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Why two more Avatar movies will be good for tech innovation

Movie maker James Cameron announced today that he will make two more Avatar movies as follow-ups to the biggest blockbuster of all time. That’s going to be a good thing for Silicon Valley because Cameron is the biggest advocate for the advancement of 3D technology and he has invented many cool 3D technologies that will be useful to the rest of the technological world.

Cameron made the announcement on stage at the Churchill Club dinner Wednesday night in San Jose, Calif.

With the creation of Avatar, which generated $2.8 billion in worldwide box office receipts, Cameron was able to convince the world that 3D movies can be phenomenal in big movie theaters. Over the course of 12 years, he invented new 3D movie cameras that are now commonly used. Those cameras are nine-axis, servo-controlled cameras. As a rig gets close to the subject, the two cameras filming the person also move closer together so that the net result is viewable.

“We used the basic principles of human vision to guide our stereoscopic 3D system,” he said, speaking with Google chief executive Eric Schmidt.

Beyond creating 3D camera innovations, Cameron convinced many other Hollywood directors to stay the course in supporting 3D, digital cinema, and other cool technologies. So Silicon Valley should be quite happy that Cameron is moving forward with the new films.

“Silicon Valley is about making things, and James is our analogue in Hollywood,” Schmidt said.

Cameron is writing the scripts for two Avatar sequels and plans to begin production on the first in 2011. The second film in the series will likely debut in 2014 and the third will debut in 2015, according to executives at 20th Century Fox. The sequels will be shot in 3D and will continue to explore the themes, characters, and the fantastic world of Pandora that dazzled audiences in the first film.

Cameron said that some of the action of the film would be set underwater on Pandora and that he is working on an underwater submarine that he hopes to take to the very bottom of the ocean — a feat that has only been done once before. It won’t be easy to film underwater scenes in 3D, Cameron said.

“We are going to see the oceans of Pandora and the life forms that exist there,” Cameron said. “You will see computer-generated water and the optics of bringing light through water. It’s all doable. Those are just plug-ins.”

Cameron said the big change is that he wants to natively author the movie in a higher frame rate, not at the traditional 24 frames per second that current movies are filmed at. He will do it at 48, 60, or 72 frames per second.

“The projectors can do it,” he said. “That’s another bump we will do.”

There are all sorts of innovations that Cameron had to do in order to take his 3D cameras underwater to shoot the Titanic film. Now he will have to build on those innovations and will likely have to work on more robotic vehicles to help with underwater filming. Cameron said that future spacecraft would be able to use a 3D camera and its zoom lens to explore other planets.

“If all goes according to plan, we will be shooting the first 3D movie on another planet,” Cameron said.

Schmidt noted that there are a million mountains under the water that his Google Maps team can’t map.

“That must drive you crazy,” Cameron said.

Asked if Google and Cameron planned to collaborate, the two men said they were very like-minded but had no plans to do so. Schmidt said his company doesn’t do content but that Google’s technologies are much better because of advice the company gets from content creators such as Cameron.

Schmidt suggested that Cameron create an online virtual world set in Avatar’s Pandora moon. That way, he said, Avatar fans could feed ideas directly to Cameron for the next movies. Cameron said he was already committed to doing the movies and it would be hard to do that task in parallel. Schmidt joked that the ultimate fans would be obsessed with the details and could actually help him create the film’s plot. Cameron said that the feedback would be valuable, and he suggested that video games were already planned.


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