James Cameron: Avatar sequels may be variable frame rate

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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

There will be 3 Avatar sequels!

AvatarConceptArt

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.”

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).

Weta Digital’s Joe Letteri talks HFR 3D and Smaug

hobbit-desolation-smaugStudioDaily.com has an interview with WETA Digital head Joe Letteri where he explains how making The Hobbit in HFR 3D affected WETA’s VFX process:

Studio Daily: What was the impact of 48 fps on post-production?

Joe Letteri: In a way, it was as simple as twice as many frames, so we had to do more work. It did allow us more creativity with animation. When you have 48 frames for every second, you can handle quick changes of motion better. You can see that in Gollum. At 48, you can really define those micro expressions. At 24 fps, the expressions are softer. We capture at 60 frames per second, so we could use more of the motion-capture data.

That WETA is already using 60 fps capture adds to the likelihood that future blockbusters they work on will be made at 60 fps.  I expect announcements of more high frame rate movies soon.  If I were to bet, I’d guess that the next announced HFR movie (beyond what has already been 100% confirmed) will be X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Bryan Singer has been making a string of exciting casting and plot related announcements on his Twitter, and he previously said he had “frame rate envy” after seeing The Hobbit in HFR. So I definitely expect to see this mutant epic in HFR 3D.

Letteri mentions realism as representing the future of visual effects:

Studio Daily: Leaving the business trends aside, what trends do you see technically and artistically in visual effects?

Joe Letteri: Generally, I see more of this trend toward realism. In a way, that’s what we’ve always done. But now, there’s more acknowledging that it is what we do. There’s more of a focus on understanding and trying to apply realism. Even though it’s more complex, it gives you the ability to standardize around a known quantity. There is less guesswork when you measure the real world.

What are you excited about now?

Smaug. He’s our next big character. You just got a few glimpses of him in the first film. I love the Riddles in the Dark, and I love Smaug. Seeing what we can do with Smaug is the next thing.

As I’ve been saying for a while now, I can’t wait to see Smaug.  His reveal at the end of An Unexpected Journey was perfect: from the thrush’s leisurely flight to the The Lonely Mountain, to it knocking the seed on the wall, then the camera taking us into the huge treasure chambers where we hear the amplified echoes of the thrush’s activity as we track over the hills of gold and treasure, leading into the final push-in on the dragon’s eye as we discover that Smaug had been sleeping under the gold coins all this time. I got chills.

Letteri’s love for Smaug and his excitement regarding Smaug as WETA’s “next big character” is very encouraging, as is the implicit promise of new techniques being used to bring Smaug and his environment to life.  We’ve never had a great talking dragon in the movies, not to mention a dragon whose belly is encrusted in dazzling golden coins and gems. Can’t wait to see how WETA plays with the lighting effects.

Even if An Unexpected Journey doesn’t win the best Visual Effects award tonight, I’d bet Smaug will win it for them in 2014.

Check out the StudioDaily.com interview for a lot more fascinating VFX-related discussion from Letteri.

Introducing HFRmovies.com

I’ve decided to move this site to the domain www.hfrmovies.com.

It’s evident that 48 frames per second is only the beginning of the upcoming high frame rate revolution: “HFR” is a more accurate and encompassing reflection of the scope of the tech as well as a better fit in regards to what the movie studios and industry at large are beginning to call frame rates of 48 fps and higher.

Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 are likely to be made at 60 fps. And Douglas Trumbull’s upcoming sci-fi project is targeting 120 fps. Persistence of vision (the point at which the eye perceives distinct frames as perfectly smooth motion) doesn’t kick in until 60 fps at the absolute minimum (Trumbull has said it’s closer to 64 fps), so I see constant 48 fps as a standard that won’t last long: the future will be all about 60 fps and perhaps even higher. Or, quite possibly, variable frame rates (VFR): the utilization of multiple frame rates within a single movie, or even within a single shot. To enable VFR 3D, however, projectors must be capable of delivering HFR 3D content at 60fps+. So I am personally pushing for projector tech that can do 3D at 60fps+ per eye, and at 4K per eye as well. Keep in mind that 4K per eye is not yet possible even at 48 fps 3D due to bandwidth limitations.

So welcome to HFR Movies.com: I’ll be continuing to write about everything and anything relating to HFR movies and tech. If you have an idea for an article or a piece of news you’d like to send my way, please email me at mstat1@gmail.com.

Thanks, and let us all look forward to a world without awful judder and incomprehensible action scenes!