Monday, May 3, 2010

James Cameron: Before Avatar ... a curious boy

By Mike B.

In this TED talk, the famed film director/producer shared his experiences and views on curiosity. In the views of the speaker, curiosity is a person’s most powerful asset. Cameron states that curiosity “is the beginning of something tangible,” and I strongly believe in this. In order for anything to exist, it must have been imagined first, and in order for it to be imagined, the human brain must have been curious about it. When imagination and curiosity are linked together in a person, nothing is beyond their grasp, and anything can be created.

One of my favourite quotes comes from –in my view- the greatest mind ever known to exist in the human race.Imagination is more important than knowledge, for while knowledge defines what we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we may discover and create; this was stated by one very wise Albert Einstein. This quote carries the same message, that imagination is important. James Cameron stated in his talk that, "imagination is a force, that can actually manifest a reality."

James grew up in Kapuskasing, Ontario, which situated himself a long hour’s bus ride to the nearest school. To occupy his time he would immerse himself in the world of books. James’s preferred subject was fiction- science fiction to be exact. These types of books allowed him to lose his mind in other worlds. When Cameron was not exploring these new and alien worlds in his mind's eye, he was exploring the woods and bush behind his family’s property. He usually brought samples home from his explorations and examined them in detail under his microscope. By inspecting different specimens and samples in better detail, he was trying to "understand, understand the world, and the, the limits of possibility." Because there was a lack of C.G. movies and video games, Cameron, along with his peers at the time, had to project these images onto their own imaginations. By doing this, the children's imagination and curiosity were promoted and developed. Cameron also created some of his own worlds, robots, aliens, and spaceships. Cameron's artistic skills were developed by drawing and painting these figments of his own mind. He regularly was caught drawing in school, but his creativity need an outlet (Sir Ken Robinson does another talk related to school squandering creativity entitled "Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity").

Cameron grew up during the late sixties when the scientific world was booming. Landing on the moon and exploring the deep ocean were a reality. Jacques Cousteau at the time was being watched in the living rooms, with his specials on the ocean. To young James this was like a completely new planet with different terrain and animals as well. At the age of 15, he decided he wanted to become a scuba diver. He persuaded his parents to get his certification, and so he did. For another two years however, he did not see any ocean dives. Then his family moved to California, and he finally got to explore this alien place here on his own world. Cameron has spent over 3000 hours underwater, of which 500 of them were spent in a submersible. He was so amazed by the richness and amazing diversity of life. He stated that, "nature's imagination is so boundless compared to our own, meagre human imagination." This expresses his feelings he has for the ocean, and he says he is always amazed by the dives.

James started into filmmaking because it combines his want to tell stories with his creativity. He went on to make films such as: The Abyss, Terminator, Aliens, Titanic, and Avatar. The Abyss was a turning point for Cameron and for his future. In that film, he combined his love and filmmaking, and was presented with some interesting problems. He used his creativity to develop the 'first soft surface character created with C.G. ever in a movie.' He created 'magic' with this effect and realized the potential of C.G. for the cinematic industry. In the next film, Terminator, he and another company made another character, and it created the same effect, so he saw the potential of this new movie effect and started a new company- Digital Domain. Later when he felt his company was not progressing as well, he created Avatar, which was meant to push the C.G. envelope, but the technology was not there, so he made Titanic. The story of Titanic was Romeo and Juliet on a boat, but Cameron's drive for the movie was his curiosity. All he wanted to do was to dive down to see the shipwreck of the ship. Six months later his imagination allowed his experience to see the shipwreck 2.5 miles under the sea, in a Russian sub. Being at the bottom of the ocean tapped into Cameron and pulled out his love of adventure, and his love of the scientific world; then he took some time off to explore. By piloting these robots and machines in an entirely different world, it gave him a profound experience and a glimpse to the future, some decades out, when, "we start to have cyborg bodies for exploration, and other means." He got involved with the space program, planning missions and showing the space scientists the ocean floor where organisms live by 500 degree Celsius vents. He had closed the loop in his career, from childhood dreams to his living his dreams.

Cameron delivers his message through a very knowledgeable method. He is very confident and yet very relatable. He is able to spark the minds of his listeners, and convey his message clearly. His arguments are small, but his messages are large. One of his big ideas came to him when doing his deep dives. He discovered that doing things for the challenge and for the task itself is acceptable. You do not have to gain fame or money to complete your work or goals. James Cameron also stresses that the mutual respect within your team is one of the most important details of leadership. If you respect your team, then they will grow to respect you. It does not matter what others say about you, but only what your team thinks of you. Two other messages that he pushes through the talk are that curiosity is the most powerful thing you own, and that imagination can manifest a reality. These two statements are very true, for this man's whole career has been based on those two traits; it is what has lead him to be one of the biggest names in Hollywood; and it has given him millions of dollars.

When asked for guidance by many young directors and aspiring filmmakers, Cameron tells them this, "Don't put limitations on yourself, don't do it to yourself. Don't bet against yourself…and take risks." He also explains his disbelief in one of NASA's mottos: "Failure is not an option." Cameron says, "But it has to be an option in art and in exploration." You have to be able to take that daunting leap of faith that may lead to success or failure. He says, "No important endeavour that required innovation was done without risk." Risks are important, in whatever we do. It gives us chances and excitement. Risks could crush us, but we cannot move on if we do not go for it. No greatness has, or will be ever achieved by taking the easy way. Life takes courage and to face this world of opportunity, we must have the strength to go on.

James Cameron is an extremely intelligent, imaginative and creative person. We should take the opportunity to be inspired by his works and use his words to motivate ourselves. In whatever situation or quandary we find ourselves, remember these words of James Cameron: "Failure is an option, but fear is not."

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