Report: HFR 3D theater count doubles for Desolation of Smaug

the-hobbit-peter-jackson-48fps

The number of theaters capable of projecting movies at high frame rates (48 fps, 60 fps) has nearly doubled since The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey arrived a year ago, according to The Wrap:

The studio is substantially expanding the number of theaters this time around. As many as 750 theaters will exhibit “The Desolation of Smaug” in the enhanced projection — up from roughly 450 theaters the first time.

Internationally, the increase in HFR 3D theaters is even more impressive, with Desolation playing on almost 2,500 screens, up from 1,669.

Warner Bros. has intentionally been very quiet about HFR 3D in the months and weeks leading up to Desolation‘s release. Last year, of course, discussion of AUJ’s 48 fps 3D was ubiquitous, with Peter Jackson, WETA and others writing articles and doing interviews about it, and with critics, movie/Hobbit fans, and tech enthusiasts all weighing in.

The response from critics leaned towards the negative, even though the great majority of movie fans seemingly either loved the experience outright or appreciated it while desiring improvements/tweaks.  So it makes sense to me that Warner Bros. wants the media’s focus to be on the movie and not its format this time (Peter Jackson told a reporter that “technology drove a lot of the reviews” of AUJ).

Press screenings for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug have all been in standard, 24 fps 3D to prevent this.

I think this is a good thing – this year the talk regarding HFR 3D will almost all be from Hobbit fans, and not fogey critics.  I’m very much looking forward to reading people’s thoughts especially given rumors that Jackson has taken steps to mitigate the most` common complaints people has regarding AUJ’s HFR 3D.

I’d bet that the overall buzz will be very good for HFR 3D this time around, thereby building support and momentum for future high frame rate movies.  Last time the negative noise from 24 fps traditionalists (most professional movie critics) was just too loud, resulting in the specious and commonly parroted conclusion that the HFR 3D experiment was a failure, an d coloring reviews of the movie.

The Wrap’s story confirms what I had long suspected due to my observations of packed HFR 3D showings: that HFR 3D was in great demand, selling out theaters many weeks after opening night:

“With the original ‘Hobbit,’ we kept selling out of tickets for our high frame rate auditoriums,” Russ Nunley, a spokesman for Regal, said. ” There was a huge demand from moviegoers who wanted to see the film exactly the way director Peter Jackson shot it.”

Regal’s HFR 3D screen count has increased dramatically, going from 100 last year to almost 400 this year.

IMAX has doubled their worldwide HFR 3D screen count to 100+, IMAX Entertainment CEO Greg Foster tells The Wrap, adding that the number will rise since IMAX is still negotiating HFR 3D locations in China.

HFR talk from the 3D Creative Summit in London

hobbit-48fps-02__spanTuesday at the 3D Creative Summit in London, Phil Oatley and Meetal Gokul of Park Road Post presented a discussion of the workflow used to create The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in HFR 3D.  From Variety:

“HFR solves some of the issues with strobing, etc. It creates a more immersive 3D experience,” argued Oatley, head of technology at Park Road Post. He explained the production had chosen to go with 48 FPS since it provided a clean path to traditional 24 FPS deliverables and an easy deployment path for exhibitors since most current 4K digital projectors.

Supposedly the HFR session was one of the most attended of the two day Summit. Variety talked to a good number of HFR detractors (and a few people who were neutral / ambivalent towards HFR) at other panels and throughout the show:

Drew Kaza, EVP of Odeon digital development:

“I think the jury is out.  The technology is there. ‘The Hobbit’ was a useful experiment but it was an imperfect project for it and there was poor marketing of the concept. I felt it was the wrong film. ‘Life of Pi’ rather than ‘Hobbit’ should have been HFR and you would have seen the difference.”

Cameron Saunders, managing director of 20th Century Fox U.K.:

“As an outsider I thought it lacked conviction but it was an interesting test.”

Anthony Geffen, chief executive Atlantic Productions:

“We’re looking at HFR. ‘The Hobbit’ was not a great example of playing with HFR in my opinion.”

Phil McNally, DreamWorks Animation:

“HFR helps with the motion, it helps you see the picture more.  Filmmaking has to get better to match HFR.”

