James Cameron knows Cirque du Soleil.
Having seen every iteration of the Canadian acrobatic group's performances and watched them from multiple vantage points, the executive producer of “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” said there was one goal above all others in creating this new 3-D presentation: He wanted viewers to see Cirque du Soleil in a way that was completely different from a live, theatrical setting.
“I've seen all the shows, and I've seen all the shows that we've filmed multiple times before we actually started the process of filming the movie, and then I've seen the movie,” Cameron said in a recent one-on-one phone interview with The Oklahoman. “They're different experiences.
“It doesn't matter where the best seat in the house is, and I don't know that there is one, because wherever you are in a Cirque du Soleil show, you're seeing something and missing something, because there's so much going on up on the stage,” he said. “They present these big, moving tableaus, and unless it's a solo act, your eye can't travel fast enough. So you can see the same Cirque du Soleil show four different times and sit in four different audience seats and have a different experience.”
As executive producer and chief camera operator on “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away,” Cameron worked with director Andrew Adamson (“Shrek,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”) to capture sequences of seven Cirque du Soleil productions — “O,” “Mystere,” “Ka,” “Love,” “Zumanity,” “Viva Elvis” and “Criss Angel Believe” — and pull audiences into new vantage points and perspectives.
Cameron's job was to give moviegoers a view that money could not buy in a live setting.
“You couldn't be up on the stage with the performers, you couldn't be up in the rigging looking down and feeling the vertiginous drop underneath a trapeze artist, or a high-wire or straps artist,” Cameron said. “So we knew there were things we could do that the live (environment) couldn't do, and there were things that live could do that we couldn't do.
“Part of the challenge for me was to get the camera where it was going to tell the story the best,” he said. “I was dealing with a few cameras going into niche places to ferret out the most amazing 3-D experience of what was going on with the individual performers.”
Test of technology
Cameron, who is married to Oklahoma City-born actress Suzy Amis, directed the two most commercially successful films of all time, “Avatar” and “Titanic.”
His work on “Worlds Away” incorporates his patented Fusion Camera System, a system he developed while working on “Avatar” that allows full capture of multiple environments and subjects. Shooting movies and live events such as ballgames and concerts used to require completely different equipment, but Cameron said the Fusion system does it all, and capturing “Worlds Away” allowed him to test its versatility.
“We might have long-telephoto side-by-side rigs that could be used in football, for example, and we have prime lens, beam-splitter rigs that are used for close-ups in movies, but they're all part of a common platform that is all plug and play and uses the same fiber-optic network,” Cameron said.
“So when we look at a show like Cirque du Soleil, which is sort of part movie and part live event, we think, ‘Well, we're going to do part of this like it's a movie and part of this like it's a big concert.'”
Cameron's technical innovation on films such as “Avatar” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and his undersea documentaries such as “Aliens of the Deep” fundamentally changed how images are captured or created in movies.
He said the short preproduction cycle on “Worlds Away” meant no new technologies were developed during the film that might be used in the upcoming “Avatar” sequels, the first of which is due in 2015. But Cameron said he is closely monitoring technological developments, most of which are now being driven by what home entertainment systems will look like in the next five years.
“What happens next is going to be determined by TV, and it's going to be determined by display technology,” he said. “The breakthrough, kind of the ‘holy grail' that everybody is going for, is affordable, high-quality, full-definition, glasses-free, large flat-panel 3-D TV. If you can check all those boxes and bring it to market at a low enough price point, 3-D is going to explode. The curve is going to go ballistic.”
For now, 3-D in the home requires the same kind of singular focus found in movie theaters — viewers must wear glasses and stare directly at the screen. Cameron said the technological watershed will take place when “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away” can be seen in a living room from any angle, no goggles required.
“The breakthrough is going to come then,” Cameron said.