Cameron Geeks Out Again
JC: Yep, as you well now, Linwood basically invented the optical printer. And they used to call it The Trick Department, and I strongly debated when we were founding Digital Domain whether to call it Digital Domain or The Trick Department. I always loved that and the idea that there were three guys back in a room someplace who were the only ones on the studio lot who knew how this stuff was done. And it was like Linwood and two assistants.
BD: So you came along at just the right time.
JC: We anticipated that [transition]. When we founded Digital Domain, Scott Ross, who was one of the three founders, was coming from the ILM culture and he said he had some great ideas for who to staff the optical department with. And I said, "Scott, there's not going to be an optical department -- it's called Digital Domain." We are going to be the first company that starts from scratch, all digital. And he said it won't work. But obviously he got talked into it eventually, because that's what we did.
And what was terrifying one year was obvious the next -- that's how rapidly it was changing. But when we set the place up, we were still on these SGI Onyx engines and it was a pretty obsolete paradigm by present standards, but when we set it all up, the first thing we had to figure out was, what's our all-digital composite color space? We brought in Price Pethel and he set up the whole pipeline and for how composite would work and we had code writers that wrote Nuke and Flame and all that stuff and it was really an amazing and fertile time. And it was a turning point because all the other houses went, "Oh, shit! They don't have an optical department!" And there was about a two-year period where we were the best out there at 2D composite. But, meanwhile, ILM were leapfrogging forward on CG character creation doing the Jurassic Park films and they were just blowing us out of the water in that area. So we actually got into these specialized ruts for a while and Avatar was actually a direct response to us being in a 2D composite rut. We founded this company to be like Disney and creating characters and figuring out ways for CG to become the new form of character creation because that's what Stan Winston did for a living, and when Stan and I founded the company, that's what we wanted to be doing. So, I said, "All right, I'm going to write the ultimate, kick-ass, CG character and creature movie and then we'll have no choice but to be the best in the business or die trying." And that's what Avatar was.
BD: What do you think of in looking back at your other films?