‘Titanic’ in ship shape

Unlike the in-your-face movie magic readily on display in director James Cameron’s past films, such as “The Abyss” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” many of the groundbreaking visual effects in Cameron’s eagerly awaited “Titanic,” due out at Christmas, will steam right past the average moviegoer.

“The public at large will miss 90% of what we’re doing,” says one insider at Digital Domain, which is creating the major effects for the picture and coordinating the work contributed by a dozen or so smaller shops. “People in the business will see (the effects), but for the other 50 million people who will look at it, there will be very few visual effects. It is that real.”

Officially, reps at Paramount and Fox, the two studios jointly shouldering “Titanic’s” $200-million-plus pricetag, as well as those at Digital Domain, are staying as silent as icebergs regarding the extensive visual effects, which still were being rushed to delivery a week after the film’s abandoned July 2 release date.

But sources say that entire shots of the ship on the ocean, including the wake, marine life and even the passengers, including some of the principal cast, have been created digitally, with a level of photorealism that dares the viewer to distinguish it from first-unit photography.

“Titanic” also is pioneering the use of “synthespians,” completely digital extras and stunt players. Based on technology developed by Digital Domain for the Michael Jackson musicvideo “Ghost,” the creation of realistic synthetic actors is a technique that one source at Digital Domain predicts will “have a lasting impression on the film industry. It’s going to change the business.”

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