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Harry interviews James Cameron regarding AVATAR - Part 1!

Hey folks, Harry here… Today was a weird day. I was out shopping for my fiancee’s birthday and our upcoming 1 year anniversary – when suddenly my cel phone began letting out with “When you Wish Upon A Star,” – the screen read that it was originating from California – and the voice stated it was Jon Landau of Lightstorm Entertainment. OOOOO. K. We exchange niceties – and Jon moves on to the business at hand. Seems that Fox had just announced and released a press release stating that they had formally greenlit AVATAR – big duh – they’ve only been shooting stuff on secret stages that only our spies know about for the past 4 months… but whatever, I suppose their stocks needed a lift. But whatever the case may be, Jon was calling to give me fair warning that James Cameron wanted to talk to me later today. No set time mind you, just… later today. Ok – so it was at this point that I put off the shopping till tomorrow – and I got back home to all my recording whiz bang stuff – hooked the cel phone up to my robotic secretary that looks like Maria from METROPOLIS and waited for Jim’s call. This was approximately 3:58pm. When given this kind of heads up – you quite the liquids and you don’t eat. Nothing can take you away from your post. You must be alert, ready – diligent. Finally – the cuckoo struck Seven and Fincher was nowhere in sight. BUT – the phone rang… and James Cameron was on the line… Jim – Hello Harry – Hey, Jim how’re you? Jim – Good, Harry how’re you? Harry – Oh, good. Jim – You believe it’s me this time, it’s not one of your friends pulling a prank on ya. Laughs Harry – Nah, I definitely recognize your voice. Jim – Alright (chuckles) Good. So we’re doing this little movie, AVATAR, which you got the scoop on. Harry – Absolutely. Jim – So now it’s time to tell the rest of the world about it. So is there anything you’d like to know that hasn’t gone out in the press release? Harry – Why so long? Why is this going to take till 2009? Jim – Well – it’s the photorealism. You know, in terms of my ‘gung ho’ directing, I’ll be done in terms of a cut of the picture by… um… probably November of this year. And then the rest of the time after that, which is going to be like a year and a half is just going to be me working with the effects guys day in and day out to get the visual caliber up to the highest level. Harry – Now, while your doing the Visual Effects work on this, will you be doing any work on BATTLE ANGEL.. Jim – Probably, Yeah, I’ll probably be sliding into PRE on Battle Angel during that time, it’s hard for me to know, until I’ve gone through the process to know what my time management is going to be capable of. You know, if I spend 5 hours a day doing Visual FX, which is probable, that will leave me time to do Battle Angel. If it winds up being 8 hours a day. NO. But I can’t answer that for right now. I’m hoping to telescope Pre on Battle Angel into post on Avatar. Which has always been the plan. Harry – If you would, explain to my audience why it takes this amount of time to achieve photorealism, because don’t we get that in a faster turn around on films today – or is that just not up to the photorealistic standards you’re setting for this picture? Jim - You do. Well you do, but part of. You know – we’re working with Weta which is a smaller company. They don’t THROW people at it. They’d rather do it with the same 150 artists that really know the characters, which relatively speaking, is a smaller team than ILM or somebody like that, which might throw 300 or more seats at it for a period of time. And I think that that is actually good. It helps with the cost and it helps with the quality. AND it helps with the character. The characters will be consistent throughout. The creatures are all animated. The humanoid characters, I think you know a little about the story – you have the Na’vis as the kind of indigenous peoples are going to be played by actors and their performances will be baked in by the performance capture process, so the animators will have less to do there other than to tweak and massage and to work on the hair and the physics of the clothing and that sort of thing to make it all real and to work on the lighting. Ya know, but you have a lot of animation that has to be done with all the creature characters in the film. So I’m really looking forward to that part of it – and that’s all in post. Although we have had some success with doing some of the creatures using performance capture which is kinda wacky in how much you can do with a human performer. We have these flying creatures called Banshees, and we’ve been trying performance capture with the Banshees and it has been working… ya know, how they land, how they crash, how they get shot Harry – What do you performance capture to get a flying creature? Jim – You get a creature guy and you give him a wand in each hand that corresponds to his wingtips and you get him to think like a pterodactyl and it actually works, though the targeting is a little strange some times. But it works or at least it works ENOUGH that I can compose the kind of shots I want, so I’m not just composing with negative space for something that just gets added later. Harry – How much of this is Performance Capture versus from scratch animation? Jim – Well – Like I said it’s