Before getting into why James Cameron’s Avatar took so long, let me say first off that I loved the movie. Yes it had a corny story, and even cornier dialogues, but anyone who appreciates the genius of visual effects will agree – the movie is a treat. CG mixed with live animation – the fusion is awesome. The sound effects department (obviously an area I am interested in), was splendid and accurate and so in 'harmony' with the visuals that you almost don’t notice it.
I must say that once the movie is done you have a feeling of deja vu that you've seen something like it before and you realise that you have… the film looks like a melange of Hollywood potboilers. Anyways, the film did take about 10 years to make, and after seeing it, you cannot help but wonder why Cameron took so long to make it.
The most obvious reason was ambition… remember Titanic? Cameron wanted to use CG characters and early drafts of Avatar's script and its cost amounted to an obscene 400 million dollars. For the 90's that was a sh*tload of money and no studio including 20th century Fox was willing to touch this project, shelving it for the time being.
Fast forward 5-6 years and Cameron announces two projects – Project 880 and Battle Angel. The former apparently was a reworked version of Avatar itself. Then King Kong with its $207 million dollar budget (half of what Cameron needed for Avatar initially) climbed to the top of the Empire State building and Gollum made sure Peter Jackson guffawed all the way to the bank. Gollum set the benchmark, and frankly it still is the ultimate portmanteau of CG and human ever. Cameron was inspired by evident development in CG and by early 2006 we heard that Avatar was being reworked and a language was being created for the Na'vi tribe.
Cameron used enhanced Motion Capture Animation and created something like a game engine, and in realtime could see his character's motions recorded, on the digital world created in the background –