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Avatar director James Cameron’s inspirations laid bare in art book

Movie director James Cameron has created some of the most striking images on screen, from the sinking of the ocean liner in Titanic to Sigourney Weaver battling with an extraterrestrial creature in Aliens.

The original concepts and characters stem from his early days as a young artist in Canada, as revealed in the book Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron, which shows how his early ideas evolved into films.

Researchers collected Cameron’s sketches and paintings as a young man and compiled them into thematic chapters. When Cameron first read the book, he was astounded.

“I think those strong thematic threads were the surprise or the revelation to me, because I’d just always thought it was all scattershot,” he said.

Cameron began drawing as a child, and as a young man he focused on scenes based on his favorite sci-fi stories and comic books.

One of his first forays into movies was creating the fantasy world of “Xenogenesis,” a film that never saw the light of day but a pilot can be seen on YouTube.

The book shows pages of concept art from the unproduced film with much of the imagery foreshadowing scenes from “Terminator,” “Aliens” and “Avatar.”

“Every idea I ever had for a plant or an animal or a planet or a piece of technology or a robot or anything, I just stopped my life for a year and a half and drew it all up. It’s really all the things I was playing around with, kind of in the sidelines of my life,” Cameron said.

“The Terminator” was based on a dream in which he saw a robotic man emerging from flames; an entire sequence in “Aliens” was based on a nightmare; and the blue Na’vi humanoids from “Avatar” originated from a dream his mother told him about.

Cameron ground his fantasy designs in reality, creating anatomically correct aliens, fully operative machinery and aerodynamic spacecraft.

“There’s a sense that what’s happening is very real and very immediate. You can kind of project your mind into the screen and into the story because … what’s happening looks like it could be real,” he said.

“Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron,” published by Insight Editions, is available in bookstores now.

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