James Cameron: Avatar sequels may be variable frame rate


James Cameron tells European broadcasting company RTL that he’s deciding between making Avatar 2, Avatar 3, and Avatar 4 at variable frame rates (VFR), and making them at a single consistent frame rate:

“[We're] looking at high frame rate. I’m studying that. I haven’t made a final decision yet, whether the entire film will be made at high frame rate or parts of it. You know, we’ll be shooting at a native resolution of probably 4K and so then there should be a lot of true 4K theaters by then as well.”

I think VFR makes the most sense and I predict that’s what Cameron will choose for his Avatar sequel trilogy.  In fact, I think VFR makes the most sense for just about every movie: Why restrict yourself to a single frame rate when different scenes and shot types, or even distinct objects in a shot, may look better at different speeds?  Even if a filmmaker goes into a production with the idea that the movie will be at a single frame rate, it would be wise to keep all options open by capturing footage in a way that allows multiple frame rates to be extracted and layered over each other.

If Cameron does indeed choose variable frame rates, I’ll be very interested in the camera equipment and setup he uses.  Would he shoot all scenes at the same ultra-high frame rate using one particular camera type, and then extract different frame rates during the editing process (assuming the targeted rates are factors of the master frame rate)?  Or would he roll multiple cameras, each capturing at a different rate, for each shot?  Or something else completely?

Hopefully we’ll find out soon – Cameron and his team are currently developing the production pipeline software.  Knowing how he is going to shoot the movie would certainly make that process easier.

For more on the Avatar sequels’ current status, check out this article over at comingsoon.net

Avatar 2, 3, and 4 will release in December 2016, 2017, and 2018

X-Men: Days of Future Past will NOT get an HFR 3D release

XMenAfter many conflicting reports regarding whether X-Men: Days of Future Past would be given an HFR 3D release (most are in agreement that, at the very least, the movie was shot in such a way that a 48 fps version could be extracted), Bryan Singer has given an official denial to The Hollywood Reporter:

“Creatively, though, Singer decided HFR wouldn’t be right for his new X-Men outing, which takes place in 1973 and the present.  While he did use a Phantom 3D rig to shoot at 3,600 fps for effects sequences involving the super-speedy character of Quicksilver, he declined to use HFR for the bulk of the movie. “In The Hobbit, which takes place in a more fantastic environment, it brings a magic and brightness,” says Singer. “But the same effect that benefits The Hobbit might not benefit the look of the particular movie I’m making. Especially in the 1973 sequences, it might look a little too strange, slightly too vivid”

“I had concerns about how certain sequences would look, and there is also a cost factor in rendering the visual effects.”

The article points out the fact that Peter Jackson was able to absorb much of the cost of making the movies in high frame rate 3D due to the fact that he owns WETA.  James Cameron, who is friends with Jackson, will likely get a similarly good deal even though he isn’t a direct participant in WETA.

And knowing Cameron, he’ll likely be enthused to have the opportunity to be the first filmmaker to demonstrate the true, full potential of HFR 3D with his Avatar sequel trilogy, hopefully making it at least as popular as Avatar made 3D.

Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman is another HFR evangelist:

“Exhibitors who put it in were bullish on it, and audiences liked it…I think it’s getting better and better. While it certainly was a slow starter, it’s going to be a game-changer.”

Which upcoming Warner Bros. movies do you think might be made in HFR or HFR 3D? Potentially Batman vs. Superman in 2015?

There will be 3 Avatar sequels!


James Cameron and Fox announced today that there will be 3 Avatar sequels, with Avatar 2 releasing in December 2016, followed by the third installment in December 2017 and the fourth in December 2018.

It’s been pretty clear for quite a while now that Avatar 2 wouldn’t be ready in time for the widely reported (but never confirmed) December 2015 date. The addition of a third sequel had seemed likely to me as well, for both financial and creative reasons.  Seeing the success of Peter Jackson’s expansion of his Hobbit films to a trilogy also probably helped spur this decision.

It’s great to see Fox and Cameron publicly stand behind a firm release date plan–although they did initially announce a 2014 date I’m confident that these movies will not be delayed again. Momentum is building quickly and it’s likely we’ll be hearing about casting soon, especially if shooting starts early in 2014.

The 2016 date also means there will be plenty of time to iron out any potential issues with 60 fps 3D playback.  Let’s hope Cameron answers the frame rate question soon!

