The Technology Side of Hollywood Films

Bringing to life the fictional species of extraterrestrial humanoids at the center of the popular “Avatar” movie series requires an enormous amount of tech infrastructure, film director and screenwriter James Cameron said at Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas this week.


“We create an entire world, an entire planet, an entire ecosystem, and every blade of grass, every insect, every pebble on every flower is an asset, and the management of those digital assets takes petabytes,” Cameron said. “I think we’re onto something like 25 recurring petabytes of data, and we’re moving around across eight sites globally.”


Cameron explained that the vital nature of the technology being used goes beyond just being a production company. And he credited a decade-long partnership with Dell Technologies in being able to manage some of the deep levels of technology behind the film. 


He said the success of his efforts relies on a lot of technical advances and capabilities for data processing and storage, and the ability to use that data on a global scale.


The state of technology has advanced a long way since Cameron wrote the first Avatar film in 1995. 


“I had first written Avatar in 1995 and my team said, we can’t do this, we’re not ready. We need time to evolve a lot of these tools and we can’t do it within a single production cycle,” he said. 


The film lived in a drawer until the production landscape began to change and more films began to innovate using technology to produce unbelievable characters. It was about 10 years later that Cameron began work on the film and in the process, bringing advanced technology to the production.


For the second film, Cameron explained that the team had budgeted for an extra month of production to gather lessons learned and gather a list of new tech tools they could use for future films. 


“We have certainly come a long way with tech capabilities in the film industry. Take for example getting full human emotion into our CG characters and I think we’ve come a long way,” he said. “I kind of feel at the point where we are right now there’s nothing we can’t do. What we need to do is ask how you do it, and how do you do it more efficiently?”  


During his talk, Cameron also revealed that he is working on a script for the next installment of the Terminator franchise, and this one will be inspired by the rise of AI in the real world. 


Cameron, who created the Terminator franchise in 1984, says he has some lingering questions about the emerging technology before he’s ready to wrap up his draft. He explained that he’s “holding off on finishing [the script] until the direction of AI becomes clearer.”