Tag Archives: James Cameron

Op-Ed: High Frame Rate (HFR) – A New Era in Cinema (Guest Column)

JamesGpic This article will look at how high frame rate (HFR) may effect cinema exhibition and why it is a very important development.

HFR or “High Frame Rate” is a term that came into common use because of the introduction of 48-3D (96fps) and 60-3D (120fps) presentations to improve 3D by making fast moving action appear more smooth and thus reducing the likelihood of headaches. The real meaning, as indicated by SMPTE Committee members, is any content with a frame rate higher than 24fps in 2D or 3D (i.e. 25, 30, 48, 60, 96 and 120). The more general acceptance of the term is frame rates faster than typical frame rates in common use today (48, 50, 60, 96 or 120 in 2D or 3D)

Why It’s Important to Exhibition

The first thing to understand about HFR is its major importance to exhibition. As has been demonstrated by the moves to sound, colour, widescreen, digital audio and stereoscopic 3D, exhibition is always looking for a point of difference. Most importantly, one that can only be seen in cinemas.

HFR is suited to fill this need for several reasons. For a start, HFR works well for 2D as well as 3D, with problems with current 3D greatly improved by HFR. As HFR in the home is problematic, it is likely to take long time to appear in the hem, thus giving exhibition a reasonable window where HFR can be a cinema- only experience.

There is demonstrable demand for HFR as exhibitors doubled the number of HFR screens in the course of the last year, as cinema goers clearly want HFR when offered it. Most digital cinema installs (Series 2 Projectors onwards) can do 48/60fps 2D HFR today.

By way of contrast in the home, DVD cannot support HFR and BluRay (BD) support is questionable. (BD is supposed to support HFR at 1280×720 as a standard, but this is not implemented on many BluRay players). The industry would not consider it a serious or reliable way to distribute films. The implementation of HFR as a domestic SMPTE standard would most likely take a very long time, especially after the efforts of doing it with 3D failed. Optical discs as a distribution medium for HFR content is anyway in doubt with streaming (Netflix et al) coming on strong, meaning that such a standard may never happen.

Streaming HFR, like 4K is not really viable as it requires too much data and is too limited a market to really bother. HFR and 4K for the home are in a limbo. The result is that HFR in domestic and home is a long way off while in cinema we have it today.

Is HFR popular? (Pros and Cons)

In its first cinema appearance HFR was universally slammed by “Movie Critics”, while the long term movie industry community appeared uncomfortable with the ‘change’ that it represented. Hobbit 1 was too much ‘change’ all at once for cinema aficionados. Yet this changed when it came to the second Hobbit films.

As quoted in the Variety article “Peter Jackson: High Frame Rate 3D Look Improved on ‘Smaug’” the director is quoted as admitting that he took some of the criticisms of the first film to heart:

“It was interesting to try to interpret what people’s reaction was,” he says. He concluded the problem was that the image looked like HD video, and was simply sharper than people are used to in cinema. “So what I did is work that in reverse,” says Jackson. “When I did the color timing this year, the color grading, I spent a lot of time experimenting with ways we could soften the image and make it look a bit more filmic. Not more like 35 mm film necessarily, but just to take the HD quality away from it, which I think I did reasonably successfully.” ??

“The film speed and the look of the picture are almost, kind of, two different things,” he says.

Despite this initial backlash, Warner Bros’ President of domestic distribution Dan Fellman claims that HFR screens “overperformed” on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This is backed up by the fact that exhibitors installed near double the number of HFR screens for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug due to high demand – US Hobbit 1 was 426 screens in HFR, while for Hobbit 2 demand raised total HFR screen count to 812. Add to this that HFR screens have a higher screen average box office takings and it is clear that patrons want HFR. HFR is particularly popular with younger audience, in part due to 60fps being the norm for computer and console game playing.


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Will “Clash” Unleash A Titanic Backlash Against 3D?

Clash of the TitansRelease the Kraken,” Liam Neeson’s Zeus commands in the WB’s “Clash of the Titans” re-make, but Hollywood should be more concerned that the film itself might release a backlash against the 3D format. There are several indicators that point to a perfect storm brewing against what has come to be regarded as the cinema industry’s digital savior.

