Sure enough, he proved it 12 years later, creating a brand new universe for his film Avatar.
What we saw on screen was only the tip of the innovative iceberg – in fact, Cameron said his script had been ready since 1999, but he was waiting for technology to catch up with him.
Below are just five of the main advances in screen production the director needed to bring his little blue creatures to life and into the record books...
The language of the Na'vi, Cameron's beautiful, otherworldly creatures, was created four years before the film was made. Linguistic professor Paul Frommer was charged with creating a language that was learnable, pronounceable, but not too close to any existing human language. Frommer created a language with a vocabulary of about 1000 words, and a grammar structure known only to him - until he published it, making it possible for everyone to learn Na'vi.
3D - Three-dimensional footage was deemed crucial by James Cameron for the world of <em>Avatar</em>. This meant using two cameras to film from two different perspectives (or somehow doing this afterwards in post-production) and then laying the images on top of one another to create a depth of field. 3D has been around for nearly a century in various forms, but it's fair to say James Cameron brought it crashing into mainstream cinema and, despite various critics' misgivings, it hasn't lost its novelty value yet, despite Bono almost flying out of the screen during the concert film <em>U23D.</em>
Stereoscopic filmmaking... It feels like we've never been without them, but James Cameron was the first modern film maker to be handing out the fashion statement glasses for viewers walking into the cinema. These specs combine the two different images from the 3-D camera footage (see above), so that one image with depth of field is the result. Alternatives are filtering different images to the left and right eye of the viewer, or having the lightsource split the images directionally into the viewer's eyes - no glasses required. But this all seems a bit Frankenstein's Monster, and fortunately Cameron stopped short of changing what his audience were actually seeing with their own eyeballs.
Motion capture... what has become a standard device in big-budget action films was advanced for Avatar. It requires recording the movement of the actor, sampling them many times a second, then using that data to animate digital character models. Performance capture includes those more subtle exercises that capture hand gestures and facial expressions. The model then performs the same actions on screen, and voila. Andy Serkis, Gollum in Lord of the Rings, is a known master of the art. Turning blue is an acknowledged side-effect.
The Na'vi were synthetic beings, humanoid in appearance and up to 10 feet tall. They were blue-skinned, striped, with pointed ears and catlike noses, but had large, human-looking eyes and other human features, as Cameron wanted his audiences to be able to relate to them as far as possible. For example, his female lead Neytiri was modelled on Raquel Welch in Fantastic Voyage, and he insisted she have breasts, even though this was physically logical - the Na'vi aren't even mammals.