James Cameron Reveals Personal Artwork that Inspired AVATAR, TERMINATOR and More While Discussing His Early Career

by     Posted 1 year, 103 days ago

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Visionary director James Cameron (Avatar) came from humble beginnings and worked a string of blue-collar jobs before eventually making a foray into the world of cinema.  To celebrate his 59th birthday, here’s a video interview with Cameron in which he talks about those formative experiences during his early career and reveals just where his inspiration comes from.  From painting posters in a small apartment, to working his way up to second-unit director for Roger Corman, to finally seeing his teenage dreams realized on screen in his own big-budget productions.  Cameron also shows off artwork from 1976 that clearly leads to the blue-skinned Na’vi from Avatarplus looks at concept art from Terminator and even a rare drawing from Titanic (you know the one).  Hit the jump to see the images and watch a video interview with Cameron.

james-cameron-avatar-artworkThanks to Movies.com for bringing this retrospective look to our attention.  Here’s just a bit of Cameron’s commentary on the early stages of his career:

“I used to paint posters for Z-grade movies, and the way I would paint them was that I had a little apartment in Tarzana, California, and I would paint on the back of the bathroom door. And when I wanted to check if the perspective was right in the painting, I would turn the door and look at it in the bathroom mirror. I would see the painting’s mirror image, and I would immediately see the flaws.”

james-cameron-avatar-artwork-closeupHe goes on to talk about the above painting, featuring a familiar blue girl:

“This [painting] is going back to 1976 I think, and this was for a film project that never went anywhere. The thing that’s interesting about it is that I’ve already got a tall, hot blue girl in that movie. Her name wasn’t Neytiri and it was in a completely different context, but I was already thinking about it then.”

Watch a video in which Cameron talks about his early career, inspiration for his films and how he got started as a director (via Oprah.com):

Cameron is prepping to work on not just one, but three Avatar sequels, with the first expected to start production early in 2014, with an expected release date of December 2016.




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  • NotePad

    That’s not a hot blue girl.looks like a man

    • Gerard Kennelly
      • NotePad

        ………………what?
        like is said, not a hot girl. Cameron, i hope he’s learned to draw faces since then. Many people struggle with that.

      • Gerard Kennelly

        did you see ‘Kick Ass 2′ ?

      • NotePad

        I have failed to see either of the Kick Ass movies. They’ve just never really appealed to me. Although with the new one coming out, i kinda wish i had watched it one of the many times i saw it was on TV

      • NotePad

        ………………what?
        like is said, not a hot girl. Cameron, i hope he’s learned to draw faces since then. Many people struggle with that.

  • Chris

    People can talk all the shit they want to about Avatar — but this guy is a true visionary.

    • Harry Palm

      A true visionary when it comes to stealing from other people’s work.

      • Chris

        Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

      • Steve

        Okay, but then he’s no longer a visionary.

      • Chris

        That’s not true. There’s still a lot of originality to his work. And whether you like it or not–in this day and age–where almost every piece of cultural art is consumed by an artist in one form or another, it’s almost impossible NOT to see direct influences in one’s work–be it consciously or subconsciously. At the end of the day, there’s still enough uniqueness to Cameron’s work to lend it the singular vision that it is.

      • MIXTER

        I Guess you skipped the video? Its his own artwork that he did, that
        inspired some of his later movies. So yeah! A true visionary!

        Also, if you think he’s no visionary because Avatar has a similar theme to Pocahontis like all the other internet geniuses have pointed out with great relish, I guess you may have also noticed that films like Jurassic Park, Splice, etc etc.. are essentially retellings of Frankenstein? infact most films are based loosely on other older films or books.

      • Homer Lannister

        Please let me know from whom he stole. Ps avatar doesn’t really count.

      • Django9000

        My Name Is Joe. Sci Fi story w/ identical plot to Avatar.

        Visionaries have original ideas. Cameron is an innovator. He takes unoriginal ideas & realizing them on unsurpassed scales.

        It’s entirely possible that by keeping his ideas grounded to a very accessible pulp dime novel level , instead investing more of his energy in realizing those ideas on grander scales, in full detail – that this formula has been integral to his success.