Tom Barnes, technical director of Aardman Animation:

“A higher frame rate wouldn’t make any sense for stop frame animation. There would be very few advantages. I would much rather shoot 4K.”

Frank Passingham, Aardman cinematographer:

“When I saw ‘The Hobbit’ in HFR I hated it so much. You’re seeing too much. I thought HFR was this huge monsters[sic] fighting itself on screen and no-one was winning.”

I have to agree that something less makeup, set and prop-heavy like Life of Pi or the Avatar sequels might have been a better first introduction to high frame rates, but the negative reactions cited by Variety stand in stark contrast to the mostly positive reaction (I’d say 70% positive) I’ve observed from most audiences both online and off.

Kaza says, “I think it’s generational. Young people, under 25, come from a gaming, hi-res experience will like it because they’re used to it.”

I think the majority of people a couple decades older than 25 are also used to gaming and fast changes in entertainment technology and thus are more receptive to the idea of an 85-year-old standard being improved upon.  For the most part the generalized negativity towards the very concept of high frame rates (and not The Hobbit‘s implementation of it in particular) comes from those who feel somehow threatened by it, as though they’ll never be able to see a 24 fps movie again.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has crossed $1 billion worldwide

The_Hobbit-_An_Unexpected_Journey_74Box Office Mojo is listing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as having passed the $1 billion mark worldwide, having earned $301 million in the United States and an estimated $700 million overseas.  It was The Hobbit’s success in China (grossing $37.3 million in 10 days) that pushed it over the top.

I predict that The Desolation of Smaug will beat An Unexpected Journey’s final number by at least a hundred million.  AUJ hit the right notes of whimsy, drama and LOTR nostalgia more often than not, and the upcoming blu-ray/dvd release will further grow the audience for the sequel. The second film’s gross will also be bolstered by an increased spectacle factor thanks to the showcasing of WETA’s Smaug, who will surely take his place alongside Gollum, King Kong, and the Na’vi as a groundbreaking achievement in character creation / visual effects.

Luke Letellier, creator of the unofficial 48 fps ‘Hobbit’ trailer, talks HFR

Warping

A piece of Luke Letellier’s HFR conversion process: “A SplineWarp node at work. Pink dots represent a point’s position on the first master frame, blue dots represent where those points moved to on the second master frame.”

As the creator of the first 48 fps interpolated version of the trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyLuke Letellier is responsible for many hundreds of thousands of people’s first glimpse of HFR content.  Leading up to the release of The Hobbit Luke’s video made the rounds all over the internet as people wondered what 48 fps would look like.

Luke’s technique (which utilizes Nuke, Kronos, After Effects and custom Python code) allows for a great deal of control over the creation and insertion of new frames. Check out this article on Luke’s website for a very detailed run down of how it was accomplished, and the strengths and weaknesses of the technique.

I asked Luke about the reaction to his video:

In regards to my own conversion – the response was quite mild for a while. When I initially uploaded it in May, I sent it off to quite a few places – thinking that people would be intrigued and that it might even do the rounds on all the big film blogs, but no responses were received and my forum posts never got a reply. I think people just assumed it was a hoax of some sort, and I wondered if I had completely misjudged my work from the beginning.

And then, about a week later, I received my very first comment on it – an email from Mike Seymour (co-founder of fxguide) wanting to do an interview. Considering that Mike has had correspondence with just about every big name in the VFX world, this meant quite a bit, and assured me that I wasn’t completely crazy in taking this project on.

The article they ran generated a bit of discussion, but it seems to have stayed within the circle of vfx workers who frequent their site.

Everything remained quiet until mid-November, when it began to travel around Spain and Eastern Europe. It was quite interesting, as I had never expected to see Polish and Slovenian film enthusiasts discussing my work.

It finally went mainstream in December, generating at least 120K hits in about a three week span – quite a few copies were circulating on other websites such as yours, so it wouldn’t surprise if the actual number was much more.

I got quite the range of reactions, as is expected – some loved it, some hated it, many didn’t care. But overall, it was a very rewarding experience, and it makes me all the more eager to see the real thing in 2D… if that should ever exist.

I think the basic principles found in a few of the techniques I presented may have some use in the industry – mainly because it’s a manual process with a large amount of artist control. The VFX industry is one that absolute adores manual control – they don’t drive automatics. So if they’re going to post-convert a movie into a different frame-rate, they’ll use all the manual controls they can get their hands on in order to do it properly.

