The theme of Microsoft Advance '08 is "Connected Entertainment" -- mobile, music, TV/video, gaming. The big Live Search announcement will be covered live tomorrow.
Today, filmmaker James Cameron's producing partner at Lightstorm Entertainment, Jon Landau, said the abundance of digital information and the ability to use technologies opened up a whole new window that Cameron didn't know existed.
James Cameron started making films when they were photochemical emulsions. Now, films are digital.
"The essence of storytelling stays the same," said Cameron. "Intense CG (computer-generated) scenes with multiple shots doesn't change that. My greatest horror was the best thing we created would end up like the Ark of the Covenant and be put in a warehouse somewhere. I will make all my films in 3-D. I've been banging on the door at Microsoft since I introduced Windows Media 9 with LL Cool J and Bill Gates in 2002. Now I tell them, this is what you guys need to be doing. I'm going to continue to surf that wave."
His new film, Avatar, features a man who tries to become a miner by combining his being with an alien during an interplanetary war in which aliens can manifest themselves through human bodies — avatars.
"'Avatar' will make people truly experience something," said Cameron."One more layer of the suspension of disbelief will be removed. All the syn-thespians are photo-realistic. Now that we've achieved it, we discovered CG characters in 3D look more real than in 2D. Your brain is cued it's a real thing not a picture and discounting part of image that makes it look fake."
Part of the movie is subtitled because it takes place on an alien planet.
Avatar will have a human heart beating at its narrative center. It's an emotional journey of redemption and revolution; the story of a wounded ex-marine, who's thrust into an effort to settle and exploit an exotic planet rich in bio-diversity. He eventually crosses over to lead the indigenous race in a battle for survival.
Cameron has created an entire world, a complete ecosystem of phantasmagorical plants and creatures, and a native people with a rich culture and language. The film has a December 2009 release date.
"I don't know whether it will be a great film from a narrative and critical standpoint," said Cameron. "The experience of Avatar will be an experience unlike any other movie."
He started with Microsoft Research looking at the way people see. The project soon moved out of the realm of speculation.
"'Avatar' is the single most complex piece of filmmaking ever made," said Cameron. "We have 1,600 shots for a 2.5 hour movie. It's not with a single CGI character, like King Kong or Gollum. We have hundreds of photo-realistic CG characters. We were Microsoft's sandbox for filmmaking beyond the cutting edge."
During the film, he would grab chairs, gather his team, and talk about what they were doing wrong, how to do it better. That just isn't done on a film set.
The heart of the film technology is a digital asset management system created by Microsoft, which was praised by Cameron and Landau for understanding the arts and filmmaking. The system can track every cloud and every blade of CGI grass in the film.
Cameron noted that Titanic was about how technology let us down. He has always tried to be on cutting edge of what's going on. The Abyss featured the first photo-realistic CG character. Then "The Terminator" combined CG and human actors. "True Lies" pushed the bar even higher with composite technology.
In "Titanic" as a filmmaker, I struck the perfect balance of technology and the human heart," said Cameron. "I haven't forgotten that lesson with Avatar. It's the best lesson for any filmmaker."
Cameron also noted the radical changes in film distribution and made a prediction for the future:
"I'm on the fourth screen. The giant screen. Then it scatters down to other screens. It gets more interesting as more means of digital distribution become available to us. The interesting thing is the actual movie business is going strong. If you valued up revenues of what's lost to piracy, movies are doing better now than they ever have. You can have an HD screen in your home.
He noted, "Windows organized things spatially. That gave it its power. But we're not displaying things spatially. What could happen is now that the digital cinema revolution has taken place is the killer app is 3D. Dreamworks has announced all its animated films will be made and projected in 3D. Gaming will be changed by 3D. Consumer electronics people will need to make players for stereo-enabled monitors. Future versions of Windows should be fully stereoscopic. Smaller devices already are 3D-enabled without glasses. If you play "Avatar" on a 50-inch monitor, you're in the game."
Cameron said, "This is the ultimate immersive media. It's my fundamental belief that when you're viewing media in stereo, more neurons are firing, learning rates are higher. Engagement levels are higher. As advertisers, you need to think about how you're going to use this new dimension. How will you use the deeper levels of engagement?"