Thursday, February 16, 2012

Who Will Win The Ultra Hi-End Theatrical 3D Projection Race?

You have probably all heard by now that Peter Jackson is shooting THE HOBBIT movies at 48 frames per second which is double the 24 frames that is standard now. James Cameron will be also shooting AVATAR 2 and 3 at a higher frame rate. Word is getting out that higher frame rates are the future, especially for 3D. The experience is sublime!

But what about the back end of all this? We have major tentpoles now being conceived and shot with higher frame rates but what about the projection? Is the industry keeping pace? Can we actually see the results of all these improvements on the production side of things?

The short answer is yes. Most of the new digital projectors today can handle higher frame rates. Keep in mind that 3D systems (like MasterImage3D or RealD) are typically add-ons to these projectors. But the longer answer is audiences are demanding more and more from theater presentations. IMAX has already proved that over and over again throughout their existence.

We all know about IMAX and their large screens but did you know they recently bought out all the patents for Kodak's laser projection technology? There were about 50 patents involved that enable the display of digital content to large 80 to 100 foot screens and dome theaters. Brightness is the key.

Further, IMAX has taken these patents in hand and teamed up with Belgium based Barco to pool their expertise in creating a 'super' projection technology to display digital movies on a large, large scale. It's a seven year partnership deal which sees some royalties revert back to Kodak.

Barco has been recently installed in the Empire Theatres chain where I live and I have thoroughly enjoyed the new projection.

The IMAX / Barco partnership sounds great does it not? The end result should be fantastic! But I'm not done yet...

Industry visionary (and legendary) Douglas Trumbull (Brainstorm was a movie that deeply affected me) has his own plans, and grandiose plans they are! He developed Showscan so he has the chops to deliver more so than just about anyone else other than IMAX. Concurrent with receiving multiple awards for his projection technology prowess, Trumbull is also trying to secure financing for his next big set of ideas. And 3D is a huge part of it.

Trumbull has set up shop in Massachusetts to show off what he has deemed "Hypercinema"...

Here is what he had to say on the tech:
"No one in the industry has seen a 3D movie at 30 foot Lamberts at 120 frames per second. What happens when you get into this hyper-real realm of a movie, that seems to be a window onto reality, is that the entire cinematic language begins to change." He wants to make a movie using Hypercinema and move away from the master shots, two-shots, over-the-shoulder shots and close-ups we've all seen thousands of times, to create "an experience of tremendous participation in an alternate world, which I think people will crave and are ready to pay for."

Trumbull is talking about changing the way Hollywood shoots their movies. Their very dogma. Personally I will have to see what Trumbull is talking about before I can fully comment. I think the way James Cameron and Peter Jackson shoot their movies is perfectly fine. In fact I see their Performance Capture technology as the next wave of production much more than I do with the elimination of standard cinematography shots. But I have an open mind. Perhaps all of this combined could soar over what we have today.

It is certain however that Hollywood and theatrical chains cannot sit idly by. Audiences ARE changing and demanding more. 3D and digital media are just the beginning. I'm very excited by these developments with IMAX, Barco and the creative genius in Douglas Trumbull, James Cameron and Peter Jackson. With the industry looking at the whole 'food chain' of production, distribution and projection rather than just one segment of it, audiences should ultimately get what they want.

The Michael Bay's of the world should not have to personally write to the projectionists and ask them to display his 3D movies at the recommended brightness. There has to be an elegant answer.

Where do you see the future of cinema? Near term? Long term? When I saw the footage that James Cameron showed us at CinemaCon last year in 24, 48 and 60 frames per second and in 3D I was stunned as was everyone else in the theater. The higher frame rates are amazing. I can't wait for you all to see it too! The question is, HOW will you see it? While most recent iterations of digital projection can handle higher frame rates, the folks mentioned in this article are working on the next level after that. It's getting exciting again! Can you feel it?

I'll be talking with all these players again at CinemaCon 2012 - stay tuned!

Sources: Variety | THR

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Jim Dorey
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