we will not truly see 3D at its finest until Avatar arrives in December of 2009. For the remaining 20 months, we're going to only ever see that gimmicky 3D thats there to stick out at you and grab your attention; we won't ever see the real 3D that Cameron talks about until Avatar. Without a doubt I believe that Cameron will show us the way to the proper use of 3D and why it really could be considered the future of cinema. Be ready to have your life changed forever on December 18th, 2009.

Find more posts: Discuss, Editorial, Hype, Movie News



Nice find.. and that is an amazing article.. glad to see Cameron still out there defending 3D... but also being the realist about its current usages. I have to side step this conversation a little and say that I am in support of 3D as a gimmick now also... I see that gimmick as a way to continue to engage the young audiences. Do they absolutely make me feel like I have lost braincells upon leaving the theater? YES.... Does my 8 yr old absolutely love them and now look forward to every new movie, 3D or not? HELL YES.... Just last night, he and I were sitting at the computer browsing the site and checking out the new trailers for movies he will be interested in and such. Alex, I see a junior reviewer/critic coming your way soon.. hahahaha (I mentioned critic, cause he DEFINENTLY tells me when a feature is 'Dumb' and proceeds to tell me why. I am so proud, I created a movie junkie)

Dusty on Apr 11, 2008


Good to see that Cameron realises that no matter how advanced your effects or shooting methods are, a film will only resonate or engage the audience if proper attention is given to story and character. You should always aim to make your films visually exciting, but visuals are only the icing on the cake. If you have to rely on them and them alone, you're up shit creek.

Ricky Roma on Apr 11, 2008


Wait, Dec. 18TH, 2009?? Aw man, I was planning on doing laundry that day. Maybe I'll go see it the weekend after that. What Cameron is saying should hold true for any technical advancement in film... the story should always come first. The effects he helped pioneer in movies like T2, The Abyss, and Titanic would have been pointless if they weren't used to enhance a good, solid story. He can throw the term "3-D" around this time, but if the story blows it'll just be a gimmick. If only more moviemakers would recognize that fact. I guess we'll find out when Michael Bay releases Armegeddon 2: in Fusion 3-D!!

kevjohn on Apr 11, 2008


Wow, does he EVER know what he's doing! I've loved all of his movies (I don't know about "Titanic", I haven't seen it in a very long time), and he's definitely going to make a huge impact with "Avatar".

Andrew on Apr 11, 2008


It's like watching a revered kung fu master, who hasn't fought for years, entering the arena to show the kids how it's done. Can't wait.

Manfred Powell on Apr 13, 2008


If I had the power to time travel only once... it would be to December 18th, 2009

Cmurder on Apr 14, 2008


Manfred great analogy! I can't wait for Avatar. If it were any other director I would be a little hesitant but James Cameron is someone who has proved time and time again that he is a master at combing strong characters and story lines with cutting edge film making. Dec 2009 can't arrive soon enough! Also I have just discovered this website and am enjoying the editorials which have more depth than a lot of other film sites. Good work!

Sumit on Apr 16, 2008


"It's like watching a revered kung fu master, who hasn't fought for years, entering the arena to show the kids how it's done." F. YES.

Haha on Apr 18, 2008


Cameron is pure genius. A real engineer and master story teller. Avatar will be ground breaking on the 3D tech alone. But knowing Cameron it will be a great story as well.

john on May 2, 2008


jim cameron is the best out there titanic was and is a beast from any angle you want to see it.11 years have already passed and no other movie has even been close to it.

chicote on Jun 6, 2008

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