        These paintings – I’m sure he is well aware (he refers to the Z grade movies they were made for), are nothing great, in their technique OR content. But they represent his imagination, & its ground level – “oh hey, I used to come up w/ stuff like that when I was 13, too” accessibility.

        His ability to realize those visions on screen is his innovation. His visions themselves – as he just demonstrated, have not evolved much since his daydreams as a teenager. But the teams he assembles to realize them, under his name, have consistently been technological innovators.

        Frank Herbert is a visionary. Tolkien, also. Stan Winston was & so was Alfred Hitchcock & Orson Welles. James Cameron is man who knows how to pick out fringe ideas & realize them in different mediums, in such boundary pushing but accessible ways as to blind side us to their unoriginality.

        One day he’ll admit this, just like he just shared his fairly derivative paintings with us, some 30 years after having created them.

        And I’m jealous of his money. =] Save your comments, cuz you can be a fan of his, and still have an open mind – while remaining jealous of his money, too =D

      • Hicks

        I basically agree. Yet ALIENS is a masterpiece. It’s derivative, but absolutely brilliant. So is TERMINATOR.

      • Django9000

        Yes, steroids are an example of innovative technology.
        Aliens is a pumped up, fine tuned, blockbuster version of its predecessor. The plot is extremely similar, the ride familiar – but WOW. Completely re-watchable.

        And yet – crucify me for this – but I’ve re-watched Alien several times, and most recently after watching Prometheus’s complete w/ its alternative “deleted for blockbuster pacing” scenes. There was more dialogue, more exposition, more conflict – even the douchebag boyfriend of Noomi Rapace established himself as having a reason for being the way he was. (They have a fight in which he insults her obsession w/ her parents’ death, instead of bringing her a rose while she’s researching outbreaks. It’s really, as WRITTEN, a much more powerful scene. But I can see how it didn’t test well with audiences. It essentially says that our choices of partners often defies logic, & instead Noomi’s character clearly fell for a man who manipulates her and abuses her emotionally. I.e. a douchebag. Which is what we all saw, without any context.)

        What filmmakers like Ridley Scott at least went for were films that are open to the collaborative process of other visionaries & as a result, have layers & depth that allow new readings , finer textures & details to be gleaned , almost every time you watch them.

        ALIENS is the same ride, every time. It’s a tighter Alien, with more humor, EFX , battle scenes & a slight twist on the android arc that is a perfect example of how Cameron avoids copyright infringement for his ‘copped’ ideas.

        But I like wooden roller coasters, that feel like they could collapse beneath me at any time vs. the new streamlined headache engines the proliferated in the ’80s. I’ll give you my lawyers # so you can file your complaint.

        Cameron is clearly an effective tech savvy team leader. I’ll give you that. But Stan Winston is ABSOLUTELY the imaginative visionary that made ALIENS into the masterpiece we often interpret it to be. (And Bill Paxton. For 1 line alone.)

        Game over. =]

      • Django9000

        Yes, steroids are an example of innovative technology.
        Aliens is a pumped up, fine tuned, blockbuster version of its predecessor. The plot is extremely similar, the ride familiar – but WOW. Completely re-watchable.

        And yet – crucify me for this – but I’ve re-watched Alien several times, and most recently after watching Prometheus’s complete w/ its alternative “deleted for blockbuster pacing” scenes. There was more dialogue, more exposition, more conflict – even the douchebag boyfriend of Noomi Rapace established himself as having a reason for being the way he was. (They have a fight in which he insults her obsession w/ her parents’ death, instead of bringing her a rose while she’s researching outbreaks. It’s really, as WRITTEN, a much more powerful scene. But I can see how it didn’t test well with audiences. It essentially says that our choices of partners often defies logic, & instead Noomi’s character clearly fell for a man who manipulates her and abuses her emotionally. I.e. a douchebag. Which is what we all saw, without any context.)

        What filmmakers like Ridley Scott at least went for were films that are open to the collaborative process of other visionaries & as a result, have layers & depth that allow new readings , finer textures & details to be gleaned , almost every time you watch them.

        ALIENS is the same ride, every time. It’s a tighter Alien, with more humor, EFX , battle scenes & a slight twist on the android arc that is a perfect example of how Cameron avoids copyright infringement for his ‘copped’ ideas.

