Oscar-winning director James Cameron has been paving the way for new technology in cinema for twenty years. His contributions to the medium reach far beyond what he puts on screen.

So it’s only fitting that Cameron is ushering in the next wave in filmmaking: 3-D (or stereo as he calls it).

He’s breaking ground on the techniques that will become the standard in theaters years from now, developing brand new equipment to capture that third dimension (pictured left), and fiddling with methods that will be studied in the next generation of film classes. 3-D has been done before, but you get the impression reading his epic interview with Variety that his next movie, Avatar, will be unlike anything audiences have ever seen.

He’s been absent from movies for over ten years after he stood on the stage at the Academy Awards (a night Titanic took home 11 Oscars) and said, “I’m the king of the world!” That movie became the number one box office hit of all time, so where does he go from here?

Variety calls Avatar “one of the most anticipated film projects in recent memory.” I’d venture to guess it’s highly anticipated in Hollywood circles, not yet on the general public’s radar, but will soon become the talk of not just that town.

The new 3-D, this stereo renaissance, not only solves all the old problems of bad projection, eyestrain, etc., but it is being used on first-class movies that are on people’s must-see lists. These are fundamental changes from what happened with the flash-in-the-pan 3-D craze of the ’50s.

Cameron goes on to talk about how stereo theater experiences will lure people away from the comfort of watching DVDs at home or pirating movies, a technology that will “preserve the health of the theatrical exhibition business.” Most of it is pretty technical, from discussing frame rates to the science of interocular stereospace. He does, however, provide some insight on what we’re in for:

Every once in a while, one of [the actors] would go over to the theater and watch some dailies and come back wide-eyed.

Cameron also says he plans to prove 3-D is viable for more than just spectacles and action movies.

I plan to shoot a small dramatic film in 3-D, just to prove this point, after “Avatar.” In “Avatar,” there are a number of scenes that are straight dramatic scenes, no action, no effects. They play very well, and in fact seem to be enhanced by the stereo viewing experience. So I think this can work for the full length of a dramatic feature.  (Would that movie be The Dive?)

As a film geek and a technology junkie, I get pretty excited about the combination of both. So you’ll have to excuse me gushing over the latest futuristic gadgetry. You have to admit though, it’s pretty exciting that we’re on the brink of a new way to watch movies.

One last quote from Cameron:

In fact, I would go so far as to say that 10 or 15 years from now, stereo displays will be ubiquitous, from cinemas to open-air advertising, to home screens and down to handheld devices. It may be that eventually all of our news and information, as well as our sports and entertainment, will come to us in stereo.