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Avatar's James Cameron Talks 3D

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 11, 2008 at 6:05AM

Variety tech wonk David S. Cohen conducts an in-depth interview with James Cameron about something he knows a little bit about: 3D. An early believer and innovator in the technology that looks to revolutionize the way many movies are made, Cameron expounds at length. (He reveals some tech details on his next 3D effort, the long-awaited Avatar, due in 2009.) Here's a sampling of their email exchange:
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A17684Variety tech wonk David S. Cohen conducts an in-depth interview with James Cameron about something he knows a little bit about: 3D. An early believer and innovator in the technology that looks to revolutionize the way many movies are made, Cameron expounds at length. (He reveals some tech details on his next 3D effort, the long-awaited Avatar, due in 2009.) Here's a sampling of their email exchange:

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. Day for night, dry for wet, Vancouver for New York, potato shavings for snow. 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. 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.

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.

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

This article is related to: Production , Exhibition, Interviews , Franchises, Directors, Awards, James Cameron, Avatar, 3D, VFX


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.