"Cameron was born in Canada, and grew up in a small town not far from Niagara Falls. His father was an engineer for a paper company; his mother brought up five children, and told stories of racing stock cars and joining the women’s auxiliary of the Canadian Army. Jim was the oldest, the ringleader of his siblings and the other kids in the neighborhood. “There was always some new thing that absolutely needed to get done, whether it was building a fort or an airplane or launching rockets,” he told me. “We made it in the papers once, for a U.F.O. sighting over a hot-air balloon that we built and launched at night that was powered by candles.” — The New YorkerSteven Spielberg, too, specialised in high-production disturbances of the peace when he was a young boy, once locking himself into the bathroom, solely so that he could see what the flashing lights of the firetrucks looked like when they rolled up in his street. By this measure, 6-year-old Falcon Heene, aka Balloon Boy, may have a fine future ahead of him making sci-fi blockbusters. The whole thing — a soaring silver disk, a back drop of corn fields, a child's fate in the balance — had all the wonder of a Spielberg movie.
It's a good piece on Cameron, by the New Yorker's Dana Goodyear.
James Cameron doesn’t go to the bathroom; he goes to the head. In his universe, there is no front and back, right and left, just fore and aft, starboard and port. He is still an avid scuba diver; when there are sharks in the water, he says, he’s the first one in. Free-diving, he has held his breath for more than three minutes and reached a depth of a hundred and ten feet. (“You feel like a denizen of the deep, if only for a second,” he says. “Plus, diving below the scuba divers, I like just to see the look on their faces.”) He used to have a JetRanger helicopter, and owns a slew of dirt bikes, three Harleys, a Ducati, and a Ford GT—“basically a race car with a license plate”—in classic blue-and-white livery. In Corvettes, he has favored triple black—black body, black interior, black top. For pleasure, he designs submersibles; the one he’s working on now can go to thirty-six thousand feet, and he hopes to use it to explore the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on earth. He signs his missives “Jim out,” and, when he’s working, a deep mechanical roar, like a Navy klaxon, summons him to the stage. “Dive! dive! dive!” he said, an intent look in his eyes, when I asked him what the signal meant.I'd heard most of the 'Bad Jim' stories before, and wasn't persuaded that Avatar is going to be all that good, but was particularly struck my Cameron's obsession with the textures of his ersatz world:—
“This looks like petrified wood,” he said, circling the offending part with a red laser pointer. “It has a longitudinal grain structure. It looks very fragile to me. This hard, crystally structure looks like barn wood. We want to say that this arch formed as igneous rock, that it’s a lava formation that got eroded, but it’s fracturing out along the crystal planes of minerals.”Yes he's showing off, but still.
The meeting ended on a boisterous note. “That fuckin’ rocks!” Cameron called out in response to an image of a snarling maw of thin blue-veined tissue, the mouth of the pterodactyl-like banshee that Jake’s avatar domesticates for his ride. “Look at the gill-like membrane on the side of the mouth, its transmission of light, all the secondary color saturation on the tongue, and that maxilla bone. I love what you did with the translucence on the teeth, and the way the quadrate bone racks the teeth forward. It’s a sharky thing. As wacky as this creature is, it looks completely real. Maybe I’m getting high on my own supply.” He was practically out of breath. “The banshee lives! He’s a fierce-looking sonuvabitch.”In the end, they counted fifteen shots in Avatar that were not special effects shots. “Then we see Sam has a pimple and—whoops—that’s an effects shot, too.”