Regardless of your feelings about the forthcoming Avatar sequel(s), it’s hard to deny that James Cameron has pushed effects-driven filmmaking farther than anyone not named Lucas or Spielberg — and possibly farther than even them. In this sprawling oral history, Alan Siegel speaks with actors, producers, and collaborators to tease out how Cameron has managed a box-office batting average few can touch. (For even more oral-history goodness, pair it with Wired‘s 2015 oral history of special-effects house ILM.)

“He’s ready to go. And part of the reason for his success is because he is that guy. If he tells Arnold, ‘I want you to go down this escalator, jump over, do that,’ and Arnold looks at it and goes, ‘Boy, I don’t know if I could do it,’ he goes, ‘OK. I’ll do it.’ He’ll do it. There is nothing that he won’t do. And it inspires you.”