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The character Neytiri, voiced by Zoe Saldana (right), and the character Jake, voiced by Sam Worthington are shown in a scene from ‘Avatar’.
Cameron sees epic in ‘Avatar’ films Sequels to explore different Na’vi cultures

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Dec 16, (Agencies): James Cameron says his vision for his three “Avatar” sequels is to create a family epic in the mold of “The Godfather” that will introduce viewers to new cultures and go underwater on his fictional moon Pandora. The director announced Monday he will be filming the sequels in New Zealand, where he shot the triple Academy Award-winning original. In an interview with The Associated Press, Cameron also talked about life on a New Zealand farm, where he’s growing walnuts and allowing his children to roam. Cameron, 59, said he plans to release the first sequel in 2016, seven years after the release of “Avatar,” which has become the highest-grossing film in history with a box office take of nearly $2.8 billion.

He said a core team has been developing new software for the sequels even while he’s been gone on other projects, including 18 months planning a 7-mile descent to the deepest part of the ocean, which he successfully completed last year. “It’s going to be a lot of new imagery and a lot of new environments and creatures across Pandora,” he said. “We’re blowing it out all over the place. At first I thought I was going to take it onto other worlds as well, in the same solar system, but it turned out not to be necessary. I mean the Pandora that we have imagined will be a fantasy land that is going to occupy people for decades to come, the way I see it.”

Cameron said the films will explore different Na’vi cultures as well the cultures of other Pandora creatures.
“There’s a fair bit of underwater stuff. It’s been inaccurately said that the second film takes place underwater. That’s not true,” he said. “There are underwater scenes and surface-water scenes having to do with indigenous ocean cultures that are distributed across the three films.”
He said water is enormously difficult to recreate on a computer, something he’s been talking about with Joe Letteri, the visual effects supervisor at Weta Digital.
“I said Joe, you know, there’s a lot of water,” Cameron said. “And he basically said ‘Bring it on. We’re ready.’”
He said the first movie focused on the main character, Jake Sully.
“It was very Jake-centric. His story seen through his eyes,” Cameron said. “We spread it around quite a bit more as we go forward. It’s really the story of his family, the family that he creates on Pandora. His extended family. So think of it as a family saga like ‘The Godfather.’”

Cameron said the theme of sustainability that runs through the “Avatar” series also extends to his personal life. He and fifth wife Suzy Amis bought a farm about 90 minutes’ drive from Wellington where they spend some of the year with their three children. Cameron said he’s putting in 650 walnut trees.
“There’ll also be tree crops, grains, produce, it will be quite a mixed bag,” he said. “But really, I think of it as an experimental station to look at various sustainable agriculture approaches.”
A native of Canada, Cameron said the New Zealand farm feels like “closing a loop” after he spent summers on his grandfather’s farm in southern Ontario.

“The kids love it here. They love that combination of freedom and responsibility that you get here because you can run freely,” he said. “There are no predators and snakes and that sort of thing. We just let them go out with a walkie-talkie, and as long as they are back by dinner, we don’t care where they are.”
He said he plans to bring his own helicopter from California to help make the commute from the farm to Wellington when he’s working on the movies. Before then, he said, he’ll be throwing a Christmas party for the community around his farm. He said about 95 people turned up last year but he worries that numbers could be down this year because it’s going to be an all-vegan menu, a lifestyle his family recently adopted.
Cameron said the movies, with a combined minimum budget of at least NZ$500 million (US$415 million), will be shot back-to-back with each sequel released every 12 months from late 2016.

“It’s quite a thrill to officially say that we’ll be bringing the Avatar films to New Zealand,” Cameron told reporters.
The original “Avatar” was partially shot in New Zealand and its Oscar-winning special effects were created by Wellington’s Weta Digital, best known for its work on Kiwi director Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies.
Aside from a boosted subsidy that will account for up to 25 percent of the films’ budget, Cameron said New Zealand offered skilled production crews and the special effects expertise needed to bring his Avatar vision to life.

“I’ve worked with crews all over the world, quite a bit in the US and Canada, and you don’t have that same spark (there),” he said.
The first “Avatar” was released in 2009 and tells the story of a blue-skinned indigenous species fighting to stop miners exploiting their planet Pandora.
It earned US$2.78 billion worldwide and remains the highest-grossing movie of all time, according to industry website
“It’s a great pleasure for us to recreate that winning combination,” said Cameron, who agreed as part of the production deal to advise the government on how to maintain a sustainable film industry.
Prime Minister John Key said securing the sequels was a coup that “will scream out to the world that New Zealand is a great place to make movies”.
“We’ve got to be a lot more as a country than just lamb chops and All Blacks,” he said, referring to two of the country’s best-known symbols. “That’s what the movie industry does, it demonstrates to the world that there’s more to us.”

There were fears late last year that New Zealand would lose the deal, with the government reluctant to lift its screen production rebate from 15 to 25 percent to match the sweeteners available in countries such as Britain and Australia.
Key faced criticism in 2010 when he changed New Zealand’s industrial relations laws to ensure “The Hobbit” trilogy stayed in the country, a move he said had created about 5,500 jobs.
He denied the “Avatar” deal was another example of Hollywood forcing concessions out of his government, saying “there will always be people who want to look at this as a glass half empty situation”.
For all the technical skills available in New Zealand, Cameron said he and 20th Century Fox would have had to look elsewhere if the government had not offered increased subsidies.

“Business sense would have had to prevail and I’m glad that it never came to that,” he said.
Cameron — whose other hits include “Titanic”, “Terminator” and “Aliens” — refused to reveal how much he thought the three films would cost to make but said he hoped it would be less US$1.0 billion.
The Canadian-born director, who owns a rural property just outside Wellington and is in the process of obtaining New Zealand residency with his family, said pre-production work had already begun.
He said the sequels may employ the 48-frame a second technology — twice the standard rate — that Jackson used to mixed reviews in “The Hobbit”.
“I might just use it in selected scenes, such as when the camera’s panning, aerial vistas and that sort of thing,” he said.

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