I also asked for his thoughts on the public and critical response to The Hobbit’s 48 fps 3D, and where he thinks HFR technology might/should go from here:

A disclaimer to start off – I was unfortunately unable to see the Hobbit in 48fps. My brain can’t process stereoscopic images (3D movies) correctly, and HFR was only presented in stereoscopic – so I had to settle for 2D 24fps. (I’m hoping they release a 2D 48fps version with the Extended Edition, otherwise I don’t know how I’m going to view it.)

However, this hasn’t stopped me from reading every blog article I can find on the topic.

All of the negative feedback I’ve seen can be grouped into two categories: (1) issues of technology and film technique and (2) issues of aesthetics. These are very different issues and need to be addressed separately – unfortunately, they rarely are.

The first category – issues of film craft and technology – (“the sets looked fake”, “the VFX looked poor and were easy to spot”, “the camera shake was very noticeable”) – are all issues that can be easily remedied with time and experience.

When sound films first arrived on scene, problems abounded. Microphones were of such poor quality that the actors had to stay standing in very specific places on set just to be heard at all, resulting in very wooden performances. The cameras were making so much noise that they had to be encased in cumbersome soundproof containers to prevent being heard by the microphones, which drastically reduced any kind of camera movement.

The sound was recorded and played back on a separate system from the picture, resulting in the two being unsynchronized. Even when they were in synch, the sound systems weren’t powerful enough to deliver the audio at a desirable volume or in a comforting tone.

In addition, a large amount of the famous silent film stars had atrocious voices, so they were now out of a job. Story and dialogue increased in importance, so time and money now had to be spent in developing scripts at the beginning of production and editing audio at the end.

All of these issues resulted in skeptical critics who considered the whole thing a gimmick. But eventually, technology developed to create better microphones and better sound quality, and the artists refined their craft to work around these new production needs.

And so it will most likely be with HFR. Audiences will adapt, technology will develop, and artists will refine.

Peter Jackson and his crew have already been doing this to some degree – they discovered in pre-production that the RED Epics were producing images that were losing more color then they liked, so they compensated by greatly over-saturating both the sets and the make-up (this was discussed in one of the Hobbit’s video blogs).

In other words: a problem with the new technology was discovered, and standard techniques were altered in order to compensate.

However, once all of these technical issues are remedied, there’s still the aesthetics to deal with. Put plainly, HFR is something that’s completely different from the traditional look and feel that we’ve fallen in love with over the last 70 years.

But again, we need to remember that HFR is still in its infancy, and how it looks ascetically right now probably isn’t how it will look forever.

Douglas Trumbull has been developing what I believe to be the future: Variable Frame Rate technology – a series of digital tools that will allow filmmakers to integrate multiple frame rates within the same film – and even the same shot.

For example, when Gandalf and Galadriel talk at Rivendell, many people felt that the sharpness and clarity of the HFR water distracted from the conversation. With VFR technology, the filmmakers could have the water play back at 24 fps while the human characters play back at 48 fps. In other conversation scenes the reverse effect may be needed, resulting in a human conversation played at 24 fps and the background elements played at 48fps.

While this may seem incredibly far-fetched and distracting, a similar effect already occurs with lens focus in virtually every film and television show: two characters having a conversation are in sharp focus while the background elements are completely blurred out.

Integrating this technology into a standard visual effects pipeline is quite simple once the code has been written, so it won’t result in a dramatic increase in work time.

Thanks to Luke for the above, and for producing that excellent 48 fps Hobbit trailer in the first place!

Luke Letellier is a computer graphics artist who lives and works in the woods of Maine.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will pass $1 billion by March

Variety asserts that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is on course to surpass the $1 billion mark by March.

It reached $921 million worldwide on Monday, with $288.7 million domestic and $632.2 international.  With a February 22 opening in China (its final territory), as well as the strong sixth-weekend gross of $21 million in the United States, I expect the Hobbit to pass the billion dollar mark by a significant amount.