Cameron comments on the announcement:

“Building upon the world we created with Avatar has been a rare and incredibly rewarding experience. In writing the new films, I’ve come to realize that Avatar’s world, story and characters have become even richer than I anticipated, and it became apparent that two films would not be enough to capture everything I wanted to put on screen. And to help me continue to expand this universe, I’m pleased to bring aboard Amanda, Rick, Shane and Josh — all writers I’ve long admired -­ to join me in completing the films screenplays.”

Jim Gianopulos:

“We at the studio have no higher priority, and can feel no greater joy, than enabling Jim to continue and expand his vision of the world of Avatar.’ The growing breadth and scale of Jim Cameron’s plans for his magnificent fantasy worlds continue to amaze us all.”

HFR: Behind the Scenes of a Major Video Projection Rollout

AVNetwork has posted an informative article that chronicles the events and drama surrounding last year’s rollout of HFR-capable projectors leading up to the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The author (David Keene) also presents some interesting rumors and analysis.

I completely agree with one of the main points of the piece: that by-and-large the HFR of AUJ was not criticized in a logical manner:

“When the movie premiered, many movie critics felt vaguely compelled, after the spring 2012 media mini-frenzy after CinemaCon, to address the HFR issue– and most confused their opinions of the other aspects of movie– the plot, the lighting, the makeup, the computer generated graphics (CGI)– with HFR issues. Better said, they judged HFR based on whether or not they liked the movie as a whole including the other technical aspects of the movie. Understandable, but unfortunate.”

As for rumors, the first is that there are fears amongst some SMPTE engineers that Avatar 2 will be released in 48 fps instead of the 60 fps that James Cameron has been strongly hinting at:

Some of the word behind the scenes in the SMPTE world this summer is that 60fps could be too much of a gamble and Avatar will go out in 48fps. No one will say this publicly, and Cameron and team are still hyping 60fps in general while not committing to anything. But there are fears that if shot at 60fps, there’s no clean way to play the movie at 24fps in some theaters– an easier transition for 48fps but even untested in 48 given that that issue helped derail the move to SMPTE DCP for The Hobbit release. And fear that current playback gear can’t do 450Mb/s at 60fps. Gear manufacturers say they can do 500Mb/s, but the studios in reality have to settle for less, due to the bit-rate bottlenecks in various systems.”

Frankly, I don’t much care whether Avatar 2 has a perfectly “clean” conversion to 24 fps.  The 60 fps 3D version–which is the true, archival version of the movie–is the one I care about.  And Cameron would never allow a bad-looking 24 fps version to be released anyway.

As for the second potential issue (bitrate limitations of “various systems”), this is the first I’ve heard of it.  Digital projector companies, Cameron and others have implied that the projection systems upgraded to handle 48 fps 3D would also be able to handle 60 fps 3D.  I would think that if there were a major bottleneck issue regarding the ability of current HFR-capable setups to play 60fps 3D someone else would have brought it up by now.  But of course it’s possible they could have missed something.  Either way, 60 fps 3D playback requirements and the limitations of current HFR 3D-capable setups is a topic I’d like to learn more about.

Check out the article here.

Peter Jackson blogs the last day of Hobbit shooting!

"The photo: yes, we did actually just film this. Please don't ask me to explain! Let's get that WB filter activated! Thank you Hannah and Dusty!" -PJ

“The photo: yes, we did actually just film this. Please don’t ask me to explain! Let’s get that WB filter activated! Thank you Hannah and Dusty!” -PJ

Peter Jackson has been posting updates to his Facebook today chronicling the last day of scheduled shooting on The Hobbit movies.

Here’s the first one:

Our last day of shooting.

Ever since starting these blogs, there’s been something I thought I’d like to try one day (as well as answering the other 19 questions I owe you!) – blogging throughout a shoot day in real time. Try to give you all a feeling for what we deal with on an average day.

Today is not exactly “average”, given it’s our last day of shooting, but if I don’t do it today, I never will!

So here goes … I’ll try to update as much as I can during the day. At least with a quick photo. Text will depend a little on how busy it gets.

Right now, it’s just gone 6.30am here in Wellington. I’m in bed, about to get up! I didn’t get much sleep – too stressed about how we’re going to get through everything we need to shoot. I kept running it over in my mind.

We’re shooting scenes for Film 3 today. Stuff you will see in Dec 2014, so I’m going to try and make this honest, but spoiler free.

