How Disney kept the fire burning for ‘Avatar’ for 13 long years
It’s been 13 long years since Steven Spielberg delivered a script for “Avatar,” then called “Aliens,” and the film industry wasn’t interested. But the project had a dedicated fan base and attracted a large cast and crew, and one of them was Disney Imagineer John Avildsen, who had spent years working on Walt Disney’s studio in Burbank, Calif.
According to Avildsen, he first learned about the film, produced by James Cameron, in the late 1980s, when he was working as a lead designer on the first wave of what would come to be known as the “Avatar” trilogy of movies. He had seen a few rough drafts and felt the need to pursue the project with Cameron, who had been working on the script for nearly a decade.
“James was very passionate about this script, which was pretty much ready to go. So he would send me some scripts with notes to comment on and he and his team would put together a storyboards. I had to be very selective in my feedback,” Avildsen told a packed hall at CinemaCon, at the Anaheim Convention Center, of the “Halo” game he designed alongside John Young, the project’s production designer. “I loved ‘Avatar’ but I didn’t feel it was a worthy film.”
But Cameron and his team had been working on Avatar for so long, with a script that had been completed in the early 1980s, that they decided to move forward and do what they felt was required for a blockbuster picture. It wasn’t long before they got their chance, and by the time Avildsen landed at Disney, Cameron and his team were deep into production, as far as you can be on an animated film that tells a story and is populated with characters, from humans to aliens, and is based on a legendary fictional character.
“So that was what we were doing. We were animating,” Avildsen