ABU DHABI // Pandora and its native Na'vi in the film Avatar are fictional, but advances in 3D technology are making it harder to distinguish between entertainment and reality, according to the director James Cameron.
Cameron, who spoke at the opening of the Abu Dhabi Media Summit yesterday, is behind the two highest-grossing films of all time: Avatar, which had worldwide box office takings of US$2.8 billion (Dh10.2bn), and Titanic, which raked in $1.8bn.
As 3D technology became more widespread across film, TV, video games and even on mobile phones, the entertainment would start to become indistinguishable from reality, Cameron said.
"When gamers can spend eight or 12 hours immersed in a game, it becomes their reality at that point," he said. "It's not distinguishable. And I think that when you start layering stereoscopic 3D in with gaming, people's minds will literally just go through that screen."
The movie director, who was also behind Aliens and The Terminator, was being interviewed at the summit by the News Corporation executive James Murdoch, the son of the media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Mr Murdoch asked the director if he could "imagine an environment when you have entertainment that is indistinguishable from the reality".
"We will get there," Cameron replied. "We are well down that path right now."
Cameron said that 3D movies were becoming more widespread, and could be the norm within 10 years.
"I think 3D adds value to almost any kind of entertainment media - sports, gaming, drama, certainly natural history, certainly movies, that's been established. But the value-add is the camera being able to simulate you being physically there.
"We're in a transition space right now that is roughly equivalent to between when the colour movies came out, and the time when all movies had to be in colour. We're in that transition now," he said. "I could fairly safely predict that we're going to see a lot more 3D."
But filming such movies comes at a price. The budget for the 3D movie Avatar was said to amount to US$237 million, with some estimates much higher.
James Murdoch, whose News Corporation was involved in the production of Avatar, asked Cameron if he could specify publicly the budget for the film. "You'll get in trouble from your dad," the director cautioned.
Despite the cost, Middle East executives acknowledged the impact 3D would have.
Osman Sultan, the chief executive of the telecommunications firm du, said 3D would "fundamentally" change consumers' interaction with screens. "I fully agree with James Cameron on the impact that 3D will have," Mr Sultan said.
The role of 3D has gained traction in the Middle East, with a number of media operators looking to boost output.
Du offered coverage of last year's Fifa World Cup in 3D in a deal with Al Jazeera and the company is looking to offer content in the format. In December, the pay-TV network OSN started to offer 3D films via its "video on demand" service.
"James Cameron was very right that today we have three types of screens - mobile, computer and the big screen," Mr Sultan said. "I'm talking about 3D as a completely new way of defining your experience with these screens."
Sheikh Waleed al Ibrahim, the chairman of MBC Group, also acknowledged the role 3D would play in the development of media in the Middle East.
"I totally believe this is the future. We had the main guy talking about it," Mr al Ibrahim said in reference to Cameron.
But such immersive 3D media could take a little getting used to. James Murdoch said that he took his son to his first 3D movie when he was five years old, which included a scene in which a sea monster appeared to reach out into the audience.
"My son … hopped down, got in the aisle and ran straight out of the room," Mr Murdoch said.