Cameron Geeks Out Again
BD: I know it would've been groundbreaking to get Zoe Saldana an Oscar nomination. What's it going to take to turn around the perception that it's more performance than animation?
JC: It's a learning curve. And the acting community needs to understand it before they can embrace it. And right now they don't understand it. They don't know if it's animation; they think it's like you do a voice part and then a bunch of animators create your character and they're not that interested in that. You know, if it's three-day's work and they can get a lot of money to do the voice for a Pixar film, then they're fine with it. But let's not start confusing that with Academy Award quality acting. But when they realize that it's not three-day's work but a year's work, including months of preparation and months of work and it's as exacting and as disciplined and as pure an acting form at least as what you'd have acting for a camera. It's just there's no lens. Then they'll not only understand what it takes but also what the possibilities are. And how it doesn't erode their jobs: it actually creates new jobs and new possibilities. But that's not going to happen overnight.
JC: Right, the thing is, there were two forms of animation on Avatar: there was classic keyframe creature animation, vehicles and the plants. And bringing these creatures to life we had the best animators in the world and they looked alive: the way they breathed, the way they moved, the mass, the agility, even down to the high-frequency fluttering of the trailing edge of the wing membranes of the Banshees. I mean, there was an incredible observational attention to detail. But when you say animation in connection with the human performed characters, you have to use the term in a very narrow sense because even though they were the best animators in the world doing it and it took all of their skill, they weren't animating in the classic sense of creating a character. The character and the performance were created by the actor. And it was up to the animator to preserve that performance without embellishment and without diminishment. And that's a different category of animation from a Pixar-type character animation or the kind of creature animation that they were doing on the same movie. The same animation team was doing Banshees and Hammerheads and Thanators at the same time they were doing Neytiri and Jake. But they were very different specializations.
BD: Have you given more thought to a sequel?
JC: No, I haven't had a chance to think about anything except running around and doing interviews and red carpet and award ceremonies.
BD: OK, so let's look back at your VFX experience and how this is really a culmination of sorts.
JC: I did an NPR interview and they were talking about the [Roger] Corman days and Terminator was an extension of techniques from when we were doing the Corman films. It was a snapshot of that time and how you did stuff in camera and a little bit of opticals and a lot of practical gags. And I realized that pretty much everything that we did in visual effects in those days has been replaced. Everything! We don't use film -- we don't even use lenses anymore. We certainly don't do bi-pack and optical printing: everything's digital composite. But the essence is the same: you still have to design it and previsualize it and execute it -- and you still have to be telling a story with characters and you've still got to do lighting even though it might be virtual lighting as opposed to actual lighting.