1074233_10151749496026558_1959965082_oI’ve been lying here in pitch darkness, watching fight rehearsals over and over again. Our stunt co-ordinatior, Glen Boswell, worked with the actors last weekend, designing some climatic battle moments. He filmed them, and I have them on my iPad, in an application we wrote called “WingNut TV”. It’s a program that allows a huge amount of material to be catalog used and updated each day over the Internet. It contains all our dailies, edited films, previs, music, and much more. I’m looking at the fights, figuring out the angles I’ll need to film them today. A huge amount to do, and it needs to get done.

Our shoot day starts at 8.30am, and is supposed to finish at 7.30pm. I suspect we’ll be working late. Whenever we work a long day, I joke with the crew that I’m just softening them up for when Jim Cameron shows up in Wellington to shoot Avatar 2 and 3. Well … It’s not really a joke.

I’ll try and update often today.

I love that he mentions James Cameron and the Avatar sequels, since Jackson is one of the few who likely knows the exact status of that project and this hints that things are on track to start shooting, likely relatively soon!  Hopefully it won’t be very long at all before we hear more about the future of Avatar–casting in particular will be interesting to watch unfold as it will give us a bit more of a window into what Cameron has planned storywise.

Anyway, check out all of Jackson’s ongoing updates over at his Facebook page!

James Cameron to start Battle Angel pre-production in 2017

b_battle_angel_alitaSpeaking at the TagDF technology forum in Mexico City on July 3, James Cameron revealed his plan to start pre-production on Battle Angel in 2017, telling the forum that the transhuman themes of Battle Angel have haunted him for years.

A 2017 start for Battle Angel may indicate that Cameron will be finished with the Avatar trilogy by then, which would mean Avatar 2 in December 2015 and Avatar 3 in December 2016.  But I’m not so sure yet: Cameron had once planned on working on pre-production on Battle Angel while finishing post on Avatar, so there’s a chance he will start pre-production on Battle Angel in 2017 while also releasing Avatar 3 in 2017.

A 2017 start of preproduction points to a December 2020 release. If Battle Angel were to have been created before the Avatar Sequels it would likely have been shot as those films will be: in high frame rate 3D, 60 fps 3D in particular.

But because December 2020 is 7-and-a-half years away and cameras, screen resolutions, and processors are improving at an exponential pace, I would expect Cameron to push the technical boundaries of moviemaking to even more spectacular heights with Battle Angel. Will it be shot in 8K 120 fps 3D? Or maybe it will be released as a Virtual Reality cinematic experience?  I don’t expect answers to these questions soon, but be assured that Cameron will once again dazzle us with brand new technology used on a massive scale.

Battle Angel (or just ‘Alita’ as Jon Landau has proposed) has been my most anticipated movie since about 2003, which was when I first learned of Cameron’s interest in it.  ’Alita’ has the potential to be completely revolutionary by virtue of its characters, story/themes and world. Then add on top of that bar-smashing visual effects and technical wizardry and format possibilities like I mentioned above and you have a recipe for another Avatar-sized hit. If you haven’t read the original Battle Angel Alita manga series, buy it tonight.  It’s incredible.

Video of Jon Landau’s NAB keynote, discusses HFR and Avatar sequels

Jon Landau had a session / keynote at NAB on April 7 where he discussed his passions in filmmaking and the impact of technologies such as HFR and 3D.  He also touched on the new underwater performance capture tech that will be used in Avatar 2 and 3 and the development of their new studio in Manhattan Beach.  Watch the video of the session below:

The Hollywood Reporter has a good summary of Landau’s talk.  But there’s still no firm start date(s) for the Avatar sequels’ motion capture and shooting, and the question of whether they will be 48 fps or 60 fps still hasn’t been answered definitively.

James Cameron talks Avatar sequels in new interview

avatarPlay.lifegoesstrong.com has a new interview with James Cameron in which he shares some updates on the writing process for Avatar 2 and Avatar 3:

Q: Can you give us some scoop about your upcoming little film called “Avatar 2″

Cameron:  “Oh believe me, it’s not that little! It’s not exactly a little, intimate drama. I’m working on ‘Avatar 2′ and ‘Avatar 3.’ I was talking the other day with Peter Jackson and said, ‘You had it easy dude. You had the books when you did the second and third ‘Lord of the Rings.’ I have to create my own books in my head and extract a script from it. I’m deep into it and I’m living in Pandora right now. There is that start up torque where you feel it’s coming to you. Then you build up momentum. That’s when it gets fun. The characters talk and it’s writing itself. I’m almost there right now. It’s building fast.”

