The men behind those movies, James Cameron and Peter Jackson, are among modern film's special-effects kings, advancing technology in computer-generated imagery, motion-capture photography and 3-D.
They met up at Comic Con Friday for an hour-long discussion moderated by Entertainment Weekly about the future of film, sharing details on their latest projects, their high-tech hopes and the undiminished allure of original, character-driven stories.
The two filmmakers say they inspired each other. Cameron said it was the artistic use of "humanoid CG" in Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films that got him rolling on "Avatar," set for release Dec. 18.
Jackson has said that the technology he used was borne out of Cameron's CGI work on "The Abyss" and "Terminator 2."
Both are thrilled by the possibilities of 3-D and plan to convert their biggest hits, "Titanic" and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, into the format. Then they lamented the shortage of 3-D screens.
"There will be a lot more 3-D screens when they know the 'Lord of the Rings' films are going to be available," Cameron said.
The movie industry needs 3-D, he said, to inspire originality and boost its bottom line. A "3-D ecosystem" could be built on big films converting to the format.
"If 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Titanic' are available in 3-D, that sends a signal all the way back to the consumer electronics manufacturers: Make the screens, make the modified Blue Ray DVD players so you can have it in your home," Cameron said.
That would reinvigorate sagging DVD sales, which would give studios the financial flexibility to take more risks on original and boundary-pushing material.
Both men continue with high-tech pursuits outside of feature films. Jackson is developing a "King Kong" attraction for Universal theme parks that surrounds visitors with 3-D images and effects. Eight projectors will beam images onto giant screens surrounding the park tram, which will be stationed on a surface that shimmies and shakes with action as Kong battles a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The ride is set to open next summer, he said.
Cameron, meanwhile, is developing a company to expand the use of performance-capture technology, 3-D photography and digital projection for sports and music events.
"It could change the way we absorb music," he said.
But their first love is film, even without all the technical trappings.
The medium is "infinitely superior to any other" because of its emotional core, not its fancy dressing, Jackson said.
"The whole thing about the future of movies and technology is, to me, it's just a huge red herring, because movies are all about story and character," Jackson said. "They always have been and that's all that they're ever going to be about."
Comic Con continues through Sunday at the San Diego Convention Center.
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By AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen