Avatar: return to Pandora in this behind the scenes featurette for The Way of Water

Writer-director James Cameron doesn't do things by halves. After all, this is the man who singlehandedly fashioned the Terminator mythology, submerged his actors in dangerous underwater conditions during the making of The Abyss and re-enacted the tragic sinking of the Titanic in his 1997 blockbuster.

Yet even in the midst of all those technical achievements, Cameron's craft on the Avatar movies stands out. He first conceived of the Avatar project in 1999 but so audacious was his vision that he had to wait for CGI and performance capture technology to catch up. He started filming the first Avatar in 2007 and two years later upon its release, the movie set a new benchmark for immersive computer effects.

Cameron was able to map the most intimate facial nuances of his actors onto the fantastical blue Na'vi creatures, locating them in an almost entirely computer-generated world of quite breathtaking detail. The movie's level of immersion was further buoyed by an upsurge of interest in the RealD 3D viewing format, imbuing the illusion of added depth into the movie's exotic landscape of Pandora.

This month's long-awaited (and delayed) sequel Avatar: The Way of Water is even more ambitious. The story picks up with heroes Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) more than 10 years later after they're displaced from their home and forced to seek shelter with the acquatic Metkayina tribe.

Cameron has now matched the fledgling CGI experiment of his first Avatar movie with the punishing underwater environs of The Abyss, to the extent that the actors had to learn to free-dive while shooting their scenes in performance capture suits. Not many filmmakers would go to such lengths, but Cameron is famous for his willingness to push the boundaries.

Go behind the scenes in the following video and get a taste of the Avatar sequel's remarkable level of ambition. Avatar: The Way of Water is released on December 16.