Director James Cameron has explained the complicated production schedule that will allow him to shoot four Avatar sequels in quick succession. Cameron plans to roll out Avatar 2 in 2020, with the other sequels releasing in 2021, 2024 and 2025. The entire endeavor, which is now set to officially begin shooting, is reportedly budgeted at over $1 billion.
The original Avatar was a box office behemoth in 2009, becoming the highest-grossing film of all-time worldwide with $2.7 billion in ticket sales. Cameron pushed mo-cap and computer effects technology to their limits and beyond with Avatar, creating an immersive visual experience unlike anything ever seen before. Now with his four sequels Cameron is trying to top himself yet again, driving technological innovation in the process.
Shooting four sequels in quick succession will require Cameron and his production crew, including special effects house Weta Digital, to stay on a very tight schedule. Speaking to THR, Cameron explained roughly how that schedule breaks down:
"Avatar 2 and 3 will be captured together and then [go through postproduction] sequentially. Then we go back and capture 4 and 5. They're all written and they're all designed, so we literally hit the ground running the day after Avatar 3 comes out, starting capture on 4 and 5 and then post on those and release those. That's the plan. So, it's kind of a two-and-two structure."
Tellingly, Cameron refers to shooting as "capturing," an acknowledgement that in movies like this the actors are really just elements in a largely computer-generated image. The original Avatar was already mostly created in the computer, and the sequels are sure to be even more dependent upon the powers of computer animators. The idea of shooting so many movies on such a tight schedule is not new - Peter Jackson shot all three original Lord of the Rings films basically simultaneously - but Cameron is really pushing things to another level by tackling four huge, computer-effects-laden films in such a limited time span.
The shooting schedule for Avatar 2-5 may sound insane, but if anyone can pull the movies off it's James Cameron. Technical challenges don't scare the Oscar winner, as he proved on his underwater adventure The Abyss, one of the most physically daunting film shoots of all time. Naysayers don't worry Cameron, who made Titanic a blockbuster even though most people thought the epic film was sure to be a failure. And if the technology doesn't actually exist to realize Cameron's filmmaking ambitions, he just invents it as he did on Avatar (and will again on the sequels).
With a budget of over $1 billion, the Avatar sequels are a hugely ambitious project beyond anything else Cameron (or anyone else) has attempted. The director seems confident that he can deliver the movies one after the other, even considering the massive postproduction work that will go into them, but ultimately audiences will determine whether this was a gamble worth taking. The original Avatar was a gigantic success, but the world has changed since 2009 and there are concerns that audiences may not be that warm to the idea of returning to Pandora even once, let alone four more times. Audiences have gotten used to visually impressive films in recent years, so just upping the ante on the technology may not be enough. The stories have to be there too, and that is the true concern with Avatar.