Skip to Content

Pirates of The Caribbean 4 Plunders New 3-D Technology

Hold on to your eyepatch—the movie is the first to employ a significant development in James Cameron’s and Vincent Pace’s Fusion 3-D camera rig.
June 2, 2011

The latest installment in the Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is hardly plundering critical booty. “I’ve never seen a film in which what was actually onscreen seemed so irrelevant,” opined New York. “[T]his shipwreck isn’t worth a wooden doubloon,” said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “This is nonsense–and it’s as boring as nonsense,” weighed in the San Francisco Chronicle. But never mind these naysayers. Technology Review thinks you should by all means go see the series’ fourth outing, subtitled On Stranger Tides—because interesting technology was involved in its production.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was the first film to use a new, modular “x frame” system of the Fusion 3-D camera, co-created by James Cameron and Vincent Pace. And the development in the technology is significant enough that Pace himself thinks it will be a part of “almost every” project employing the Cameron-Pace 3-D tech, in the years ahead, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Cameron-Pace 3-D camera in itself is not new; it was used to make Avatar, after all, which was released in late 2009. The first R&D steps began about a decade ago, in fact, not long after the making of Titanic.

But it was in 2007 that the real buzz began. In that year, sci-fi geeks started marveling over the camera rig, which helped Cameron view the virtual characters he was building as he filmed the live actors who “animated” them. (A video of the rig can be seen here.) “These are supposed to be real people, real characters,” Cameron said at the time. “If we can pull it off, Avatar will be the coolest film ever made. If not, we’ll have egg on our face.” If box office returns are any indication, Cameron emerged from the affair decidedly egg-free; Avatar, therefore, must be the coolest film of all time.

And countless other directors wanted in on the coolness. Cameron-Pace’s website has breathless testimony from what seems like the entire A-list of directors: Martin Scorcese, Michael Bay, and Ang Lee all weigh in on the wonders worked by the technology. “CPG’s [Cameron-Pace Group’s] projects have resulted in more than $4.7 billion of box office receipts,” the site announces.

Still, while the technology has been breathtaking from its debut, it has previously suffered from a major problem: bulk. CPG’s website has a photograph of Cameron filming with the rig; he looks not unlike one of the soldiers in Avatar encumbered by a giant exoskeleton. If 3-D technology is truly to take off, it has to be able to go to all the places that filmmakers want to go—not just the green-screen equipped studio. The technology, in other words, has to get smaller and more portable.

And that, in essence, is what the “x frame” system is about—size and mobility. As Pace told The Hollywood Reporter, of the Pirates production: “They had to be able to go from studio rigs, to handheld, to Steadicam–and had to do it in the jungle in Hawaii.” To get to some locations, he said, the crew had to drive along places where the road narrowed to just a few feet wide, places where it would have been impossible to bring in heavy equipment on trucks. He summed up: “We concentrated on reducing the size as much as possible and increasing the mobility and making the rig robust enough to handle that kind of environment.”

It’s a simple, oft-told story—the technology that gets smaller and smaller—but it’s a hugely significant one. As the group perfects the miniaturization (or normalization) of the size of its tech, new production opportunities become possible. Nature documentarians begin to take note. As do TV producers. Which means that as the 3-D rig gets smaller, it could change the way entire categories of visual stories are told.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

This new data poisoning tool lets artists fight back against generative AI

The tool, called Nightshade, messes up training data in ways that could cause serious damage to image-generating AI models. 

Rogue superintelligence and merging with machines: Inside the mind of OpenAI’s chief scientist

An exclusive conversation with Ilya Sutskever on his fears for the future of AI and why they’ve made him change the focus of his life’s work.

The Biggest Questions: What is death?

New neuroscience is challenging our understanding of the dying process—bringing opportunities for the living.

How to fix the internet

If we want online discourse to improve, we need to move beyond the big platforms.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.