Cameron's Incredible Film Legacy

August 25th, 2017Cameron's Incredible Film Legacy

When it comes to the cinema, in modern times, size doesn't matter. There are still those who will always prefer to pay for select showings of blockbusters in IMAX, but for many, modern home theatre is a worthy alternative to the big screen. Consequently, there's more and more pressure on the film industry to make the cinema experience stand out as a place of cutting-edge innovation.

Over the past few decades, James Cameron has been at the forefront of that innovation. The 62-year-old is understandably one of the biggest names in Hollywood, thanks to directing two of the most successful films of all-time, Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009), as well as films such as Aliens (1986) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). On top of making commercial hits, Cameron's creative ingenuity has provided the catalyst for many modern technologies.

Like all geniuses, James Cameron refuses to settle. Not content with revolutionizing 3D viewing with Avatar, he's hoping the 2020 sequel, Avatar 2, will go even further; 3D without the need for glasses. His production company Lightstorm Entertainment has recently signed a five-year tech deal with Christie, a technology company focused on production 3D equipment, with the aim of making glass-free viewing a reality. There's still a way to go until that becomes a plausible, but if Cameron delivers on his promise, it'll be the latest in a rich history of invention.

Elevating Special Effects With 'Terminator 2' And 'The Titanic'

Cameron's technological influence started with Terminator 2: Judgement Day in 1991. Following up the original Terminator seven years earlier, Cameron waited until technology was able to help him tell the story he wanted to tell it. With the help of George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic, the film became a breakthrough in visual effects, especially CGI.

It was the first film to use human motion capture, as well as the first to use a partially computer-generated main characters with Arnold Schwarzenegger's iconic T-800 and his newfound, shapeshifting nemesis, Robert Patrick's T-1000. At a cost of $5 million and using a team of 35 people to bring the imagery to life, the hard work was rewarded with the Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 1992.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg (eh). Cameron focused his talent on creating a fictionalized depiction of the real-life sinking of the HMS Titanic in 1912, instigated by his aquatic passion and interest surrounding shipwrecks. The Titanic, released in 1997, became the first film to gross one billion dollars at the box office, earning $1.84 billion during its initial release and $2.18 billion after a 3 D release in 2012.

'The Titanic' was praised for its special effects [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'The Titanic' was praised for its special effects [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

The spark that caused the phenomenon surrounding the film is hard to pinpoint, but aside from "Leo-mania," Cameron's spectacular use of special effects made the film a must-see on the big screen. In particular, a scene depicting the striking moment the ship dramatically ruptures in half before sinking into the abyss of the North Atlantic Ocean, which was created with a mixture of practical effects (a 14 metre miniature model of the ship) and digital mastery. The film won 14 Oscars, including Best Visual Effects, Best Picture and Best Director for Cameron.

The director's intrigue in the ocean inspired his next decade of work, as well as an important invention. Cameron took a 12-year break from directing feature films, instead focusing his efforts on making documentaries on deep-sea exploring. During this process, he created the underwater dolly, a significant development in underwater filming which allows the camera operator to smoothly glide through water, creating shots that are as stable as land-based alternatives.

Starting A 3D Revolution With 'Avatar'

Cameron's return to feature films was worth the wait. The original idea for Avatar was conceived in 1994, but Cameron didn't finish his passion project until 2009, when technology was capable of doing justice to the vibrant, dreamlike paradise of fictional moon, Pandora. Typical of Cameron, he didn't sit idly by, instead co-creating the 3D Fusion Camera System with Vince Pace, a stereoscopic set-up mimicking the human eye that provided a breakthrough in 3D filming.

On top of using the new technology to film, 70 per cent of Avatar was CGI, with many scenes shot on a performance capture stage six times bigger than anything Hollywood had used previously. Thanks to another invention co-created with Pace, Cameron could use a virtual monitor to see the effects of the CGI in real-time while the actors were on set. Furthermore, advancements in performance capture allowed exceptional levels of facial detail to be picked up, with Cameron claiming 100 per cent of the actor's physical performance was captured.

Such was the film's success, Cameron broke his own record by leap-frogging The Titanic as the highest grossing film of all time as it became the first film to reach $2 billion at the box office. As with his earlier effort, Avatar was also glittered with award recognition, nominated for nine Oscars and winning three — a reward for a visionary who consistently pushes the boundaries of cinema by creating film's that can't be replicated at home.

For Cameron, the next step to elevate the cinematic experience is 3D viewing without the glasses. Is it possible? Developments are in very early stages, and finding a breakthrough with the technology and equipping cinemas with it in time for Avatar 2's release is a long shot. But, if anyone can do it, it's James Cameron.

(Source: The Atlantic)

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