James Cameron’s Patience in Creativity

Technology is often progressive and fast, and is constantly breaking barriers and defying laws. However, even technology needs time and patience to present new ideas. James Cameron’s films have always defied the odds, pushed boundaries, and presented work never seen before. When asked about film making he stated that: “You have to be bold, you have to be willing to do things that other people are unwilling to do — maybe things that haven’t been done before”. There is a certain dedication to the craft that is required, and a need to push beyond the limits that have been presented. However, he also highlighted the need to be patient in terms of the timing: “if an idea is good enough 20 years ago, it should be good today”. When a film is released, it’s often the narrative that withstands throughout time. It is what connects the audience to the film — which is why a great narrative is important in constructing a timeless piece. Additionally, the setting of the film, and the world-building, helps enhance the narrative story. Cameron had two moments of success with constructing a film that had potentially bad technological shortcomings, before the creation of his widely acclaimed film; Avatar.

When he made The Abyss the technology needed to properly create that film was not up to par with Cameron’s vision, and so he pushed whatever technology he had passed its limit, and was rewarded with success. At the time, The Abyss was the most expensive film ever made, but its cutting-edge technology allowed it to garner success at the box office. Cameron noted that “there were a lot of people working in CG animation but it hadn’t been used in movies yet.” But with The Abyss he “pushed the technology just over the line — beyond what had been done before”.

Cameron’s next technologically advanced project was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Again, the film, created in 1991, was one of the most expensive films of its era, budgeting at around 100 million. Although the technology, in the early 90s, was not up to par with Cameron’s vision, he did not want to sit on the idea and instead pushed the boundaries when he was able to do so. Feeling the success of pushing the technological boundaries with those two films, Cameron decided to open a company called “Digital Domain”. Here he thought to create a suite of animated tools that would help him construct similar films using advanced technology. He thought to bring the script for Avatar to go with these new ideas, however, he noted that he was “too aggressive”. Cameron’s vision for Avatar far exceeded the technology he had to construct it’: “there were too many interstitial steps that we have to create, too much code has to be written from scratch and then proven on smaller projects and applications.” So he shelved it and waited “until there was a maturity out there across the whole visual effects industry.” Had he decided to create the film, with sub par animation, and sacrificed his vision to conform to a lesser vision — Avatar would not have become the highest grossing film of all time (2.78 billion worldwide). It would not have been the standard for 3D films — used as a reference for years to come. But when they finally started filming Avatar, the technology still wasn’t ready: “but it was more nearly ready — and [h]e knew we could then push it over the line” and have that same experience that he had with The Abyss and Terminator 2.

Perhaps most important was the way in which Cameron exercised his patience. He did not sit around waiting for technology to catch up, but instead focused on other ideas that interested him. He did not put his career on hold for those projects, but instead set them aside and hoped to revisit them when the timing was right. He understood the importance of timing and believed that his narrative would stay relevant in any time period. Cameron illustrated how patience can be a part of the creative process — it’s often one of the interstitial steps needed to create a piece of art.


Author: Idil Dahir

Idil Dahir is a freelance writer and editor living in Toronto, Ontario. She is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto in which she completed a specialist program in English. Idil enjoys everything from Films, TV Shows, Sports, Novels, and Comic Books. She is currently working on launching her blog in which she will react, review, and discuss the above mentioned topics. If you would like to contact Idil you can reach her at: idilmdahir@gmail.com


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