Avatar: The Way of Water was created with a huge number of new and expensive technologies

A new trailer has been released for James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, the sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time. It’s every bit as visually stunning as expected, while also delving a little deeper into the family history behind the film.

However you feel about Avatar, there’s no denying the technical achievements that Cameron and his team have accomplished. And in the new GQ profile Cameron talks about the artificial intelligence, algorithms, brand new cameras and all sorts of other technologies behind this film:

The process for how Cameron builds the Avatar films is complex; it involves creating a data-rich but visually undistinguished package that Cameron calls a template—on which he captures the lighting, performances, and camera moves he wants—which then gets handed over to Wētā to apply algorithms and layers of animation to bring the template to life.”It’s not animation in a Pixar sense where they’re just making stuff up,” Cameron said. “The actors already defined what they did, but it has to be translated from the captured data to the 3D-CG character. And there’s all sorts of AI steps in there.”

Using Sony Venice cameras, Cameron and his team built a new camera system that essentially simply connects several high-end cameras to create a stereoscopic 3D system. A few years ago, Cameron particularly praised the cameras’ high dynamic range. In addition, he apparently figured out how to film and do motion capture simultaneously above and below water.

Cameron is known for combining inventor and director on most of his sets — for example, for the first Avatar film, he built a filming setup that allowed him to see the characters in their computer environment in real time while filming. He is also known for his passion for technology and filmmaking. For example, he was an early supporter of 3D, but had strong opinions about how others used the technology.

In an interview for GQ, Cameron says that all these new technologies require a lot of work. There’s a great sequence where Cameron goes through the version of single effects shot, numbered 405 on camera (which is the main reason the movie was incredibly expensive and incredibly late; and it’s only the second of five Avatar movies, and the fourth, in Cameron’s words, will be really “wild”). It is a fun story with great details, but the most touching moment is when Cameron is standing in front of the mixing console in the movie theater and can’t figure out how to adjust the sound:

“I’m always telling them there’s too many damn knobs,” he said. “I mean you could run a starship with fewer knobs than this.”