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  • I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction.

  • In high school, I took a bus to school

  • an hour each way every day.

  • And I was always absorbed in a book,

  • science fiction book,

  • which took my mind to other worlds,

  • and satisfied, in a narrative form,

  • this insatiable sense of curiosity that I had.

  • And you know, that curiosity also manifested itself

  • in the fact that whenever I wasn't in school

  • I was out in the woods,

  • hiking and taking "samples" --

  • frogs and snakes and bugs and pond water --

  • and bringing it back, looking at it under the microscope.

  • You know, I was a real science geek.

  • But it was all about trying to understand the world,

  • understand the limits of possibility.

  • And my love of science fiction

  • actually seemed mirrored in the world around me,

  • because what was happening, this was in the late '60s,

  • we were going to the moon,

  • we were exploring the deep oceans.

  • Jacques Cousteau was coming into our living rooms

  • with his amazing specials that showed us

  • animals and places and a wondrous world

  • that we could never really have previously imagined.

  • So, that seemed to resonate

  • with the whole science fiction part of it.

  • And I was an artist.

  • I could draw. I could paint.

  • And I found that because there weren't video games

  • and this saturation of CG movies and all of this

  • imagery in the media landscape,

  • I had to create these images in my head.

  • You know, we all did, as kids having to

  • read a book, and through the author's description,

  • put something on the movie screen in our heads.

  • And so, my response to this was to paint, to draw

  • alien creatures, alien worlds,

  • robots, spaceships, all that stuff.

  • I was endlessly getting busted in math class

  • doodling behind the textbook.

  • That was -- the creativity

  • had to find its outlet somehow.

  • And an interesting thing happened: The Jacques Cousteau shows

  • actually got me very excited about the fact that there was

  • an alien world right here on Earth.

  • I might not really go to an alien world

  • on a spaceship someday --

  • that seemed pretty darn unlikely.

  • But that was a world I could really go to,

  • right here on Earth, that was as rich and exotic

  • as anything that I had imagined

  • from reading these books.

  • So, I decided I was going to become a scuba diver

  • at the age of 15.

  • And the only problem with that was that I lived

  • in a little village in Canada,

  • 600 miles from the nearest ocean.

  • But I didn't let that daunt me.

  • I pestered my father until he finally found

  • a scuba class in Buffalo, New York,

  • right across the border from where we live.

  • And I actually got certified

  • in a pool at a YMCA in the dead of winter

  • in Buffalo, New York.

  • And I didn't see the ocean, a real ocean,

  • for another two years,

  • until we moved to California.

  • Since then, in the intervening

  • 40 years,

  • I've spent about 3,000 hours underwater,

  • and 500 hours of that was in submersibles.

  • And I've learned that that deep-ocean environment,

  • and even the shallow oceans,

  • are so rich with amazing life

  • that really is beyond our imagination.

  • Nature's imagination is so boundless

  • compared to our own

  • meager human imagination.

  • I still, to this day, stand in absolute awe

  • of what I see when I make these dives.

  • And my love affair with the ocean is ongoing,

  • and just as strong as it ever was.

  • But when I chose a career as an adult,

  • it was filmmaking.

  • And that seemed to be the best way to reconcile

  • this urge I had to tell stories

  • with my urges to create images.

  • And I was, as a kid, constantly drawing comic books, and so on.

  • So, filmmaking was the way to put pictures and stories

  • together, and that made sense.

  • And of course the stories that I chose to tell

  • were science fiction stories: "Terminator," "Aliens"

  • and "The Abyss."

  • And with "The Abyss," I was putting together my love

  • of underwater and diving with filmmaking.

  • So, you know, merging the two passions.

  • Something interesting came out of "The Abyss,"

  • which was that to solve a specific narrative

  • problem on that film,

  • which was to create this kind of liquid water creature,

  • we actually embraced computer generated animation, CG.

  • And this resulted in the first soft-surface

  • character, CG animation

  • that was ever in a movie.

  • And even though the film didn't make any money --

  • barely broke even, I should say --

  • I witnessed something amazing, which is that the audience,

  • the global audience, was mesmerized

  • by this apparent magic.

  • You know, it's Arthur Clarke's law

  • that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

  • They were seeing something magical.

  • And so that got me very excited.

  • And I thought, "Wow, this is something that needs to be embraced

  • into the cinematic art."

  • So, with "Terminator 2," which was my next film,

  • we took that much farther.

  • Working with ILM, we created the liquid metal dude

  • in that film. The success hung in the balance

  • on whether that effect would work.

  • And it did, and we created magic again,

  • and we had the same result with an audience --

  • although we did make a little more money on that one.

  • So, drawing a line through those two dots

  • of experience

  • came to, "This is going to be a whole new world,"

  • this was a whole new world of creativity

  • for film artists.

