In a story today on the coming glut of completely unnecessary 3-D movies, Time magazine reports that the budget for James Cameron's Avatar (due in December) has ballooned to exceed a
hilarious $300 million $200 million. [Time has amended its article: "The original version of this story misstated the cost of the film Avatar as being in excess of $300 million. The correct figure is in excess of $200 million."] To crack that figure, the Titanic director had to combat the falling cost of CGI by inventing two brand-new technologies: digital 3-D and something called e-motion capture, which is a process in which small cameras are affixed to actors' heads to record their expressions. It's enough to make one nostalgic for a simpler time when we could call Cameron a reckless spendthrift for blowing a measly $200 million on a computer-generated boat.
Avatar was filmed in the 16,000-square-foot hangar in which Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose, with all CGI added by Peter Jackson's New Zealand–based special effects company. According to Time's Josh Quittner, who saw a few completed scenes:
I couldn't tell what was real and what was animated — even knowing that the 9-ft.-tall blue, dappled dude couldn't possibly be real. The scenes were so startling and absorbing that the following morning, I had the peculiar sensation of wanting to return there, as if Pandora [the island on which Avatar is based] were real.
Even so, a mere $300 million still might not be enough to win back James Cameron's old record of helming the most expensive movie of all time, which he held for about six years until 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines matched Titanic's $200 million cost. The current most-expensive-ever movie is Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which also had a reported budget of $300 million, and, with another costly Pirates sequel in development, Cameron may want to reshoot his movie's climax underwater or something, just to be safe. See correction above. Clearly he has a lot more work to do if he wants his old record back.
3-D: The Future of Movies [Time]