Open Letter to James Cameron

James, you don’t know me, but I see you have been getting involved in CAD events lately, which is my area of interest. Autodesk University 2009 attendees got a sneak preview of Avatar and you were a key speaker at Solidworks World 2010. I absolutely loved Avatar. It’s the only film I’ve ever seen where I immediately wanted to watch it again. Yes, it’s possible to poke holes in the plot, but that applies to 99% of films and anyway, this film isn’t about the plot, is it? It’s about the breathtaking visuals. I was dreaming about Pandora for days afterwards; good job.

I grew up in the 70s with the music of Yes and the artwork of Roger Dean. That the visuals of Pandora are based on Roger’s artwork is undeniable, and the film benefits immeasurably from the floating mountains, spectacular arches, dragons and even skin patterns that are so obviously lifted from Roger’s work. Why then, when I stayed to watch the credits at the end of the film, did I not see Roger Dean credited? I understand that Roger has received no monetary credit for his contributions, either.

James, you know the right thing to do. Please do it. Otherwise, instead of thinking of you as the guy behind the most visually impressive film ever, I’ll think of you as the jerk who ripped off Roger Dean. Over to you.

8 comments to Open Letter to James Cameron

  • It’s like Autodesk initially forgot to credit David Betz after they based AutoLISP (initially called “Variables and Expressions” in AutoCAD v2.17) on his XLISP.

    After users pestered the CAD company about the oversight, Autodesk eventually did add the credit line. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XLISP

  • During the press conference with Cameron at SolidWorks World, one reporter asked if he based his blue people on the blue gods in Hinduism. He said no, it was coincidence.

    With the movie making so much money, I am sure lawyers are hard at work looking for ways to get the courts to force the movie studio to share some of those profits with them!

  • With XLISP, I don’t think the credit was forgotten. My understanding, based on a chat I had with a visiting Autodesk person at the time, is that it was deliberately left out.

    Blue people/aliens are there in Roger’s artwork, too.

  • I began this comment with my own opinion of Avatar, but that would be rude. Suffice it to say, we disagree.

    That being said, James Cameron has simply gone on doing what he has done before. To make sense of this you have to step out of the CAD context and look at the interactive entertainment (i.e. gaming) industry. Countless gamers have called out the obvious similarities between the human technology of Avatar and Bungie’s Halo series. Cameron’s comment on this?

    “The funniest thing is when some of the so-called fanboys get up trashing Avatar for looking too much like Halo…” he laughed during a recent interview with me [Patrick Klepek] that aired on X-Play. “It’s like…pay attention. If I’m referencing anything, I’m referencing the source work for Halo, which is my own stuff. So I get to do that. Nobody else gets to do that, but I get to do that. My rule, anyway.”

    Cameron was referring to inspiration Bungie derived from Cameron’s film, Aliens. Essentially he is saying that he created Aliens and so he, and only he, is allowed to co-opt it’s (somewhat common) vision and style. The problem with that argument? Well the style the permeated the Aliens franchise was derived from the work of HR Giger. Anyone who has ever seen Giger’s work (mature art to say the least) can easily see the similarity. Yet Cameron feels that it is his movie so there is no need to follow the causal trail of where his own inspiration comes from. Fast forward 30 years and now Cameron is taking credit for another artist’s work.

    As CAD professionals, enthusiasts and/or observers we should be prepared to see a great deal more of Cameron. He has discovered two entirely new industries that are gaping maws dying to hear whatever he has to spout off about. The CAD world is eager to attend him because it by far the greatest implementation of advanced computer designs and graphics in the highest grossing movie to date. Cameron also plans to parlay his unsold properties as video games.

    When asked if he was interested in creating original IP video games Cameron answered: “I’ve got alot of stories and I don’t have enough time to make them all as movies. That’s something I am exploring with Ubisoft to see if there’s maybe a relationship around just getting some of these story and world ideas into games. Just completely independent of movies.”

    Um, ok. So looks like there is going to be a long tail on this Avatar outfall because whether he is making movies or games you can be sure Autodesk products will be involved. How can they pass on capitalizing on that?

    – KFD -

  • You’re quite welcome to add your opinion about Avatar, I really don’t mind how much we disagree. Contrary opinions are allowed here, and are not considered rude.

    As for “How can they pass on capitalizing on that?”, I was going to suggest that CAD companies might be wary of PR fallout from associating with a plagiarist (assuming he continues to bluff it out and deny Roger his due credit). But as CAD companies were falling over each other to associate themselves with the visually impressive works of a brutal dictatorship in 2008, I guess I’m dreaming.

  • Nah, I don’t buy this. There’s nothing new under the sun. Everything comes from something else. There is no ultimate source for creative work.

  • Everything certainly seems to come from something else as far as James Cameron is concerned. I guess he would be perfectly OK with it if I made, say, a computer game called Avatar? That’s been done before, but that doesn’t matter. The title works better than Dances with Smurfs, anyway. This game would have blue-skinned aliens, surreal landscapes with impossible arches and floating mountains, dragons, skin textures and other graphical elements taken from Roger Dean’s artwork. As Roger doesn’t do story lines, I’d steal that from somewhere else. How about Disney’s Pocahontas? Can’t see a problem there.

    Yes, that last bit about Pocahontas isn’t original. Doesn’t matter, though. Apparently.

  • Evadne Lucas

    It looks as if it’s hitting the fan this week, with the launch of a lawsuit. Let’s hope Roger gets his just deserts. An entire life’s work plundered by someone who, to all intents appears arrogant & unrepentant.

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