By Kevin Lally
Avatar director James Cameron was one of the biggest and most accessible stars of the CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas, appearing yesterday on a panel with George Lucas and Jeffrey Katzenberg and this morning providing a groundbreaking demo of the advantages of shooting a movie with a higher frame rate than the 24 frames per second that has been standard since the silent era.
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, he revealed.
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, ane 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.
Cameron noted that director Peter Jackson has already performed 48 fps tests for his upcoming Hobbit film, and that George Lucas is also "gung ho" on the upgrade.
The demo was held at the Caesars Palace Colosseum theatre, using double stacked Christie DLP Cinema projectors, Doremi servers and RealD 3D. Cameron also generously offered to make his test footage available to any tech company or industry group interested in researching and/or developing higher-frame-rate technology.
We'll know in a few years whether or not this eye-opening day at CinemaCon was truly historic.