Thursday, March 31, 2011

CinemaCon 2011: WOW. Spectacular Demonstration Of Higher Frame Rates By James Cameron

You have to see it to believe it. I was floored when I saw the higher frame rate demo footage that Cameron made exclusively for this engagement (but will be made available for theater owners for testing purposes). All of it was in 3D of course!

Cameron and his team of contributors built a set, hired actors and a crew to create a medieval banquet scene as well as a sword fight scene to illustrate a fairly elaborate test of 24 frames per second vs. 48 and 60.

He enlisted TITANIC director of photography Russell Carpenter who used Red Epics, Arri Alexas, Phantom Flex high speed cameras (for outstanding slow motion) and of course the Pace / Cameron 3D system.

Cameron clearly pointed out that all of these tests were shot in 2K, not 4K and with good reason: The lowest hanging fruit to harvest a better cinematic experience is NOT 4K projection, but rather increased frame rate as most existing second gen digital projectors can do this.

Not to say we don't want to see both happen as soon as possible, but one step at a time!

I must say that the motion artifacts and strobing that were very present in the 24 fps panning (this is what we have been seeing EVERY time we go to the movies for a very long time) disappeared for the most part with 48 fps and were completely gone with 60. The result was dramatic and exceeded my expectations! The realism was amazing. It all really came together in the action scenes: The swordplay underscored the realism. Action movies will truly benefit from this approach to projection - like AVATAR 2!

Cameron even went so far as to double up on the frames to demo one way to achieve slow motion (although not as elegant as shooting at higher frame rates and taking a fractional approach). Top marks for showing the audience all angles of consideration for this technology.

Yes, Cameron confirmed that AVATAR 2 will be shot in higher frame rates but the discussion is whether it would be 48 or 60 fps. He mentioned that Peter Jackson was practically set to shoot THE HOBBIT in a higher frame rate but (aside from his health issues) did not want to stray from where Hollywood was going to go - it would be a gamble at the moment to choose 48 or 60. But it is happening, that I can say with confidence. Cameron did not commit to either rate, but instead is looking for cooperation in choosing one. 48 may be a more elegant solution as it is simply double the existing frame rate of 24, but 60 can still be readily achieved despite a bit more complexity in scaling back to 24 for the other screens that are not caught up yet.

One of the major points of the presentation was that all of this can be done with existing generation 2 digital projector equipment with only slight software modifications. That was driven home to the theater owners quite well. And so with neglible costs it becomes much more attractive to the owners to implement. A better picture brings the audience back in droves.

I spoke to him about AVATAR a bit after his session and I will have some video up soon, but let's be clear here - this was a day for frame rate discussion! I loved it. And so did Cameron: He is clearly in his element. We're priviledged to have him championing with the audiences best interests in mind.

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