        But I like wooden roller coasters, that feel like they could collapse beneath me at any time vs. the new streamlined headache engines the proliferated in the ’80s. I’ll give you my lawyers # so you can file your complaint.

        Cameron is clearly an effective tech savvy team leader. I’ll give you that. But Stan Winston is ABSOLUTELY the imaginative visionary that made ALIENS into the masterpiece we often interpret it to be. (And Bill Paxton. For 1 line alone.)

        Game over. =]

      • Faptain America

        Wow, a boyfriend-girlfriend fight so layered with meeeeeeeaning that…the scene got cut? Please don’t blame Cameron for Plotholetheus. Blame visionary Ridley Scott, or the even visionarier Damon Lindelof for having the vision to cut a good scene.

        Aliens was a sequel, it was always going to look derivative. Sorry, doesn’t count.

        I saw Robocop 2 last night, released in 1990. And I couldn’t stop thinking about T2, which came out a year later. Robocop 2 looks like a high school project compared to the unbelievable technical mastery bursting out of T2. T2 is a simple story. Cameron’s painting’s aren’t great, sure. There are better, more visionary painters, and writers. And yes, Stan Winston was a great SFX guy. But few in Hollywood have DIRECTED movies boasting such imagination, as James Cameron. Yes, that is tech savvy team leadership, that is tight filmmaking, and that is repackaging old ideas (which idea isn’t?) in new ways. But all of this adds up to a capital-V visionary Director.

      • Faptain America

        Wow, a boyfriend-girlfriend fight so layered with meeeeeeeaning that…the scene got cut? Please don’t blame Cameron for Plotholetheus. Blame visionary Ridley Scott, or the even visionarier Damon Lindelof for having the vision to cut a good scene.

        Aliens was a sequel, it was always going to look derivative. Sorry, doesn’t count.

        I saw Robocop 2 last night, released in 1990. And I couldn’t stop thinking about T2, which came out a year later. Robocop 2 looks like a high school project compared to the unbelievable technical mastery bursting out of T2. T2 is a simple story. Cameron’s painting’s aren’t great, sure. There are better, more visionary painters, and writers. And yes, Stan Winston was a great SFX guy. But few in Hollywood have DIRECTED movies boasting such imagination, as James Cameron. Yes, that is tech savvy team leadership, that is tight filmmaking, and that is repackaging old ideas (which idea isn’t?) in new ways. But all of this adds up to a capital-V visionary Director.

      • Homer Lannister

        Terminator seemed pretty original to me. You also cannot dismiss his now iconic designs for the Alien Queen and the Predator as being merely “innovation”

      • Homer Lannister

        Terminator seemed pretty original to me. You also cannot dismiss his now iconic designs for the Alien Queen and the Predator as being merely “innovation”

      • Michael C

        All great artists steal.

      • Michael C

        All great artists steal.

      • Django9000

        All great con artists, yes. By definition that’s what they do. They take your money by sleight of hand, right?

        And yes, “con artist” is the most recent addition to Webster’s definition of the word ‘artist’. So you’re half correct.

        But what does stealing have to do with Visionaries? Is James Cameron conning us into believing he’s a visionary?

        It’s entirely possible … I mean he went to the trouble of making this video, didn’t he?

        What are his stylistic contributions to filmmaking? What are his unique viewpoints on the human condition, as stated thru his art?

        We need more explosions, bigger action, and less explanation to justify our lack of brain power.

        Well … it’s as accurate a rationale to back our actions as a culture, if I’ve ever heard one. Clearly it works at the box office! =] I’m just not sure if he should open up a school in his name, or if we should just … close ALL OUR SCHOOLS & enroll everyone in the colonial marines.

        … although, that would be kinda cool, too. He’s a GENIUS !

      • Django9000

        And I will give you that his contributions to optics, correcting for the phenomenon of parallax in the human eye for 3-D – is absolutely an idea whose time has come. And the idea of sitting on an idea for 15 years, while he researched & developed technology to realize his idea faithfully – also a huge plus. Highly commendable.
        But Visionary ?? Sometimes I think only a con artist would agree to someone else calling them a ‘Visionary’.

        It’s like Zack Snyder, who agreed to market Watchmen under the banner – “From the VISIONARY Director of 300″.

        See where I’m going with this?

