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Biography: Titanic and Avatar Director James Cameron

VO: Rebecca Brayton
He's the creative genius behind cinema's most iconic films, such as The Terminator, The Abyss and Titanic. With the release of Avatar, James Cameron finally returns following his long absence to create larger-than-life epic blockbusters that push the boundaries of computer technology and high-tech visual effects. Join us at as we explore the turbulent and fascinating career of one of Hollywood's most prestigious visionaries, who has made a name for himself as a writer, director, producer and industry leader in the creation of Hollywood visual effects.

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James Cameron Profile

He is well known for his temper on set, and need to pioneer new cinematic technologies in order to bring his iconic visions to life. Welcome to and today we’re taking a look at the career of director James Cameron.

James Cameron was born in Ontario, Canada in 1954. In his youth, he was drawn to reading and writing science fiction, while building model rockets from whatever scrap he could find. Later, he went on to study Physics at California State University Fullerton. Merely a year into his studies, he dropped out to marry a waitress and drive a truck. However, he underwent a life altering moment of clarity when he saw Star Wars in 1977. As a result, Cameron left his job and wife to pursue a career in Los Angeles in the hopes of creating his own sci-fi epics.

Some time after arriving in Los Angeles, Cameron got his start as the art director for Roger Corman’s “Battle Beyond The Stars”. The job had been given to him following a screening of his own 12-minute film “Xenogenesis”, which showcased his ability to produce stunning visual effects.

In 1981, Cameron worked his way up to the director’s chair for the film, “Piranha 2: The Spawning”. The shoot was a terrible experience for Cameron, as the film had an extremely low budget and a crew that only spoke Italian.

Due to the stress he was under, Cameron experienced a nightmare about a robot assassin from the future. This inspired him to write the screenplay for 1984’s “The Terminator”, which he brought to life with the help of friends from the marketing department at Corman’s production studio.

The film became an unprecedented success, which instantly revolutionized the action movie genre and propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger into Hollywood stardom. His success caused the 20th Century Fox to pursue him as the writer and director for 1986’s “Aliens”, the high profile sequel to Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking sci-fi horror film “Alien”. Despite friction caused a crew that constantly stopped to take breaks, Cameron managed to defy expectations and was rewarded at the box office for producing a strong narrative, characters and unparalleled visual effects.

Due to this financial and critical success, Cameron was given an enormous vote of confidence from 20th Century Fox, as he was again pursued to direct “The Abyss” in 1989. However, cost over-runs due to his elaborate set pieces and three cancelled release dates caused the film to fail financially. The tense underwater shooting and severe shouting matches Cameron had with his actors, which resulted in their refusal to participate in promotional events, did not help the project either.

In the wake of this setback, Cameron formed Lightstorm Entertainment so that he could have full creative control of his projects without studio intervention. His first order of business was to create his impressive sequel to “The Terminator”. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” instantly became Cameron’s biggest success up to that point, as the movie drew in audiences, while claiming numerous awards for industry leading effects, all made possible by the technology that Cameron’s crew had begun pioneering during the production process of “The Abyss”, such as the liquid effects that were central to the movie.

Cameron then followed-up with various projects that where uncharacteristic for the director, such as his spy film “True Lies”, and the futuristic film noir production, “Strange Days”, which he co-wrote and co-produced.

These projects helped him bide his time until he could truly position himself as one of cinema’s most iconic director’s with 1997’s “Titanic”. The film became one of the most visually stunning, expensive and profitable pieces of celluloid ever produced. It was made possible by the technological contributions of Digital Domain, the second company Cameron had founded strictly to produce ground breaking computer generated imagery. The demands he placed on his talent and crew were so high that he drove them to the brink of exhaustion during their 2-year filming schedule. His budget also kept ballooning until it reached a record breaking 200 million dollars. As a result, Cameron decided to forgo his own paycheck in order to ensure that he maintained full creative control.

In the wake of “Titanic”, Cameron took a ten-year absence from feature filmmaking. During that time he served as the producer for both the television show “Dark Angel” and Steven Soderberghs film “Solaris”.

Cameron then ventured back to the themes of his previous films by directing the documentaries “Ghost of the Abyss” and “Aliens of the Deep” for Imax. These projects allowed him to satisfy his fascination surrounding the mysteries hidden in the ocean’s depths.

With a vocal audience that clearly wanted James Cameron to create yet another cinematic epic, he finally returned to feature filmmaking with his 2009 sci-fi masterpiece “Avatar”, a movie that he had envisioned over a decade earlier, but was unable to make due to limitations in technology.

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