James Cameron unveils artistic process in Paris exhibition | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

James Cameron
James Cameron, during a photo session in Paris ahead of the opening of “The Art of James Cameron” at the Cinematheque Francaise | Photo by Joel Saget for AFP

“The Art of James Cameron” at the Cinémathèque Française showcases material from the filmmaker’s personal archive



Movies come about in several different ways—they can be adapted from existing works such as books or historical narratives, or they can even be conceptualized from an unplanned phone call.

But for filmmaker James Cameron—who has directed some of the most successful films in box office history like “Titanic” and “Avatar”—the immersive, breathtaking worlds and unique characters he is known for, were all born from a sketchbook and a young man’s imaginative mind.

“There was a period in my life, from 10 to 25 or 30, where I just never wasn’t drawing,” Cameron shared with Artnet as he talked about his 2021 book “Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron.”

drawing of the na'vi from avatar
Early illustrations of the Na’vi from “Avatar” in “Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron” | Photo courtesy of Insight Editions

“I always put storytelling first. What I realized, when I looked back at most of the drawings and paintings, is that they all tell a story in one frame. And I think that I’ve benefited as a filmmaker by that impulse to pack a single image with narrative value.”

From Apr. 4, 2024 to Jan. 5, 2025, Cameron charts his artistic process with his works in the exhibition titled “The Art of James Cameron” at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris.

Photo from Cinematheque Francaise

“‘The Art of James Cameron’ traces that path, showing how key themes and motifs in his work evolved from his early ideations, later finding their ultimate expression as iconic cinematic visuals,” shares Cinémathèque Française.

The exhibition showcases “material from the filmmaker’s personal archive, including his earliest sketches, designs from unrealized film projects, and conceptual pieces that would form the bedrock of his acclaimed later work.”

There are over three hundred items on display, including props, costumes, photographs, and 3D models made or adapted by Cameron himself.

james cameron
James Cameron at the opening of “The Art of James Cameron” | Photo from video by Mathilde Bellenger for AFPTV/AFP

In an interview with AFP, Cameron shared that “Drawing was everything. It’s how I processed the world. I was reading, watching films, taking in all the storytelling, and I just had to tell my own. I remember very distinctly (aged eight or nine), I went to see the film ‘Mysterious Island.’ And I was so amazed by the big creatures and the giant crab, but I didn’t go back and draw ‘Mysterious Island.’ I drew my own version with different animals.”

A sketch of the “draw me like one of your French girls” scene from “Titanic” | Photo from video by Mathilde Bellenger for AFPTV/AFP

On creating “Avatar,” he explained that his first drawing for the franchise was made when he was 19. “That drawing led me to think about a bioluminescent world and I wrote a story about that in the late 1970s.” He also shared that after founding Digital Domain in the 90s, he used that very artwork in a project they were doing on computer-generated characters and creatures. “That became Avatar—in 1995.” 

early sketch of terminator
Initial imaginations of the “Terminator” world | Photo from video by Mathilde Bellenger for AFPTV/AFP
early sketches of "avatar"
More early sketches of the Na’vi and the world of “Avatar” | Photo from video by Mathilde Bellenger for AFPTV/AFP

From a 19-year-old’s sketchbook to the big screen, that science fiction film also became the highest-grossing movie of all time, reaching nearly $3 billion at the box office. Its sequel, 2022’s “Avatar: The Way of Water,” was equally a huge success.

Will it turn out the same for the third film in the franchise? Perhaps, but Cameron, who says that movie three is “in a transitional state between fighting for the survival of Earth and of Pandora” can only promise one thing.

“Whatever you think it’s going to be, it isn’t.”

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