Time magazine previews James Cameron's Avatar

Time magazine has a new story about James Cameron's 3-D Avatar, with new details based on the writer's screening of early footage.

Here's part of Josh Quittner's story, which takes a broad look at upcoming 3-D movies:

"More than a thousand people have worked on [Avatar], at a cost in excess of [$200] million, and it represents digital filmmaking's bleeding edge. Cameron wrote the treatment for it in 1995 as a way to push his digital-production company to its limits. The movie pioneers two unrelated technologies—e-motion capture, which uses images from tiny cameras rigged to actors' heads to replicate their expressions, and digital 3-D.

"The film is set in the future, and most of the action takes place on a mythical planet, Pandora. The actors work in an empty studio; Pandora's lush jungle-aquatic environment is computer-generated in New Zealand by Jackson's special-effects company, Weta Digital, and added later.

"I couldn't tell what was real and what was animated--even knowing that the 9-foot-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 were real."

Avatar is slated to open Dec. 18.

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