Q: Tell us a little bit about your life. For example, what is your writing process?

Cameron:  “As a writer, I need isolation. I’m calling you from New Zealand right now where I’m writing on a little farm. When you live in a special world like Pandora, you have to live in that world.”

Q: Do you ever feel the pressure of topping yourself? And do you have a release date you can share with us for “Avatar 2 and 3?”

A: “Pressure, no. It’s a little daunting because sequels are always tricky. You have to be surprising and stay ahead of audience anticipation. At the same time, you have to massage their feet with things that they know and love about the first film. I’ve walked that line in the past, so I’m not too worried about it. At the same time, I definitely have to deliver the goods…As for a release date that will be determined by when I get the script out. No pressure!”

Be sure to check out the full interview for talk about Cameron’s 3D Cirque Du Soleil movie (which was apparently shot in HFR 3D but never distributed in HFR), his life in New Zealand, what’s he’s learned since he was 18 and more.

Ang Lee gives his thoughts on high frame rates

movies-ang-lee-life-of-pi-oscarBest Director Oscar winner Ang Lee talked with ScreenRant about HFR on the red carpet of the International 3D Society Awards:

People have mixed feelings right now. I wonder how much HFR is ahead of its time or people simply don’t like the look. It’s very hard to say. We associate it with “video” looks – which people associate with bad filmmaking. It doesn’t mean that the media itself is not good. It’s very hard to say but making Life of Pi I struggled with frame rate because you don’t want the 3D to be jittery and we’re constantly rocking in the ocean. And sometimes when things go too fast I could not see the eyes – so HFR might be a idea. But sometimes when I find out how people feel about it, I think it’s possible. We’re in the early stages of 3D filmmaking – so we have a lot to learn.

It seems that Lee is mostly worried about the apparently mixed reaction to the HFR 3D version of The Hobbit (amongst critics, at least…audience responses were significantly more positive) since he acknowledges that the judder-reducing HFR would’ve been particularly helpful for Life of Pi given the many scenes taking place on the rocking ocean.

Film traditionalists have certainly slowed the momentum of the HFR format, but I expect its popularity to surge quite soon – possibly as soon as The Desolation of Smaug.  Now that HFR has already made its first splash there will be far fewer luddite hipster critics panning the movie for not being 24 fps.  And when the Avatar sequels hit we’ll be getting HFR 3D at a whole new level of clarity: many filmgoers will consider them the first “proper” HFR movies, especially if 60 fps becomes the standard for a while.

Jon Landau will deliver keynote at NAB Technology Summit; will cover “latest work on higher-frame-rate cinema”

nab2013Jon Landau is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the NAB show’s Technology Summit on Cinema: Advances in Image and Sound on Sunday, April 7.  It’s very likely Landau’s talk will explore the high frame rate technology / pipeline that he and James Cameron will be using for the Avatar sequels.  Hopefully Landau will confirm that they will be making the sequels at 60 fps and that performance capture / shooting will begin soon.

Wendy Aylsworth, president of SMPTE, says of Landau:

“As one of the industry’s most successful producers and storytellers, Jon Landau is a hero to many within the NAB Show audience.  He is a champion of employing the capabilities of technology to improve the telling of a story and has inspired many to push the envelope in movie-making.” (via BroadcastEngineering.com)

Besides Landau’s talk, the following sessions will include discussion of high frame rate: (via  SMPTE’s press release):

1)  ”‘Advancing Cameras for Cinema’ will discuss developments such as higher resolution and frame rates, as well as greater sensitivity, dynamic range, and color gamut, and their potential impact both on acquisition techniques and on human perception of the on-screen images.

2) “Two subsequent sessions will take a closer look at high frame rate (HFR) motion pictures, recent research on the psychophysical audience response to HFR, and how industry producers and directors are using 48fps and 60fps content to achieve a desired emotional audience response.”

Nabshow.com describes the the Technology Summit as providing “an in-depth global view of the new wave of technology coming soon to your local multiplex, with an eye toward how it might later affect the broader media ecosystem.”

Topics Include:

  • The latest work on higher-frame-rate cinema
  • Perceptual requirements for higher quality image and sound
  • New technologies for exhibition
  • Advantages and pitfalls of 3D film conversion

The 2013 NAB Technology Summit on Cinema will be held from 8:30 am Saturday, April 6 to 6 pm Sunday, April 7 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, South Hall Conference Room S222.  The Summit is co-produced by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).