The_Futurist_Cover.jpgYou have to walk fast to keep up with James Cameron on one of his film sets. He moves in hyperspeed. After the first time I visited the stages in the Los Angeles warehouse where Avatar was filmed, I learned to wear my sneakers to work.
I was there for a Time magazine assignment and was astonished by what I saw–a reinvention of how movies are made, a virtual set that existed only inside the director’s camera, and in his mind. I knew Cameron to be an innovator, but this was clearly his magnum opus as a future-minded filmmaker. As I watched the director work, I became curious about a man who seemed interested only in doing things that were hard, and in doing them perfectly, and I was determined to follow his intriguing film’s progress more closely.
It took several months of asking, but eventually I secured Cameron’s permission to return and watch him work for this book. I was a fly on the wall during the movie’s performance-capture shooting and as Cameron teleconferenced with artists at Weta Digital in Wellington, New Zealand, to perfect Avatar’s 2,500 special-effects shots. I visited his production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, in Santa Monica as he conferred with scientists to shape the mythology of Avatar, and his home in Malibu as he edited the film. I talked to more than fifty of Cameron’s friends, family members, and colleagues. I met his mother, who is an action heroine trapped in the body of a Canadian grandmother, and spoke to his friend Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has appeared as an iconic villain and hero in three of his movies and spends weekends riding motorcycles with him through the Santa Monica mountains.
I talked to Dennis Muren, who helped achieve the stunning advances in computer graphics on The Abyss and T2, and to Peter Jackson, who stood on Cameron’s shoulders to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy before lending his friend his special-effects house for Avatar.
“You can’t help but come away from spending time with Jim feeling that you’re a little bit stupid,” Jackson warned me early in my research. “He’s got such a sharp mind, he’s formidable.” Jackson was right. Cameron’s brain is formidable, fascinating, and equally developed on both sides–the scientist and the artist.