When the alien Neytiri speaks in the film Avatar, the muscles ripple beneath the skin in her jaw so convincingly that viewers are hard-pressed to believe she is nothing more than a complicated string of ones and zeros. With the December release of Avatar, which garnered three Academy Awards, director James Cameron, 56, took 3-D imaging -- or stereoscopy -- to a new level, changing what is possible for the filmmaking industry.
Think of Cameron as the ultimate crossover artist: He's a technologist and a filmmaker. Cameron wrote a treatment for Avatar in 1995, but he didn't start working on it full-time for a decade. He needed advances in computer-generated filmmaking, and when the industry didn't move fast enough, Cameron embarked on a lengthy stereoscopy R&D project in which he basically invented a suite of moviemaking technologies.
The film, which cost some $300 million to create, earned more than $2 billion at the box office -- the biggest haul since that of Cameron's last film, Titanic, in 1997. For his next act Cameron is producing Sanctum, a 3-D film with some scenes shot underwater. He may soon enter yet another new realm of expertise: He's reportedly brainstorming with Washington on ways to address the BP oil leak. --J.H.
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Last updated July 09 2010: 1:19 PM ET