James Cameron: Avatar sequels may be variable frame rate

AvatarSigourney

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.”

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.

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.

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.

Interview with author of InterFrame: the software that created those Avatar HFR videos!

Klaus Burton is the author of the InterFrame software which was used to create those 48 fps and 60 fps Avatar and Inception videos.  According to Klaus InterFrame is what most people use to convert regular framerate videos to HFR.

Klaus tells me that InterFrame is integrated into Universal Media Server (also programmed by Klaus) for realtime conversion and that there is a third-party GUI called InterFrameGUI, and that he wrote a conversion tutorial for those unfamiliar with how to use it.

In our email interview Klaus elaborates on his software, gives his thoughts on The Hobbit in 48 FPS,  contemplates the future of HFR tech adoption and shares his thoughts on how high frame rates should go before we reach the limits of the human eye:

1) Do you or InterFrame have an official website?

I publish all my software on spirton.com, the InterFrame section is http://www.spirton.com/interframe/

2) Where can I find the tutorial?

http://www.spirton.com/convert-videos-to-60fps/ It’s called “convert videos to 60fps” because I made InterFrame and the tutorial before The Hobbit was widely known (first release was around 2010)

3) Any other examples created with InterFrame that you would like me to link to?

The examples in the conversion tutorial are pretty good (http://www.spirton.com/uploads/InterFrame/20110618-Sample-Original.mkv and http://www.spirton.com/uploads/InterFrame/20110618-Sample-InterFrame.mkv)

4) Can InterFrame be used to create any frame rate? I.E. if you used it on source video that is already 48 fps (either native 48 fps or interpolated) could it output 96 fps?

Yes, any framerate. By default it will convert 25fps content to 50fps, and everything else to 59.94fps, since these are highly compatible with TVs, but you can specify any framerate by using NewNum and NewDen (standing for new numerator and new denominator)

5) How does InterFrame handle cuts in footage? For example, I would think you wouldn’t want to create an interpolated frame between the last frame of one shot and the first frame of a new shot (i.e shot one being a close up of a character’s face, and the second shot being a mountain or something).

InterFrame automatically estimates scene-changes. It occasionally makes a wrong guess that is unavoidable but in my testing it gets it right 99% of the time.

6) Is InterFrame being sold or licensed commercially? Do you see a market for post-converting regular frame rate movies, TV shows, or personal video into HFR?

It’s all free and semi-open source. InterFrame itself is all open, and we use some DLL files from another project SVP which is semi-closed source but still free.

7) What are your future plans for InterFrame?

In the near future I will continue to optimize our “tunings” and “presets”; presets control the speed of conversion at the cost of quality (useful for realtime conversion on slower computers) and tunings tell InterFrame what type of input you are feeding it so it can make better decisions with its interpolation, for example there is an “animation” tuning. I will also continue to improve quality and decrease artifacts.

8) What did you think of The Hobbit at 48 fps? What is your “ideal” frame rate for Hollywood movies? Is 60 fps enough, should it be even higher?

I love 48fps compared with 24fps, I thought it was amazing and a lot of my friends said the same; the common feedback I’ve seen is that it looked weird for the first 10 minutes but then they adjusted and it was better than 24fps. However there was still judder compared to the 60fps content I’m used to. I think the best goal at first is 60fps because of compatibility; all TVs can already display 60fps, whereas they can’t display 48fps without conversion (nor do blu-rays currently allow for that framerate), so I think that was an unfortunate choice by Peter Jackson. Most sports are already broadcast at progressive 60fps and they look great, so it shows the infrastructure is already there with TV stations as well.
In the future I think the highest we will want to go is probably 240fps. I think the average user can tell the difference between 48 and 60, but probably can’t tell the difference between 60 and 240.  However for people who have trained their eyes to notice these things I think 200fps or more is the way to go, and 240 is nicely divisible with most common framerates so it seems like a good candidate for the far-future. It is possible that we will eventually want to go beyond 240fps but I think by the time there is demand for that there may be video recording techniques that no longer use framerates.

I think the process will be like going from VHS to blu-ray; right now we’re in the VHS stage of framerates and 48fps is like VCD (an improvement but destined to be short-lived), with 60fps being like the DVD which will reign supreme for a long time.

9) Do you think HFR in Hollywood will catch on?

Absolutely. The response to 48fps from critics has been terrible, but film critics are famously slow to adapt to change and have never had much influence on the vast majority of the public, and it is the general public who generate the income for movies. A quick look at the user reviews of The Hobbit on IMDB reveals overwhelmingly positive response to the higher framerate. That response coupled with upcoming movies like X-Men and Avatar at HFR will solidify public demand for HFR film. I think it will come to be seen as the mark of a modern film in the same way 3D is becoming – already if a Hollywood film isn’t released in 3D it’s a bit weird; in the near future I think people will think that if a film isn’t released in 3D and HFR then it clearly isn’t a high-end production.

I think Peter Jackson will go down in history as a pioneer of film. He was already going to be famous for LotR but that type of fame is fleeting in history, but he has initiated a process that will change film forever which really solidifies his name in history.

Thanks to Klaus Burton for his time, and for enabling the creation of those cool Avatar and Inception trailer videos!

Sample Avatar clips at 48 fps and 60 fps

Thanks to Ilya Vaisman for alerting me to the following Russian forum which has sample clips of Avatar at 48 and 60 fps along with the Inception trailer at 48 fps. Of course these clips are interpolated and not native HFR. Check out this Avatar-forums.com thread for an additional HFR Avatar clip as well as links to documentation on how to produce your own interpolated HFR videos.

(right click to download):

Avatar sample at 48 fps: http://files.futureleap.com/Avatar_48_fps_Sample.mkv

Avatar sample at 60 fps: http://files.futureleap.com/avatar_60.mkv

Inception trailer at 48 fps:

http://www.gigashare.in/15cfd

Inception trailer at 60 fps: http://files.futureleap.com/Inception_TRLR3_720.mp4

Although Avatar looks spectacular in these HFR clips, the sequels (even moreso than The Hobbit) will be the true flagship demonstration of the potential of HFR 3D.  Keep in mind that these interpolated clips, although they do reduce strobing and judder due to the increased number of fames, still contain motion blur.  Only native HFR shot with an adequately short shutter angle can eliminate motion blur.