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James Cameron on Avatar

Published October 1, 2009 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of 20th Century Fox
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James Cameron fans have been waiting 12 years to see anything from their favorite filmmaker. We knew he was working on something major, and years ago he dropped the germ of Avatar. Now we’ve seen that the whole movie features a race of blue aliens called the Na’Vi.

James Cameron Talks Avatar


“We spent a lot of time on the character design and we based them closely on the actors,” Cameron said. “We found out in our very early testing, going back almost four years with this, that the closer the architecture of the face was to the actor playing the character the better the performance translated. In other words it didn't have to be interpreted by Key Frame Animation. So we actually cast this film looking at and making sure it was a face that we wanted.”

You might not recognize Zoe Saldana or Sam Worthington as their blue counterparts, but that’s still them giving the performance. “In other words, we originally had this conceit of, like, 'Well, it's going to be a CG character. It doesn't have to look like the actor.' But that turned out not to be the case. So we cast actors that, in the case of lets say Zoe for example. In theory she doesn't appear photographically in the film but we wanted to the character to be based on her, the way her mouth and face and eyes look and then we just kind of stretched and dilated it. Her eyes are four times the size of a human eyeball by volume. They're huge. We knew that being driven by the performance that she gave that it'd still have heart and soul which was the critical thing. I think that after the first few minutes you forget that they're blue. I mean, really, it was a fine line to walk between making them too alien.”




Cameron has always been at the forefront of technology. If anyone can keep it relevant to the story, it’s him. “The ideal movie technology is so advanced that it waves a magic wand and makes itself disappear. I think that's what we tried to do on Avatar. I think it's what we tried to do on Titanic. We were using state of the art stuff on Titanic to tell a story that took place in 1912 and I don't think people came out of the theater buzzing about the neat CG composite shots or the motion capture that was used for all the big crowd scenes. They were talking about the love story and about the emotions. I think that maybe a little earlier in my career I was a little less even or maybe didn't have it quite as much in balance. I think we got in balance on Titanic. I think we got in balance on Avatar.”

Ultimately, the final word on Avatar won’t be about the technology. It’ll be about whether the story rocks or not. “There are a lot of technology stories here - the 3-D, the facial performance capture, the CG, all that stuff - but that's not what people want to hear about. They want to hear about the story. So I think it finds it's own level and if you do it right it's transparent.”

Well, the story of the movie, and the cool sh*t you get to play in the video game based on the movie. “We designed vehicles that exist only in the game but it was our designers so there was a consistency to the look to the technology. I think that kind of close association is a good way to do it. I mean, I think that if you just think of it as a derivative, ancillary product the game's not going to be very good. If you think of it as something that's sort of coauthored and parallel there's a lot of cross talk and a lot of cooperation. So that's just one example, but we'll do other media as well. So ultimately it does sort of take on it's own life.”

Avatar opens to theaters on December 18th.

For the posters, trailer and latest updates, go to the Avatar Movie Page.


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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of 20th Century Fox
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