This means good things for future HFR 3D movies.  The industry will look at the money made by the first 48 fps movie and think to themselves, “Well, maybe we should try that with our blockbuster.” I expect the Hobbit trilogy to follow the pattern of the LOTR films, in which each successive movie outgrossed the previous. And The Desolation of Smaug will offer a lot more action (now that An Unexpected Journey has done much of the heavy lifting in terms of setup) and visual spectacle in the form of Smaug himself.  Smaug will be something never seen on screen before: the grandaddy of all dragons; venal, eloquent and visually unique (can’t wait to see what he looks like encrusted with those gems!).  Hopefully Peter Jackson will release the next video blog soon and give us a peek at what we’ll be seeing next December!

48 fps HFR 3D theaters in Russia

Thanks to reader Pavel Kurochka who provided me with this link detailing HFR 3D theaters in Russia that Warner Bros. has confirmed to be showing The Hobbit in 48 fps, as well as the following English-translated list of Russian HFR 3D theaters:

Moscow
Kronverk Cinema Waypark
Kronverk Cinema Oblaka
Kronverk Cinema Lefortovo
Matritsa (Domodedovo)
Kinosphera
Baltica

St Petersburg
Kronverk Cinema Academ Park
Kronverk Cinema Balkanskiy
Kronverk Cinema Mercury
Kronverk Cinema City Mall
Kronverk Cinema Zanevskiy Cascade
Mori Cinema

Volgograd
Kinoplex

Yekaterinburg
Kinoplex in Khalturin’s Street
Kinoplex in Sulimov’s Street

Irkutsk
Zvyozdniy

Kazan
Kinomechta

Krasnodar
Aurora

Krasnoyarsk
Luch
Mori Cinema

Magnitogorsk
Sovremennik

Novosibirsk
Kronverk Cinema Aura
Pobeda

Norilsk
Cinema Art-Hall

Omsk
Slava
Galactica

Orenburg
Kino City

Rostov-on-Don
Charlie Sokol
Charlie Babylon

Samara
Kinomechta
Kinoplex

Severodvinsk
Russia

Sochi
Sochi

Surgut
Vershina

Taganrog
Kino-neo in Dzerzhinsky’s Street

Tver
Zvezda

Tobolsk
KinoRio

Tolyatti
Kinoplex

Tyumen
Kinomechta

Ulan-Ude
People’s Cinema

Ulyanovsk
Matritsa

Khabarovsk
Fabrika Gryoz

Cheboksary
Mir Luxor

Cherepovets
Mori Cinema

I’m happy to see more locations (44 so far) in Russia showing The Hobbit in 48 fps 3D. As of a few days ago there was only one confirmed theater. Thanks Pavel!

The Hobbit 2nd weekend box office; stays #1; Thurs: passes $500 million

UPDATE: Thursday 12/26/12: New Line Cinema has announced that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has passed the $500 million mark worldwide, having so far grossed $179.7 million in the United States and $344 million internationally (helped by a record Boxing Day haul in Australia) for a total of $523.7 million.  Christmas Day and Thursday’s numbers in the United States (each $11.3 million) were significantly stronger than Wednesday and Thursday from last week ($7.8 million and 6.3 million).  I expect it to continue attracting a big audience through New Years Day and have a solid tail well into February.

UPDATE: Wednesday 12/26/12: The Hobbit made $96 million internationally from 59 markets this past weekend, including a very strong $17.6 million from its Russian debut.  This is a total of $288.5 million internationally as of Monday, and $456.8 worldwide.

UPDATE: Tuesday, 12/25/12: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has reached $438.5 million worldwide. Still waiting for final weekend numbers.

UPDATE: Monday, 12/24/12:  Estimates have The Hobbit making $36.7 million in the US this weekend.  This would represent a 57% drop from last weekend.  Final numbers should be available soon.  Although this 10-day gross of $149.9 million is lower than that of The Two Towers ($168.1 million) and Return of the King ($190.8 million), keep in mind that those two films opened on December 18, a week later than The Hobbit, and thus would have had a higher gross based on opening on a traditionally stronger weekend that falls during (or close to) the holiday break period for many.  In any event, I expect the The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again to perform significantly more strongly given the fact that An Unexpected Journey is almost entirely comprised of setup for the following two films.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will remain #1 at the United States box office this weekend, having taken in $10.2 million on Friday from 4,100 screens according to estimates.

