Technology transforms a classic into new film

Holly Bensur//Staff Photographer
Holly Bensur//Staff Photographer

James Cameron has proved that he really is the king of the world.

Everyone knows Cameron from his work as a director for “Titanic” and “Avatar.” However, few know of his lesser-known partner-in-crime, Jon Landau.

Landau, who produced “Titanic” and “Avatar,” climbed the ladder of success in the industry.

“I started taking any job in film I could get,” he said at a panel discussion April 6. “I started as a gopher. Then I was asked to work in the accounting office. Shortly after, I was hired to work on ‘Beat Street.’”

Landau was then hired by 20th Century Fox as the executive vice president of production, where he was involved in the making of more than 20 movies, including “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Last of the Mohicans,” “Power Rangers” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

Landau’s love for technology began early in his career.

“I think I fell in love with technology during a movie called ‘Finding Mr. Right’ and I learned how to use visual effects to enhance storytelling in ‘Honey, I Shrank the Kids,’” Landau said.  “Being a producer is about finding solutions and getting people to help you solve problems.”

Their love for technology inspired Landau and Cameron to use 3-D as a window into a new world, not as a world coming out of the screen.

“3-D creates a more intimate experience with the audience,” Landau said. “The dramatic parts are made more dramatic.”

The decision to re-release “Titanic” in 3-D was made in 2001 when Cameron and Landau first started working with 3-D technology.

While the usual process of 2-D to 3-D conversion takes six weeks, Cameron and Landau’s team took more than a year to convert the film frame by frame.

Landau and Cameron have worked closely with thousands of people to develop the technology used in “Titanic” and to create the new technology used in “Avatar.”

The team’s greatest technological development was the creation of facial performance capture. It was developed as a form of motion capture that is specifically designed to capture the emotion behind a performance.

Motion capture is an animation technology that records actors’ movements and then replicates those movements in an animated version; it was used in the making of “Titanic.”

Moreover, Landau said filmmaking is all about the story and its content. His goal is to make movies where the theme is bigger than its genre.

“We’re in a world that plays across international boundaries,” he said. “These movies are about universal themes that people can relate to. The theme is what you leave the theater with; the plot is what you leave at the theater.”

This goal is what led Landau and Cameron to push the boundaries of technology and develop these sophisticated systems.