gonna divide.. or bifurcate on whether it’s a humanoid or non-human creature. The Banshees and the other creatures are going to be about 90% or 95% animated. And with the humanoids hopefully we’re going to be coming down to 95% capture with the exception of ears and like I said clothing and hair and stuff like that. Harry – How far along are you on the casting process, I saw that you had Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana… Jim – Pretty far – Pretty far. Well Sam is a big milestone for us. Because the studio was equivocating for a long time about making this with a star, even though originally it was conceived as a non-star film. I think there was a moment kinda towards the end of their due diligence process that made them want a Star. Harry – What was it about Sam that made you want to pull him in? Jim – Well, we found Sam about six months ago now. I was familiar with him from before, he came in and read for me and I just really liked him. He has a quality. You know how Russell Crowe has this kinda innate strength about him and how in GLADIATOR men would follow him into hell. Well Jake (Sully the character) needs to have that and for a young guy. And most of these young guys, they’re either physical, meaning that they’re like buff handsome guys who are pretty good actors; or they have a kind of vulnerability that they can reach, but very few of them know how to stand up and be a man. Ya know, in the old school way – in the way that MEN will respond to. It’s fine for a guy to be attracted to women, but I need the male audience to respond to this guy and say , “Yeah, I see why people would follow him.” So ultimately he becomes this messianic leader who leads them into battle… in the old school Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard way. Where a guy kinda wanders into a situation in another culture, then rises through the ranks – or whatever – a Lawrence of Arabia kinda of story. Usually the guy has a military background, usually he is disillusioned or broken in some sort of way. It fits that kinda profile and Sam hits all those beats beautifully. He’s just a really good actor. Harry – What made y’all want to announce to the world right now with names like Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana – I mean will there be more recognizable names attached in parts? Jim – Yeah. I think the studio just wanted to state that “we’re doing this film” There will be additional casting announcements coming up. I still have to cast – ya know – I don’t know if you remember from the treatment – but some of the characters have been retained like (couldn’t hear this name) – so some of the major nemeses are yet to be cast. We still haven’t cast Grace yet, you know, who becomes his ally and she runs the, in the new script she runs the Avatar program. So yes, I think there will be some significant casting announcements coming up. The studio just wanted to drive a stake in the ground and say “We’re doing this, Watch out Summer 2009, don’t plan your big summer movie on Memorial day Mr Spielberg or Disney or whatever. Harry – Take us through what you’re aiming for – for the visual texture of this film. Jim - Well, it’s Photorealism, but I think that doesn’t mean it won’t have a cinematic style … and whatever Cinematic style that we adopt – and there’s still some testing to be done there – it has to work equally well in shooting HD DIGITAL STEREO and with CG. So whether it is a hard light look or something soft with some diffusion or whatever kinda color treatment it is… whatever we decide on as our look – that kind of look up table has to work for the digital cameras as well as the cg stuff so that the audience really feels they’re watching one seamless thing. People should not be thinking that was live action and that was CG. Harry – How early will you tease us with an image? Jim – That’s a good question, because what happens is there’s an awful big flurry of activity for like a year and you finally get one shot that you like and then after that another 1500 shots have to come in batches of hundreds. I would think that realistically it’d be SHOWEST of 07 – I’m sorry – of SHOWEST of 08 Harry – Wow Jim – Yeah, that’s ok – that’s just 14 months away – and by the way – that’s still 14 months before release. Harry – (laughs) Yeah, it’s just curious to see… {loud noises in the background – Jim yells, “Yeah?” “Hang on a second” – then silence – and suddenly one word is heard, “FIRE” then silence… then “Let me finish up this call” Loud noises in background} Jim – Hey, Harry? Harry – Yeah? Jim – Let me give you a call back. Apparently we have a fire about a half mile away and in dry Malibu with the winds blowing – We’re kinda all assholes and elbows here. I’ll call when I know. Harry – Alright, be safe. Jim – Alright – bye. And with that – Jim was gone. According to the L.A. Times a fire raged through Malibu last night through a “celebrity enclave” – Let’s hope that Jim and all his people are ok – and that the fire was controlled before damaging anything of his. I haven’t heard from Jim since, but hopefully later today we’ll reconnect given everything is ok, but for now… Man – I’m fucking jones’d to see this sucker. 2009 isn’t that far away – after all – it is 2007 – we’re already living in the future – and this film is in the not-so-distant future.

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