The film, which cost $350 million to produce, was shot in a variety of formats, from 3D to Imax to high frame rate, for the ultimate big screen experience.
Cameron used 3D cameras instead of converting the film to 3D in post-production.
The success of “Avatar” started a 3D boom in the early 2010s. But Cameron believes it did not hold because films were converted in post-production.
“I think the studios blew it,” Cameron told The New York Times. “Just to save 20% of the authoring costs for 3D, they went with 3D post-conversion, which takes it out of the hands of the filmmaker on set and puts it into some post-production process that produced a poor result.”
Much of the reason “The Way of Water” looks so good is because much of it was filmed in a 120-foot-long, 60-foot-wide, 30-foot-deep, 250,000-gallon tank.
Much of the film takes place in the ocean of the fictional planet Pandora. The tank had wave and current machines to better recreate the underwater action of “The Way of Water,” according to The Los Angeles Times.
The cast learned to hold their breath for extended periods of time to film.
The cast told The New York Times in a story published in October that Kate Winslet held her breath for seven minutes during filming, a new record.
When asked why he insisted the actors do this, Cameron replied: “Oh, I don’t know, maybe it looks good? Come on!”
“You want it to look like people are underwater, so they have to be underwater,” Cameron said. “It’s not a giant leap – if you were making a Western, you’d be out learning to ride a horse.”
The “Way of Water” crew developed new methods for filming motion capture underwater.
The crew first experimented with rigging actors in the air on wires while wearing motion capture suits, to simulate movement in the water. But Cameron dismissed it without even seeing a test, according to the Los Angeles Times.
When they moved to actual underwater filmmaking, they quickly found that infrared gets absorbed in water, which is usually how we do motion capture, so we had to go to ultraviolet light…which would transmit through water, but would also be picked up up at the camera sensor,” production manager Ryan Champney told The Times.
“The Way of Water” and its underwater filming seem strongly inspired by Cameron’s own passion for the ocean and deep-sea diving.
Between “Avatar” movies, Cameron broke the record for the deepest solo dive in history in 2012, when he traveled to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench – seven miles down, called the Challenger Deep – in a specialized, state-of-the-art submersible.
He even joked in 2018 that he makes movies like “Avatar” to fund his deep-sea explorations.
“Some people think of me as a Hollywood guy … (but) I’m making ‘Avatar’ to make money to do explorations,” Cameron told The Daily Telegraph.