This is a 73% drop from last Friday’s haul, but the weekend-to-weekend drop should be a good deal lower due to last Friday’s front loading.  The Hobbit is performing very strongly worldwide: according to Deadline The Hobbit’s international haul was already at $189 million as of Thursday. Add this to the $123 million it’s pulled in domestically and you have an impressive $312 million worldwide. The Hobbit opened in Russia and the Ukraine over the past 2 days, so it’ll get a large boost from those markets when their results come in. It opens in Australia next week and China at a to-be-determined future date.

It’ll be interesting to watch the weekday (including Christmas day) numbers next week. I believe they’ll be high given the week off of work that many people will have. And I’d love to see more details regarding the performance of the HFR 3D showings both in the United States and overseas.  Hopefully WB will provide some details soon.

I’ll be updating this post throughout the weekend as more numbers come in.

The Hobbit weekend box office: HFR 3D has highest per-screen average among the formats

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brought in $84,617,303 from 4,045 screens at the United States box office this weekend for a per screen average of $20,919, according to final counts. This beats I Am Legend‘s previous record of $77.2 million as well as Return of The King‘s $73.3 million, although it is lower than those two when inflation and 3D ticket sales premiums are taken into account.

Overseas The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey earned $138.2 million for a worlwide total of $222,817,303. Its biggest non-US markets were the UK ($18.3 million), Germany ($16.3 million), and France ($12.7 million). See Box Office Mojo for more country-by-country breakdowns. The international results are lower than Return of the King’s from 2003, and while it may not catch that movie in terms of worldwide box office, it will at least get close: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has still not yet opened in quite a few large markets including Russia (where it opens on Dec. 19), Australia (Dec. 26), and China (date not yet announced). And The Hobbit’s “A” CinemaScore (“A+” for people aged 18 and younger) along with the relative lack of competition over the holidays will keep it going strong for months. If The Hobbit has Return of the King’s 5x multiplier it will eventually make well over $423 million in the United States alone. By the end of next weekend we should have a very good idea of where it will end up.

3D showings made up 49 percent of ticket sales this weekend, which according to Box Office Mojo is about the standard for most major releases these days. As for the box office performance of HFR 3D showings, Warner Bros. has not yet released numbers, but Box Office Mojo says that from what they’ve heard from other sources the results for HFR are looking good:

Warner Bros. isn’t currently providing a breakdown for the high-frame-rate (HFR), though a distribution executive there suggested it had the highest per-screen average among the three main formats (2D, 3D, HFR 3D). That may not sound overly convincing, but IMAX is reporting that HFR did $44,000 per-theater compared to $31,000 at regular IMAX 3D locations. Overall, IMAX contributed an estimated $10.1 million (12 percent) this weekend.

Stay tuned for more details on the HFR 3D box office.   I expect the numbers to be good, and also for there to be a continuing, long-legged interested in the new format through the holidays and well into the new year.  I’d bet that HFR 3D showings will attract a steady flow of curious moviegoers and repeat viewers for the life of the release.

The Hobbit video blog 10: the premiere

I missed this when it was first posted a few days ago, but here’s the final video blog for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (focusing on the world premiere), via Peter Jackson’s Facebook:

At the end of the video Peter Jackson promises video blogs for The Desolation of Smaug throughout 2013. Can’t wait! I’m very curious to hear more about what additional footage they plan on shooting next year that wasn’t going to be included in the initial 2 film plan.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: $37.5 million Friday, breaks records

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brought in $37.5 million Friday in the United States for an estimated $90 million weekend. This shatters the all-time records for domestic box office on a December weekend as well as domestic December Friday. The finalized weekend box office will be available Monday morning.

It played in 4,045 locations in the United States, according to Box Office Mojo. Hopefully we’ll soon get an official count of the number of domestic and international HFR 3D screens and the average sales for those screens in comparison to standard 3D and 2D.

The movie received an “A” from CinemaScore audiences, giving it likely long legs through the Holidays and into the new year.

There’s a good chance that the HFR screenings will have little drop off next weekend due to word of mouth. This is the first time since Avatar that there’s been such a novel experiene to be had in the theater…people want to be a part of the growing conversation and debate, so even the skeptical ones will be seeing this.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be the only way to see 48 fps on the big screen until next year’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, so I expect the 48 fps showings to be packed for quite some time.