Avatar: The Result of a Quest for the Holy Grail of Cameras

The recent embrace of digital 3D film is largely due to the efforts of an unexpected figure: James Cameron. Cameron both helped create the modern 3D camera and masterminded the spread of 3D, all so Avatar could blow your mind.

Avatar dates back to 1977, when Cameron was just a truck driver determined to "out-Lucas George Lucas" in the outer space epic genre, but it took decades to get the clout to make as outrageous a project as Avatar. When he first sat down to plan the movie, his tech people told him his vision simply was not possible—"'If we make this, we're doomed,' one of the artists told him. 'It can't be done. The technology doesn't exist.'" He had to wait until after Titanic before he could tackle the project again.

This time, he got more invested in the tech side of it. The problem: He needed an incredibly high-definition camera that could deliver both 2D and 3D, without the headaches that sometimes accompanied two hours of 3D watching. There was a camera that could handle it, made by Sony, but the giant 450-pound unit wasn't feasible for Cameron's style of directing—so in 2000, he went out to Japan and persuaded Sony to re-engineer the camera to his liking. They ended up separating the camera's huge CPU unit from its lens, connected by a cable, thus bringing the handheld weight down to only 50 pounds.

Cameron lent the camera to filmmaker buddies to spread the gospel of 3D so his eventual release of Avatar would have the distribution it needed. Spy Kids 3-D and the Lord of the Rings trilogy opened the doors for technologically astounding epic films, just what Cameron orchestrated. His camera and belief in 3D is setting the stage for the current era of blockbusters—not necessarily something you'd expect from a guy who releases a movie about once every 15 years. [Wired]