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James Cameron and Peter Jackson Explore the Future of Film

Directors talk tech - and "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings" coming to 3D - at Comic-Con

July 27, 2009 8:22 AM ET

The level of directorial awesomeness on stage at Comic-Con's Hall H hit some kind of peak at the end of Friday afternoon, after a long day of movie previews, star appearances, and plugs for forthcoming Star Wars videogames. Peter Jackson and James Cameron — the majordomos of spectacular huge-budget fantasy movies — simply sat and talked about movies and technology for an hour, and offered a look into what they think is the future of film.

More than anything else, both filmmakers are excited about the new possibilities of 3D movie-making. Cameron mentioned that he's planning to convert Titanic to 3D; Jackson noted that he'd love to make Lord of the Rings available in 3D format (and that "Dead Alive would be cool!"), but that it's tough to convince studio executives to foot the expense, since there aren't many 3D-capable theaters at the moment. "There'll be a lot more 3D screens when they know the Lord of the Rings films are going to be available in 3D," Cameron replied.

(Click here for photos of New Moon, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Avatar and more at Comic-Con 2009.)

Still, it can be hard to fund the development of film technology. Cameron noted that Avatar had "a very long pre-production period that was funded by Fox" — to the tune of $10 million — "and they reserved the right to cancel the project at the end. We got to the end of it, and we had a piece of film that was 40 seconds long. It looked more or less like what we showed yesterday, but it wasn't as good — it was still in the 'uncanny valley.' But they could see enough of it to be intrigued."

Cameron's hoping for film to become more realistic, he said; he'd like 3D movies' standard frame rate to move from 24 to 48 frames per second, "and then you're looking at something that's indistinguishable from reality. Even 2D films would look more sharp."

One member of the audience asked if perhaps new technology might be driving too much of the state of film. "Once upon a time, sound was new technology," Jackson replied. "We're working in an industry that's constantly evolving."

Likewise, Cameron defended the extensive motion-capture technology he used in Avatar. "Not only does it not replace actors, but it empowers them, in ways that all the years of slapping makeup on their faces to create age or alienness didn't," he said. "I don't like to call it motion capture, I like to call it performance capture. Actors don't do motion, they do emotion."

Jackson and Cameron also discussed the future of movies' audiences. "I've got a 14-year-old son," Jackson said, "and when I was his age I used to know the dates movies were coming out. My son is doing exactly the same thing with games — he doesn't have much interest in films coming out, but he's looking forward to the next Gears of War. The entertainment options for young people are a lot broader now, and the quality of films is slumping a little bit. It's easy to blame the studios, but when we can remember how to be original and take risks, films will surge back up again. Where film is infinitely superior to any other medium is emotion and story and character."

Cameron concurred: "You don't cry at a video game."

Jackson talked a bit about his forthcoming film The Lovely Bones, and another project he's got in the works: a replacement for the gigantic King Kong at Universal's theme park that was destroyed by a fire, a ride involving what he called "super-Cinerama" images of Kong fighting Tyrannosaurus Rexes. And Cameron responded to an audience question about what movies he might make after Avatar: "It's not a good time to ask a woman if she wants to have other kids when she's crowning."

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