Maybe if James Cameron spent less time creating state-of-the-art technology to present unprecedented cinema, he’d have more movies on his résumé. Then again, if he wasn’t so innovative we would still be stuck in a dark age where 3D movies are just a gimmick (well…) and “Pandora” is just an online radio station.
We recently learned that Cameron will shoot Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 back-to-back. But now he has revealed that groundbreaking 3D imagery is just not enough for the story he wants to tell.
Cameron is working on two revolutionary technologies that may actually change the industry forever. We said that before with his 3D technology, but 3D is still restricted to specific genres – not that it has to be.
First, the filmmaker plans to shoot at a higher frame rate than 24 frames per second – the universal cinematic frame rate.
“The only sweeping change between now and when we release the second Avatar film is I want to natively author the film at a higher frame rate and project it at a higher frame rate. I want to get rid of the motion artifacting associated with 24 frame display. Because movies are way behind, they’re a century out of date.”
“48, 60, 72, we’re looking at the efficacy of the different ones and different solutions. The projectors can do it right now, the projectors can run at 144hrz but they’re still displaying 24 frames content at 144hrz. The trick is how do you display 48 or 60 frame content, multiflashing it, the way 3D projectors do. So that’s one little bump I’m working on.”
Don’t worry if that made no sense to you – /Film explains it in more basic terms. Plenty of cinephiles out there will be right on the ball with Cameron’s explanation, but those are likely in the minority. A major part of the problem is that higher frame rates also require more data storage. Digital cinema is still a long way from the norm and movie theaters are reluctantly adding digital projectors to their collection.
Don’t expect change to start tomorrow, but if Cameron can accomplish this in an affordable way it will provide more information to work with in post-production. Filmmaking is constantly on the verge of revolution thanks in large part to Cameron’s dedication.
At the end of the day, Cameron’s main goal is to present his own stories in revolutionary ways – namely Avatar. His other intention is to create a software that can practically complete the post-production visual effects process in real-time.
On Avatar, Cameron created a machine that allowed cast and crew to watch playback in near-finished form. For example, it allowed Sam Worthington to see what his motion capture acting looked like in the artificial environment of Pandora without waiting months for the effects to be completed. But Cameron wants to improve that process.
“Then there’s some software development that we’re doing to make the process, our real time virtual production process more intuitive, faster, more real looking, more like the finished product. Right now we work at a proxy resolution. We create a 1980s video game looking end product, we give it to the visual effects company and they start over mapping all new high resolution assets to those low res assets. They start all over and do it all again and come out with a photo real end product. What we want to do is eliminate that middle step and start to close the gap between what our real time looks like and what the finished photo real looks like. Eventually, 15 years from now, we should be working real time in at a photo real image, almost like you do with photography. So it’s getting to the point where it’s indistinguishable from photography at the moment your doing it as opposed to waiting six months or a year.”
Most productions are thrilled to simply get a pre-visualization monitor to see a scene artificially played out on the computer before the cameras roll. This potential technology completely erases the waiting game that makes filmmaking so arduous. I can only imagine how angry Cameron gets when he hears the common on-set phrase, “Hurry up and wait.”
These advancements that Cameron downplays in his explanations are truly unprecedented. In fact, I’ve run out of words to describe how amazing it is. If he can bring these to a reality, then we may see CGI romps churned out in less than one year, which is truly astonishing.
Of course, everything is hypothetical at this stage. But Cameron isn’t loose with his words. He is likely working on a dozen other projects that are not ready for public explanation.
I can’t wait to see what he comes up with for the underwater sequences in Avatar 2 and 3. Current underwater CGI technology is not ready for Cameron yet – see the special features on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for proof. But his underwater experience should help the process go smoother.
At the end of the day, story cannot go unnoticed. I respect Cameron for spending so much time on research and development, but he cannot let the plot of his films become completely secondary. If we end up with three films that are just big-budget narrative showcases for new technology (can you say George Lucas?), it will be very disappointing.
What do you think about Cameron’s futuristic visions?