  • So, I started a company with Stan Winston,

  • my good friend Stan Winston,

  • who is the premier make-up and creature designer

  • at that time, and it was called Digital Domain.

  • And the concept of the company was

  • that we would leapfrog past

  • the analog processes of optical printers and so on,

  • and we would go right to digital production.

  • And we actually did that and it gave us a competitive advantage for a while.

  • But we found ourselves lagging in the mid '90s

  • in the creature and character design stuff

  • that we had actually founded the company to do.

  • So, I wrote this piece called "Avatar,"

  • which was meant to absolutely push the envelope

  • of visual effects,

  • of CG effects, beyond,

  • with realistic human emotive characters

  • generated in CG,

  • and the main characters would all be in CG,

  • and the world would be in CG.

  • And the envelope pushed back,

  • and I was told by the folks at my company

  • that we weren't going to be able to do this for a while.

  • So, I shelved it, and I made this other movie about a big ship that sinks.

  • (Laughter)

  • You know, I went and pitched it to the studio as "'Romeo and Juliet' on a ship:

  • "It's going to be this epic romance,

  • passionate film."

  • Secretly, what I wanted to do was

  • I wanted to dive to the real wreck of "Titanic."

  • And that's why I made the movie.

  • (Applause)

  • And that's the truth. Now, the studio didn't know that.

  • But I convinced them. I said,

  • "We're going to dive to the wreck. We're going to film it for real.

  • We'll be using it in the opening of the film.

  • It will be really important. It will be a great marketing hook."

  • And I talked them into funding an expedition.

  • (Laughter)

  • Sounds crazy. But this goes back to that theme

  • about your imagination creating a reality.

  • Because we actually created a reality where six months later,

  • I find myself in a Russian submersible

  • two and a half miles down in the north Atlantic,

  • looking at the real Titanic through a view port.

  • Not a movie, not HD -- for real.

  • (Applause)

  • Now, that blew my mind.

  • And it took a lot of preparation, we had to build cameras

  • and lights and all kinds of things.

  • But, it struck me how much

  • this dive, these deep dives,

  • was like a space mission.

  • You know, where it was highly technical,

  • and it required enormous planning.

  • You get in this capsule, you go down to this dark

  • hostile environment

  • where there is no hope of rescue

  • if you can't get back by yourself.

  • And I thought like, "Wow. I'm like,

  • living in a science fiction movie.

  • This is really cool."

  • And so, I really got bitten by the bug of deep-ocean exploration.

  • Of course, the curiosity, the science component of it --

  • it was everything. It was adventure,

  • it was curiosity, it was imagination.

  • And it was an experience that

  • Hollywood couldn't give me.

  • Because, you know, I could imagine a creature and we could

  • create a visual effect for it. But I couldn't imagine what I was seeing

  • out that window.

  • As we did some of our subsequent expeditions,

  • I was seeing creatures at hydrothermal vents

  • and sometimes things that I had never seen before,

  • sometimes things that no one had seen before,

  • that actually were not described by science

  • at the time that we saw them and imaged them.

  • So, I was completely smitten by this,

  • and had to do more.

  • And so, I actually made a kind of curious decision.

  • After the success of "Titanic,"

  • I said, "OK, I'm going to park my day job

  • as a Hollywood movie maker,

  • and I'm going to go be a full-time explorer for a while."

  • And so, we started planning these

  • expeditions.

  • And we wound up going to the Bismark,

  • and exploring it with robotic vehicles.

  • We went back to the Titanic wreck.

  • We took little bots that we had created

  • that spooled a fiber optic.

  • And the idea was to go in and do an interior

  • survey of that ship, which had never been done.

  • Nobody had ever looked inside the wreck. They didn't have the means to do it,

  • so we created technology to do it.

  • So, you know, here I am now, on the deck

  • of Titanic, sitting in a submersible,

  • and looking out at planks that look much like this,

  • where I knew that the band had played.

  • And I'm flying a little robotic vehicle

  • through the corridor of the ship.

  • When I say, "I'm operating it,"

  • but my mind is in the vehicle.

  • I felt like I was physically present

  • inside the shipwreck of Titanic.

  • And it was the most surreal kind

  • of deja vu experience I've ever had,

  • because I would know before I turned a corner

  • what was going to be there before the lights

  • of the vehicle actually revealed it,

  • because I had walked the set for months

  • when we were making the movie.

  • And the set was based as an exact replica

  • on the blueprints of the ship.

  • So, it was this absolutely remarkable experience.

  • And it really made me realize that

  • the telepresence experience --

  • that you actually can have these robotic avatars,

  • then your consciousness is injected into the vehicle,

  • into this other form of existence.

  • It was really, really quite profound.