Academy Award-winning filmmaker James Cameron begins principal photography on Avatar - his first feature directorial effort since Titanic - in April 2007 for a summer 2009 release, it was announced today by Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman.

Utilizing a blend of live-action photography and new virtual photorealistic production techniques invented by Cameron's team, Avatar will offer audiences a unique cinematic experience. Avatar will be filmed in 3D for release in the new digital 3D format. With the continued roll-out of digital projection systems, the studio and filmmakers anticipate that digital 3D theaters will be widespread by the film's summer 2009 release.

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For Avatar, Cameron will use revolutionary image-based performance capture techniques, and a real-time virtual camera system, to create new CG worlds and blend them with dramatic performances and live action in ways never before possible.

Avatar is written by Cameron from an idea he nurtured for over a decade, while working on the technology necessary to realize its wholly imagined world. A return to the action adventure sci-fi genre that made him famous, Avatar is also an emotional journey of redemption and revolution. It is the story of a wounded ex-marine, thrust unwillingly into an effort to settle and exploit an exotic planet rich in bio-diversity, who eventually crosses over to lead the indigenous race in a battle for survival. It thus again combines the elements of massive spectacle and intimate character that made Titanic the highest grossing film of all time; a title it still holds by over three quarters of a billion dollars.

Just as he did with the then little known Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron wanted a new face to portray the lead, Jake Sully. Having searched around the world and screen tested a number of emerging young actors, Cameron has chosen the young Australian Sam Worthington, a rising star who has been recognized by The Australian Film Institute and The Film Critics Circle of Australia, in his homeland from such work as Somersault and Dirty Deeds. Zoe Saldana (The Terminal, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl) will portray the local woman Jake first betrays, then loves. Both actors have signed on for possible future installments as well, as Avatar is conceived as a potential franchise. Other casting will be announced shortly.

Said Cameron, "For me, as a lifelong fan of science fiction and action, Avatar is a dream project. We're creating an entire world, a complete ecosystem of phantasmagorical plants and creatures, and a native people with a rich culture and language. The story is both epic and emotional. The two things that make this film even possible are pioneering advances in CG effects and performance capture, as well as my 22 year relationship with Fox, since only with great trust can you operate so close to the cutting edge. I plan to honor that relationship by bringing them a winner. And I have the team to do it, the best team of artists and technicians I've ever been privileged to work with. This one's going to be a grand adventure."

"Every year, our business makes hundreds of films, most of which come and go. But a Jim Cameron film is different," said Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos. "Jim's movies raise the bar, both in storytelling and use of technology. Avatar will do so again. The world he has created is breathtaking and the action breathless. It will take two more years, but in the summer of 2009, Avatar will be a seismic change in the movie going experience."

The film's new image-based process of facial performance capture will get all the subtle nuances of the actors' performances. The virtual camera system will allow Cameron to work intimately with the cast while seeing in real-time, as each scene evolves, the computer generated worlds and characters. This revolutionary approach allows Cameron to direct scenes with CG characters and environments exactly as he would on a live action set.

The edited performances and scenes, incorporating Cameron's hands-on camera moves, will be turned over to Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning visual effects house Weta Digital (The Lord of the Rings trilogy). Weta's artists will incorporate new intuitive CGI technologies to transform the environments and characters into photorealistic 3D imagery that will transport the audience into the alien world rich with imaginative vistas, creatures and characters.

Avatar is produced by Cameron and Jon Landau for Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment. Principal photography will take place in and around Los Angeles, and in New Zealand. Live action will be shot using the proprietary FUSION digital 3D camera system developed by Cameron and Vince Pace.

Avatar is the latest creative partnership between Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox, one of the most successful filmmaker-studio alliances in motion picture history. Cameron and Fox first joined forces in 1985 for Aliens, which became a sci fi classic. Next came The Abyss, which revolutionized visual effects technology; and True Lies, a blockbuster starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1996, Fox greenlighted Cameron's Titanic, which became the most successful film in history, and won a record-breaking eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.