James Cameron push 3D to higher frame rates for sharper pictures in Avatar 2

James Cameron is pushing for film production using higher frame rates. To make his point, Cameron shot test sequences with his Titanic cinematographer Russell Carpenter on an elaborately dressed medieval set with actors in period costumes laughing it up at a banquet and engaged in a fierce swordfight. Each 3D sequence was shot at 24, 48 and 60 frames per second, and Cameron used a laser pointer to illustrate how panning the camera invariably produces strobing of people and objects at the traditional 24-frame speed. Both the 48 and 60-frame clips were markedly superior, eliminating strobing and bringing greater clarity to objects captured by the moving camera.

Cameron said he’s “agnostic” about whether 48 or 60 fps should be adopted, but he reiterated his plans to shoot Avatar 2 at a higher frame rate. Lensing on that much-anticipated project, which he is still writing, is at least 18 months away.

The tech-savvy director assured the crowd that the new generation of digital projectors is already capable of accommodating higher frame-rate content with a minor software upgrade, and he also argued that increases in production rendering budgets could be kept to a reasonable level with “smart coding.”

Most ominously, Cameron warned the cinema community that live 3D TV sports programming is already produced at 60 fps, so increasing the frame rate for theatrical features would ensure that movies are keeping up with the state of the art that high-end consumers can already get at home.

Aurally, too, the movie community isn’t resting on its laurels. Dolby Labs introduced its new Surround 7.1 audio format (adding new Back Surround Left and Back Surround Right zones) last summer with the release of Toy Story 3, a format now on 1,300 screens worldwide. At CinemaCon, Dolby cinema technical marketing manager Stuart Bowling offered a look at Dolby’s evolution from 5.1 to 7.1 and a glimpse of the next step: an even fuller sound experience created by going vertical and installing additional speakers high above the audience. Bowling revealed that Dolby has done a 12-channel “concept mix” of Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles and a 14-channel remix of Avatar, and predicted that the new format could be rolled out as soon as 18 months from now. Meanwhile, summer blockbusters Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Transformers: Dark of the Moon are all being released in the 7.1 format.

In the period between March 2, 2010, and March 2, 2011, the number of DLP Cinema screens showing 2D Hollywood content worldwide grew 101% to a total of 33,110 (up from 16,446), and 128% for 3D Hollywood content, rising to 22,287 (from 9,758). These counts do not include IMAX’s digital installations powered by DLP Cinema, which separately grew 91% for a total of 296 screens.

Dolby also made colorful news with its next-generation 3D glasses. Decidedly more lightweight, form-fitting (children sizes coming next quarter) and with lower cost of re-usable ownership (list price $12 or lower with a Dolby 3D package), the nylon-made frames now come in a variety of colors. In addition to matching auditorium look and design, customization will allow circuits to brand their own signature colors.

Wider side temples and a shelf along the top edge of the frames, Dolby explains, “help prevent extraneous light from entering the glasses, reducing internal lens reflections.” Dolby partnered with 3M in developing these upgraded lenses from a multilayer optical film material with an antireflective coating that is scratch-resistant to boot.

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