James Cameron's work is the primary reason I'm in the film industry. He writes his own brilliant and original material, and has always and will always operate on completely higher plane than most other top A-list directors. Suffice to say it was a easy choice to fly to the other side of the world to work in New Zealand for and extended period of time, away from friends and loved ones in order to be part of this amazing and challenging project that I knew would be the direct result of Cameron's vision.
The pressures on the primary facility generating the imagery for the film, Weta Digital, to get the show done on time were sky high of course. Which always ends up trickling down through the client to every level of the production - especially the artists. Even before it was awarded, everyone in the industry knew it would be a incredibly difficult project for both the studio and its employees, which it was.
Weta has a very technical and complex 3D heavy pipeline, which at the time of Avatar was not easy to learn. It can easily take a few months for a new Technical Director there to get up to speed, and this being my first full use of Renderman meant I was headed for quite a steep learning curve to power through. One example of the difficulty it took to get this show done, the first sequence I started on we were suppose to get done in two months with 6 TD's, and it ended up taking us over four months to finish with pretty much just the lead and myself left by the time we completed it. The push to finish was also the hardest I'd ever worked on which was basically 80+ hour weeks for almost 6 straight months. Weta has built up a reputation for burning people out and making them never want to work in the industry again because of their schedules to finish these astronomically huge blockbuster films they do. My experience is that Weta doesn't demand you work that much but if you're outputting well they keep throwing more work at you as the schedule builds.
Listening to 500+ hours of client calls with Lightstorm Entertainment, hearing Jim direct all day was the most amazing cinematic education I've every had. It was like going to the Sistine Chapel to watch Michelangelo paint the ceiling. That long time exposure to a master filmmaker's work habits has made me a better filmmaker myself. The absolute highlight was getting to meet Jim and I can now say I have met and worked with him and Fincher and could die a happy man.