On stage at a private event in Silicon Valley last night, legendary director James Cameron and Google CEO Eric Schmidt held a fascinating two hour conversation that touched on everything from the technology needs of the upcoming Avatar 2 film to the perils that face the environment if action isn’t taken.
Eric Schmidt, acting as moderator, questioned Cameron on a plethora of topics in front of an audience of Silicon Valley movers and shakers for the Churchill Club Premiere Event. The conversation started with a video highlighting Cameron’s decades of accomplishments, including Terminator, Rambo, Alien, Total Recall, Titanic and of course Avatar. It quickly moved into a conversation about how he created the most expensive and most profitable film in human history.
Cameron said that before he wrote the script for Avatar, he wrote the basics of the story and consulted with the artists. “Now my first step is to work with the artists,” Cameron told Schmidt on stage. He does this because he needs to see the characters and immerse himself in the art (primarily CG and Photoshop these days) before he can write a script, which is a far more specific document.
Schmidt then asked Cameron about the technology he used (and in some cases invented) to create the Na’vi and the world of Pandora . The famous director described the motion capture technology used to capture the movements of the actors. Specific emphasis was paid on the facial capture rig that caught changes in an actor’s facial muscles, eyes and more. It wasn’t the rig itself that was groundbreaking, Cameron said, but the algorithms used to understand the actor’s emotions and facial movements.
As for Avatar 2 and Avatar 3, Cameron didn’t reveal any of the plot details (Schmidt asked for the plot, Cameron responded by asking for Google’ssource code). However, after the conversation, I asked the filmmaker what technologies he would have to invent in order to create both movies. While he mentioned that new CG would have to developed for Avatar 2’s underwater and ocean surface scenes, the real challenge he wants to tackle is increasing the frame rate of the sequel. Films are currently shot with a frame rate of 24 frames per second. His goal is to get it up to 48 or 60 frames per second, making it so that you get realistic shots at the time of shooting, rather than having to wait six months for editing.
Rewriting the Contract: 3D
James Cameron made an interesting point midway through the conversation — for work, many of us sit in front of our screens all day long. Yet when we want to relax… we watch screens. Sometimes we watch multiple screens.
The acclaimed director saw this and decided that he wanted to “find a fundamental way to rewrite the contract between humans and their visual media.” His tool of choice, as many of you know, is 3D.
Cameron sparked a new era of film with the spectacular 3D technology he created specifically for Avatar. The result has been a growing number of movies turning to 3D to enhance the movie experience.
He believes that there will be no barriers to 3D ubiquity in the next five to ten years. The first big breakthrough will be when it becomes mainstream in the homes. He pointed out that there are already millions of 3D-capable TV sets out in the market (many of which we saw at CES 2010); he says the real barrier to 3D going mainstream in the home is the lack of TV programming in 3D. Discovery and ESPN may be jumping into 3D, but we’re still years away from seeing The Big Bang Theory in three dimensions.
Cameron also believes 3D has to become a more comfortable experience to go mainstream. Google’s CEO took some time to explain the technology behind 3D glasses to the audience (polarized lenses help you see one image and then another in different view positions). Cameron believes we’re not far off from a time when we don’t need the glasses to watch 3D movies and TV shows. He says this will be especially be important for gamers, who can sit up to eight hours in front of a screen at a time. The Nintendo 3DS is already a step in that direction.
“We’re the Comet This Time”
The vast majority of the conversation turned towards ecological issues when Eric Schmidt described Avatar as a narrative about the world’s ecology. “Why do you care so much about it?” Schmidt asked Cameron. “What is your responsibility and why are you using your significant perch?”
“Any movie can be a teaching moment, but it has to be wrapped in powerful entertainment,” Cameron stated in response. He says part of the reason Avatar succeeded was that it spoke to the human psyche and heart. Specifically, it spoke to something he believes we all know: that we’re becoming disconnected from nature and that we are on a precipice.
“If we don’t take control over our stewardship of our planet,” Cameron began, “the planet we bequeath to our children and our grandchildren will be in significant danger.”
The next part of the conversation focused around the statistics supporting Cameron and Schmidt’s positions on the environment. They said that 70% of species will be extinct by the end of this century if we do nothing due to the rise of world temperatures. Both men pointed out that while an average temperature rise of a few degrees would be devastating, the temperature rise would be three times as great at the arctic and antarctic poles.
Cameron travels a great deal in order to bring awareness to his cause. He also intends to create several documentaries during the filming of Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 on the issue. He is also deeply involved in a project to create a vehicle that will reach the absolute bottom of the ocean, something that has been accomplished only once with a vehicle they described as a “gasoline-filled balloon.”
While they covered a lot of ground (more than I can reasonably type up), there was one quote that really summed up Cameron and Schmidt’s thoughts on our treatment of the environment. It was in reference to the comet that killed the dinosaurs.
“We’re the comet this time,” Cameron said.
By Mashable: http://www.mashable.com