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Hollywood places biggest 3-D bet yet on 'Avatar'

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"Avatar" also raises the bar on "performance capture" technology, which creates computerized images from real human action. The movie depicts an ex-soldier's interactions with 10-foot-tall aliens on the luminous planet of Pandora.

"I'm speechless," said Nahum Villalobos, a 19-year-old Navy recruit from Vista, Calif., who watched 25 minutes of exclusive footage of "Avatar" along with 6,500 people at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego on Thursday. "It's more extraordinary than any other movie that is out there, or has been."

The $237 million production is not as expensive as some 2-D fare such as "Spider-Man 3" (2007), which was made for $258 million. But it blows away "Monsters vs. Aliens" (2009), a 3-D animation movie made for $175 million.

Then again, Cameron's last film grossed $1.84 billion worldwide. "Titanic" is the highest grossing film ever.

"If you know Jim Cameron, it's all about pushing the envelope," said Vince Pace, who helped him develop the 3-D camera system used in "Avatar."

Cameron tweaked his cameras through two 3-D documentaries he made for IMAX theaters, "Ghosts of the Abyss" (2003) and "Aliens of the Deep" (2005).

His camera rig is now lighter — up to only 50 pounds — and the two camera lenses can dynamically converge on a focal point with the help of a computer, which is crucial for sweeping camera moves and action sequences.

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