Movieline Timeline: James Cameron's 15-Year Odyssey To Realizing His Avatar Vision

Virtually every gushing, embargo-busting review of James Cameron's Avatar has paused momentarily from its fusillade of hyperappreciative (but apparently justified!) slobber to note that the visionary director, realizing that the necessary technology did not yet exist to execute his blue-tinged vision, put aside the script some 15 years ago, happy to stall until Hollywood movie magic provided him with a way to project the vivid Pandora trapped inside his blockbuster-addled mind onto a 3-D IMAX screen. But Cameron wasn't just twiddling his thumbs during that time, waiting for Peter Jackson's WETA team to unearth the game-changing performance-capture camera left buried just outside Auckland by a cinematically advanced alien society that would finally allow them to get Avatar into production. After the jump, Movieline's accounting of how Cameron was pushing -- slowly, insistently -- forward with the project during that frustrating time.

June 12 - September 8, 1994: Having completed a satisfactory early draft of the script in mid-June, the notoriously exacting Cameron spends the most of the summer running through dozens of passes in which the only changes he makes involve the shifting of the apostrophe in Na'vi forward and backward one letter. Entire days disappear as Cameron reads aloud from note cards taped above his desk containing those three variations, making alterations to his pronunciation of "N'avi," "Na'vi," and "Nav'i" so subtle as to be completely imperceptible to anyone but the director himself.

May 24, 1996: Cameron initiates a heated e-mail exchange with a group of world-renowned zoologists, equestrian trainers, biophysicists, and jockeys examining the question of whether a six-legged horse would theoretically be faster than its four-legged, Earth-dwelling cousins. The multidiscilplinary panel often becomes frustrated when Cameron, confronted with a piece of evidence that contradicts his "six legs are faster" theory, arbitrarily alters the physics of Pandora to suit his needs.


January 2nd, 1996 - June 2nd, 1998: Following through on a New Year's resolution to more fully immerse himself in the Na'vi consciousness after stalling in the midst of a tricky script draft, Cameron paints himself blue and pledges to live as one of his Pandoran characters for six months. Business associates have to adjust to difficult, Method-style meetings with Cameron held only in heavily wooded areas, learning to ignore the director's off-putting habit of casually lifting his coyote-skin loincloth to scratch his cerulean junk with the point of a handmade spear while lost in thought.

August 22- November 18, 2000: Though realizing he's still years away from production, Cameron allows himself the diversion of drafting potential cast lists for the epic, which primarily consists of alternating the writing down and crossing out of Sigourney Weaver's and ex-wife Linda Hamilton's names hundreds of times in the column for "Sexy-Tough Lady Doctor Name TBD."

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