• Image about Titanic
Cameron with his 3-D camera rig
CAMERON/PACE Group

Titanic’s April 6, 2012, release date is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ship’s ill-fated maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York. After striking an iceberg, the ship sank on April 15, 1912, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 people. There’s no doubt that global media will remind everyone of the centenary of the sinking, but the re-release of the film will give insight into what it must have been like for those aboard the ocean liner that fateful night. Viewers may also see the timeliness of the disaster as a metaphor for the consequences of human recklessness, which could apply to the behavior of present-day bankers who all but destroyed the global economy.

For Cameron, at its core Titanic is about relationships and the feelings people have for one another. On the ship’s maiden voyage, parents took their children and adults took their parents. It was a transgenerational experience, and the director hopes the same type of sharing will occur with this 3-D release. “Titanic will have a different meaning to people who saw it 15 years ago,” he says. “Maybe they’ve moved on and gotten married, and maybe they’ve had children. They look at love and life and what has meaning differently now than when they first saw [the movie]. The film is now less about the glow of romantic teenage love and more about the sense of beauty and what we’re on this planet for — and what we mean to each other.”

While Cameron was writing the scripts for Avatar 2 and 3, as well as the novel adaptation of the original Avatar, he was also working on the conversion of Titanic to 3-D. He rolled up his sleeves and oversaw a team of 300 artists and technicians who stared at computer screens for endless hours, subjectively deciding where each object in a scene was within a depth map.

“While it’s an interesting intellectual problem for a visual artist to say, ‘I think this post on that banister is closer to me than the guy next to it,’ I really don’t want to have that conversation too much in my life,” says Cameron, who has vowed to film all of his future movies in 3-D. “I’m going through it because there’s no other way to have Titanic released in 3-D. But it’s a little bit like going in and painting with oil paints, or all of the frames of a black-and-white movie being turned into color. It’s not a process I would recommend. It’s certainly not one I would ever embrace if I were just starting a movie.”

Now You Know: Titanic tied with 1950’s All About Eve for the most Oscar nominations (14) of any film in history. Titanic won 11 awards and Eve captured six, including Best Picture.

While he admits that there are minor things he would have done differently if he’d shot the film in 3-D the first time, Cameron did shoot the original with the background more in focus — and his natural shooting style turned out great for conversion. As a bonus that occurred early in the process, the film was digitally remastered in 4K, so that even the 2-D version looks more visually vibrant than it did in 1997.

And although a good portion of the original film’s huge budget was devoted to cutting-edge special effects, a lot of money was also spent on set and production design (Cameron is known for his meticulous attention to detail), which helped with the conversion. Large portions of the ship were built at a 40-acre, $23 million complex in Baja California, Mexico, where the movie was filmed over 100 days.