        Gotta hit the loo. I’ll be BACK.
        =P

      • MIXTER

        I Guess you skipped the video? Its his own artwork that he did, that inspired some of his later movies. So yeah! A true visionary!

      • MIXTER

        I Guess you skipped the video? Its his own artwork that he did, that inspired some of his later movies. So yeah! A true visionary!

    • pinkincide

      WAS a true visionary…back when he was doing Terminator and Aliens

      • Pk

        Agreed. Avatar is an overrated piece of turd that should be forgotten ever.I rather he worked on a sequel to alien or terminator than this piece of shit

    • pinkincide

      WAS a true visionary…back when he was doing Terminator and Aliens

  • MCP

    Love the man and his movies. Though if I had a dream of the Terminator exo-skeleton, it wouldn’t of been a dream, it would of been a nightmare!! AAAHHH!!!

  • AllDownhillEverSinceTrueLies

    *James Cameron (Aliens, Terminator 2)

    James is certainly an extremely talented guy. Too bad he doesn’t have that edge anymore…

    • AllDownhillEverSinceTrueLies

      By that I mean he completely lost his “edge.”

    • Gerard Kennelly

      please don’t forget he wrote Strange Days
      and he is the reason The Hurt Locker got made

  • Gerard Kennelly
  • HeSaidSheSaidReviewSite

    James, stop talking about Avatar. Nobody cares.

    • what

      Yeah they do.

      • HeSaidSheSaidReviewSite

        Please. You know it’s the highest grossing movie of all time because loons like you saw it in theaters 10 times, right?

        You want to see some great movies? Go see The Terminator, Terminator 2, The Abyss, Aliens, or even True Lies. They are all better acted and executed better overall than that eye-rolling hamfest known as Avatar.

  • GunzOfNavarone

    I love his earlier stuff, but holy shit, he’s really dragging this Avatar stuff out. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone does actually care about it when he brings it back out.

    • Futurist

      power of marketing and technology. everyone will eventually care. and this guy knows it!

  • http://zoelogie.tumblr.com/ Baby Jean

    I remember back in 1991, I was barely 8 yrs old and still in Africa. CNN had this slot called Showtime, and they showed a clip of T2 where the T-1000 morphs into the prison guard. To this day, it is still the MOST MIND-BLOWING CG MOMENT I’ve ever witnessed. I’d seen sci-fi movies before that, but T2 made me fall in love with the genre, and I remember going into a sci-fi movie rampage after that, watching everything I could find that had anything to do with that.
    T2 is one of those movies that are pure shock and awe, and will still be talked about 50 years from now. I have a friend who still hasn’t recovered from Fight Club. We owe those moments to people like Cameron.

  • MIXTER

    Gotta love fickle stupid fan-boys! Heres my interpretation of the creation of a fan to fan-boy.

    A room full of sleeping babies rocking in their cribs, content and happy. nursed to sleep with lullabyes sang by their parent. then that parent sneezes! A room full of endless Waaaaaaaa Waaaaaaaaahhh Waaaaaaaahhh!!!!! On the internet forever after. Up until Avatar I’ve never heard 1 person on earth diss James Cameron! He was the hero film maker that everyone respected. With the slight exception of Titanic because he dared to make a film for women. Then along came Avatar! One naysayer shouted “This fucker ripped off Pocahontis!” And the sheep all followed. Classy world we live in!

  • MIXTER

    Gotta love fickle stupid fan-boys! Heres my interpretation of the creation of a fan to fan-boy.

    A room full of sleeping babies rocking in their cribs, content and happy. nursed to sleep with lullabyes sang by their parent. then that parent sneezes! A room full of endless Waaaaaaaa Waaaaaaaaahhh Waaaaaaaahhh!!!!! On the internet forever after. Up until Avatar I’ve never heard 1 person on earth diss James Cameron! He was the hero film maker that everyone respected. With the slight exception of Titanic because he dared to make a film for women. Then along came Avatar! One naysayer shouted “This fucker ripped off Pocahontis!” And the sheep all followed. Classy world we live in!

  • MichaelRWorthingon

    Yes this is really old

  • MichaelRWorthingon

    Yes this is really old

  • http://mattedscreen.blogspot.com/ TheMattedScreen

    To sum up this comment thread – turn on the fart app on your phone and keep pressing the button for about 30 minutes

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