James Cameron talks about his IMAX adventure, Aliens of the Deep
When you think of James Cameron, what comes to mind? Come on now, in the old days it was The Terminator, but now its that sappy CG movie, Titanic, that went on to make a bazillion dollars and made James Cameron an even bigger house hold name. Who could forget his Oscar acceptance speech when he threw his arms in the air and repeated the cheesiest line from that film, "I'm the king of the world!" Well I'm one of those people that remember all that, and hope he returns to the Terminator franchise to kick butt again like he did for the first two. Fortunately, all that changed for me. I went and saw his latest project, Disney's new IMAX film, Aliens of the Deep. It was a rainy day during the recent storms that hit Los Angeles, and all I could think was "where the hell is the theater?" Anyhow, I got to the location just in time, went in a sat down in the dry screening room. What I saw next just blew my mind! The 3-D that Cameron uses is state of the art. It's not the blue/red 3-D like in Spy Kids 3, instead the images are slightly crossed, but the glasses you wear are colorless. Think the Terminator 3-D ride over at Universal Studios Hollywood. As the time went by I was stunned by the various creatures that were captured on film, and in this style of film, they literally jumped out at you. The bottom line was that I absolutely loved what I saw, but more importantly was impressed with James Cameron the man. When I got to meet with him in Los Angeles recently to talk about his latest venture, it didn't feel like I was talking to James Cameron the director, but rather, Cameron the explorer. I was made aware of his support for scientific research for marine biology as well as astro-biology, and finding that out made me respect the man for more important reasons.
So how did this project come about?
Cameron: Ghost of the Abyss was supposed to be the Bismarck/Titanic project. We were ready to shoot and ready to go. We were part of a six-week program and doing some diving and so forth. So when we were on location doing dives and I saw the vents, I thought this is the next film, we have to film this. So that's how this one came along. So it was a one-year cycle of buying the subs and the ships and getting ready for all this.
Was NASA involved in the financing?
Cameron: No we got 100 percent financing from Disney then went to the science community and said is there something you guys want to do because we are going out. We got the ships and the robotics ready and we're going. There's so much science that can theoretically be done but we wanted people to go along with us and do actually research on our dive, to tell part of the story. I thought it would be criminal to go out there with all these assets and not do any research. So we got a huge groundswell of support from the science community, and equally from NASA an the oceanography community.
Do you take this project on the same way you would a major motion picture?
Cameron: I'm a camera operator, I'm a director, I'm an expedition leader, I'm a team coordinator, but when I'm there n the dive operating the camera, I'm thinking like a movie director, I'm lighting shoots, I'm planning out positions, I have a checklist much like a movie of shots or things we need to cover, so I'm definitely there to get the shot, so I am thinning like a film maker. Aside from that, its not like a typical picture shoot, because although we have a schedule sort of, if one day I'm tired or the crew is tired I tell them, you guys want to shoot today or take a day off? If it's a day off that everyone wants we take it. There's no pressure about losing money each day like there is on a regular movie shoot.
Was there anything unusual happen on the ship?
Cameron: Well we were our there ready to shoot on the first day and the entire A-frame broke. This is the piece of the boat we use to lower everything into the water! So there we are in the middle of the ocean and we decide we're going to start cutting a big piece of the side of the boat and weld it all together and fix the A-frame I can remember seeing the Russians looking t us with their binoculars and thinking we must be crazy to be cutting out the side of our ship!
Are you done with the Titanic?
Cameron: I wouldn't rule it out completely. I feel that if there is going to be a systematic surveying of the ship I want to be part of it.
Can you describe the genesis of the project?
Cameron: A few years ago I started down this path of creating this 3D camera system and once I started working in that, I couldn't imagine myself going back and shooting with the camera that I used before. It just seemed like going back from a car to a bicycle, and I don't want to ride a bicycle again, so the question is, at what point can I use the kind of imaging that we're able to do now for a feature film? That's taken a few years to put together and the pacing item on that is digital cinema, the changeover to d-cinema, which is going to be happening throughout North America and eventually Europe and so-on, where they are literally going to replace every projector in North America in the next five or six years, however long it takes, because in order to display the stereo, the 3D, you need to have those digital projectors. I need those theaters, so I've sort of been waiting until the right moment to make a big movie and we believe that moment is now. So we're in pre-production now on a movie called Battle Angel, which is based on a Japanese Manga series of graphic novels by an artist named Yukito Kishiro. It's not in the sort of top ten of graphic novels in Japan; it's a lesser known one, and we're going to make Battle Angel over the next couple of years and release it in '07. By early summer of '07, we expect to have somewhere around a thousand digital 3D theaters that will be able to show an image that looks more or less like what you saw in the IMAX theater but the IMAX theater was film, and this is going to be digital projection.
This will be shown in multiplexes?
Cameron: Multiplexes everywhere. All cities, all territories. And yeah, you'll wear glasses, obviously.
Which timeline do you intend to focus on?
Cameron: It's a bit of a mélange of the first three books, which means that it pulls forward the motor ball story into the Ido, Alita, Hugo story, if you will.
Will it be live action?
Cameron: Live action and CG mixed, meaning we will build sets, we'll shoot with actors and we'll have CG characters. Alita will be CG; she'll be performed by an actress but what you see in the film will be CG.
Cameron: That's a very good example.
Do you have any casting choices?
Cameron: No. We have some stuff we're working on, but it's kind of premature to talk about it.
Will you be using marquee names or just unknowns?
Cameron: They won't be unknown. They'll be very recognizable names, but I don't see this as a star vehicle per se.
Is this the future of cinema?
Cameron: Uh, TBD. I don't know yet. It's the future of cinema for me, if I can make this work with these digital theaters. The next time we shoot, we're going to use the new generation of the camera system, which is the new Sony SR compression, so it's inherently got a little more dynamic range and a little better resolution, and we'll do the Lowry processing, or Lowry-type processing on top of it, so we think we're getting to a level where we're basically the equivalent of capturing two side-by-side 4K images, and that's like so much more information than you need. It really allows us for a theatrical feature; I could blow the image up double and still have more resolution than a 35mm film.
With all of your opportunities is filmmaking for yourself more than an audience?
Cameron: If I'm making a feature film like when I'm doing Battle Angel or some of the other projects I have planned for after Battle Angel, I know I'm making a film for an audience. I can't just please myself.
What is the basic plot of Battle Angel?
Cameron: 26th century, the story takes place 300 years after a societal collapse caused by a major war, but in that society, it's a technological dark age following a pinnacle of achievement far, far beyond where we are right now. So in a sense it's post-apocalyptic, but it's post-apocalyptic from a very high level. So now, you've got cyborg technology as just a way of life. People are augmented a lot as workers and so on, so being a cyborg is not unusual. The main character is a cyborg. She has an organic human brain, and she looks like she's about fourteen years old. She has a completely artificial body and she's lost her memory- she's found in this wreckage and she's reconstituted by this guy who is a cyber-surgeon who becomes her kind of surrogate father. It's a father-daughter relationship story that just has the most insane action that you can imagine. It will be PG-13 -- lots of blood, but it's all blue."
Would you ever want to shoot in space?
Cameron: I wouldn't say no, but it would have to be done right. I actually had a plan to go up to the space station in cooperation with NASA, but after the Columbia tragedy and after 9/11, that wont be happening I don't think for quite some time.