Amongst Hollywood filmmakers there has been unusually vociferous attacks against Warner Bros.’ decision to go for a rushed eight-week conversion of “Clash of the Titans” to 3D.  The conversion is a true test for Prime Focus whose technology is unproven on such large scale projects.  Fresh off the global success of “Avatar” James Cameron weighed in against “slapdash conversion” in a recent BBC article that re-hashed Mike Fleming’s more in-depth Deadline article, where Cameron said that after the success of his award-winning epic:

“Now, you’ve got people quickly converting movies from 2D to 3D, which is not what we did. They’re expecting the same result, when in fact they will probably work against the adoption of 3D because they’ll be putting out an inferior product.”

Micheal Bay threw more fuel on the fire in a Deadline post and even appeared to take a direct swipe at Prime Focus, an Indian based post-production company that has been doing the bulk of the work on “Clash of the Titans’” conversion from 2D-to-3D :

“I’m used to having the A-team working on my films, and I’m going to hand it over to the D-team, have it shipped to India and hope for the best? This conversion process is always going to be inferior to shooting in real 3D. Studios might be willing to sacrifice the look and use the gimmick to make $3 more a ticket, but I’m not.  “Avatar” took four years. You can’t just sh*t out a 3D movie. I’m saying, the jury is still out.”

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Cameron: ’4K is a concept born in fear.’

James Cameron

It looks like a James Cameron will not be on Sony’s Christmas card list this year. In an in-depth interview in Variety, as part of its NAB coverage, he goes into details on the practicalities and more profound implications of working in stereoscopy and the future that the format has for cinemas. The interview is worth reading in full, but the part that is particularly interesting is where he discusses the relative merits of higher resolution versus higher frame rates, worth quoting in full:

4K is a concept born in fear. When the studios were looking at converting to digital cinemas, they were afraid of change, and searched for reasons not to do it. One reason they hit upon was that if people were buying HD monitors for the home, with 1080×1920 resolution, and that was virtually the same as the 2K standard being proposed, then why would people go to the cinema? Which ignores the fact that the social situation is entirely different, and that the cinema screen is 100 times larger in area. So they somehow hit on 4K, which people should remember is not twice the amount of picture data, it is four times the data. Meaning servers need to be four times the capacity, as does the delivery pipe to the theater, etc.

But 4K doesn’t solve the curse of 24 frames per second. In fact it tends to stand in the way of the solutions to that more fundamental problem. The NBA execs made a bold decision to do the All Star Game 3-D simulcast at 60 frames per second, because they didn’t like the judder. The effect of the high-frame-rate 3-D was visually astonishing, a huge crowdpleaser.

I would vastly prefer to see 2K/48 frames per second as a new display standard, than 4K/24 frames per second. This would mean shooting movies at 48 fps, which the digital cameras can easily accommodate. Film cameras can run that fast, but stock costs would go up. However, that could be offset by shooting 3-perf, or even 2-perf, because you’d get the resolution back through the higher display rate. The 48 fps negative or digital master can be skip-printed to generate a 24 fps 35mm DI negative for making release prints, so 48 is the magic number because it remains compatible with the film-based platform which will still be with us for some time, especially internationally. 30 and 60 fps are out for that reason. Anyway the benefit of 30 is not great enough to be worth the effort, especially when 48 is so easy to achieve. SMPTE tests done about 15 years ago showed that above 48 frames the returns diminish dramatically, and 60 fps is overkill. So 48 is the magic number.

Of course, the ideal format is 3-D/2K/48 fps projection. I’d love to have done “Avatar” at 48 frames. But I have to fight these battles one at a time. I’m just happy people are waking up to 3-D.

Maybe on “Avatar 2.”

Earlier in the interview he says that a “film should not be marketed first and foremost as a 3-D experience”, which seems to damn and doom ‘Journey 3D’, which is a terrible film in every way, apart from the 3D aspect.

Sadly the only question that doesn’t get asked or answered in the interview is why Cameron didn’t shoot ‘Aquaman’ in 3D.