For some, a body of work garnering more than $5.7 billion in worldwide box office and 21 Academy Awards is enough for an impressive résumé.
Not for blockbuster director James Cameron.
Cameron — the director behind “Avatar,” “Titanic” and “The Terminator” — delivered his first college lecture Wednesday in front of a capacity crowd in the Ohio Union’s Archie Griffin Grand Ballroom.
After a 55-minute lecture and 25 minutes of question-and-answer, Cameron gave away the night’s most popular tidbit of information: a 3-D re-release of “Titanic” is in the works.
“We’ve done tests and it looks really cool,” Cameron said. “You gotta spend your time, and you’ve gotta spend the money to make it equal to what it would have looked like had you shot it in 3-D, and if I had 3-D cameras back in ’96, I would’ve done ‘Titanic’ in 3-D. That’s a no-brainer.”
Meanwhile, Cameron’s visit to OSU comes on the heels of his latest smash-hit, “Avatar.”
Not only did “Avatar” bag three Oscars at the 82nd Academy Awards, it sank Cameron’s own “Titanic” as the No. 1 film of all-time at the box office, earning more than $2.7 billion worldwide in total receipts.
“’Avatar’ was by far the riskiest project that I’d done yet, and I’d done some pretty risky projects,” he said.
Cameron said that the first two years in development of “Avatar” were devoted to developing new technology, including a “virtual camera” which allowed Cameron to direct the actors in real-time while viewing their animated characters on a monitor.
“Instead of seeing Zoe Saldana or Sam Worthington, I would actually see their 10-foot-tall blue characters in the rainforest of Pandora,” he said.
Weta Digital, one of the digital effects companies working on “Avatar,” also developed a new form of technology for the film which helped to capture the actors’ facial movements. After taking a year to shoot the actors, it took an additional year for Weta to return fully-animated shots.
“We were three years into a 4-and-a-half year multi-hundred-million-dollar project before we saw a single finished shot, and it was a pretty spooky time,” he said. “What an amazing day that was.”
“Avatar” was so advanced, in fact, that Cameron was asked how humans linked to their avatars in the film.
“It uses the PFM principle,” he said. “Pure f—ing magic.”
Now, after completion of “Avatar,” Cameron is campaigning for environmentalism.
“In ‘Avatar,’ Earth is referred to as the ‘dying world,’ and that’s not meant to be a big downer or a criticism, it’s meant to be a call to action,” he said. “Especially to people your age because this is the world you’re going to inhabit.”
Before Cameron took the podium, a six-minute highlight reel from Cameron’s films played on two projection screens, featuring clips from “Titanic,” “Avatar,” his “Terminator” films, “The Abyss” and “True Lies,” as well as footage from his deep-sea documentaries.
Then, Cameron took the stage, and after rousing the audience with an “O-H … I-O,” Cameron talked about his unforeseen rise to success in film.
“When I was a kid, it was just an unfathomable dream,” he said. “It didn’t even seem possible.”
Cameron, originally fascinated by physics, developed a love for English and science-fiction after realizing he was poor at math.
“I figured if I couldn’t do science, I could write science-fiction,” he said. “That pretty much started to define my career path.”
In 1979, Cameron landed his first paying job in film as a production assistant for “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” before bagging his first directorial dig on a major feature film in the 1984 film, “The Terminator.”
“I found out that directing a movie consists of knowing all the answers, even if you didn’t really know all the answers,” he said. “It was that the attitude of leadership was more important than the specifics.”
Cameron went to work on “Avatar” in 1995, but the technology of the time was not sufficient to get the film into production.
“It became pretty quickly apparent when we broke it down and analyzed it that no single movie would have the time or the resources to solve this very, very complex problem,” he said. “I actually created too big a challenge.”
In the meantime, Cameron went on to develop “Titanic.”
“Titanic,” now the No. 2 highest-grossing film of all-time at the worldwide box office, as well as winner of 11 Academy Awards, worried studio executives during production that the film would lose the studio money.
“It was a chick flick where everybody’s wearing corsets and funny hats and everybody dies at the end,” he said. “This is not intuitively obvious that it’s going to beat ‘Star Wars,’ and frankly, nobody involved believed that it was going to make a lot of money.”
Mounting pressure on the success of “Titanic” weighed on Cameron so much that he taped razors to the monitors in his editing rooms with a message saying, “Use in case movie sucks.”
Now, with “Avatar” and “Titanic” resting No. 1 and No. 2 on the worldwide box office charts respectively, Cameron is sharing his experiences and speaking to adoring college students.
“I came because I am a very large fan of Mr. Cameron’s work and I knew it was his very first college lecture,” said Alex Stigler, a first-year in English. “I was interested in what he would have to say in regards to the filmmaking process and what insights he would give us.”
Grady Cobb, a second-year in landscape architecture, appreciated Cameron’s insight.
“The lecture was kind of informational and an insight into what [Cameron] was thinking,” he said. “It was interesting how he came up with all these different things.”
After success with “Titanic” and “Avatar,” Cameron said that his best advice to young people is to take risks.
“Take risks, don’t do what everyone else is doing,” he said. “You need to intentionally go as an artist where it’s uncomfortable, where you’re going to challenge yourself.”
[This story ran online for The Lantern on April 30, 2010. Click here.]