James Cameron reveals his long-gestating Avatar sequels are finally forging ahead into the production stage, following years of development. The original film became the highest-grossing movie of all-time back in 2009, raking in $2.7 billion worldwide. Followups were definitely expected after that kind of record-shattering success, but the ever-patient Cameron never rushed into anything, taking his time as he put together four more chapters of his saga. Finally, he’s ready to return to the world of Pandora, and Fox has scheduled the sequels for release in 2020, 2021, 2024, and 2025.
Principal photography is set to commence with the main cast in September, but the Avatar films are ambitious, big-scale projects, meaning there’s a great deal of work that has to be done before the actors arrive on set. The visual effects wizards at WETA Digital have already been at it for about a month, looking to push moviemaking technology even further. The setting of Pandora, of course, was digitally created, so Cameron is taking an atypical approach to location scouting as he waits to start rolling the cameras.
Speaking with EW to promote the 3D re-release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron provided an update on the Avatar sequels, explaining his preparations ahead of the big day in September:
“Oh, we’re in production. We’re in full-tilt production. We’re in what we call ‘scouting,’ which basically is shooting for me. I’m on the stage all day long during the scouting process, because there are no sets or locations, other than in the virtual world, so I do all my location-scouting with a troop of actors that go through the virtual sets, and give me a sense of the scale and position, lighting, that sort of thing. Then, I’m in rehearsals with my principal cast and I start with them at the end of September.”
Recently, there’s been a renaissance of Hollywood productions embracing old school techniques of filming practically on-location (see: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Dunkirk), but that simply is not possible in the case of Avatar 2. Due to the nature of Pandora, it’s a necessity for it to be CGI, so Cameron has to get creative when it comes to setting up his shots. As he says, the movie will take place in a “virtual world,” meaning filming will be done on sound stages in a studio. That could be a daunting task for the crew, but it sounds like Cameron has the right idea here. His “scouting” should give everyone a sense of the environments so things run smoothly come the fall. Presumably, this is what WETA was doing in July, rendering the scenery so the director has an idea of what he’s working with.
The landscape of the film industry has drastically changed since the first Avatar premiered eight years ago, with multiple shared universes and “event” films filling the void Avatar filled in 2009. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how Avatar 2 stacks up, especially since it does not have the pop culture footprint of Marvel, DC, or Star Wars. Still, people have bet against Cameron before and lost, so for now it’s worth giving him the benefit of the doubt. He’s delivered hit after hit in his career, so there’s no reason to suspect that will stop now.
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