Posted on Friday, October 29th, 2010 by Germain Lussier
James Cameron is such a nerd. Seriously. But thankfully for us, he’s a nerd with an incredible talent for storytelling, and we not only get to experience him changing the filmmaking process itself but the way we view films in general. Case in point: for his upcoming sequels to the biggest movie of all time, Avatar, he’s working on two brand new technological advances. First, he wants to shoot and project Avatar 2 and 3 at a higher frame rate than 24 frames per second because “movies are a century out of date.” Second, he wants to close the gap to a point where he can shoot on his virtual camera with such quality that he doesn’t need visual effects to make the images photo real. You know, simple stuff like that. We’ve got video of Cameron discussing these advances and our elementary explanations after the jump.
Below is a video of Cameron answering a question of what technological advances he is going to need to create the worlds of Avatar 2 and 3, followed by the transcript and then, our layman breakdown of what he’s talking about.
Here’s what he says in the above clip.
Well we are going to see the oceans of Pandora and the lifeforms and ecosystems there, so we’ve got to do more with CG water, both underwater with the caustics, the lighting, the optics of bringing light through water and with the surface of water, which is one of the big challenges in CG. But that’s all doable, those are just plug ins, that’s all an iterative process. 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 Because movies are way behind, they’re a century out of date.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.
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.
Okay, so here’s what Cameron is talking about in a bit more elementary terms.
Film is shot, and projected, at 24 frames per second. However, that’s a limitation of the medium. Humans move faster than that by nature so the higher the amount of frames one shoots, the more precise the movement gets. For example, in Jackass 3D, they shot on a camera that shoots at 1000 frames per second then project it at 24 frames per second. So by projecting all those frames in 24 frame speed, it looks really slow. But if that footage was projected at 1000 frames per second, it would just look really crisp. Cameron doesn’t want his movies to be that fast, just faster than 24 and because he’s shooting digitally, and not on film, he can do that. Computers can do anything! And, according to him, the current 3D digital projectors can handle a higher frame rate. He just has to figure out what works best for him and his images. Once he does, the films will look cleaner and not have any “motion artifacting,” which basically means blurring. I love that he says “so that’s one little bump I’m working on.” You know, just totally changing the way films are made and displayed.
The second “little bump” he’s working on is improving the software in his virtual camera. This will surely be detailed in the new Avatar DVD coming out, but one of Cameron’s biggest inventions on the first film was a camera that made it possible for the actors in motion capture suits, on a soundstage, to look and see a very rough idea of what the final images of Pandora would look like in real time. It’s sort of like in iChat how you can put yourself on a roller coaster or under the sea.
Well, Cameron is working to make those images in his camera better and better. The better they get, the less digital effects need to happen on the back end. Eventually, he feels like the software will be smart enough that you can shoot and see – basically – the final movie, already done, immediately. It would be like shooting CG as if it was film. Again, just another “little bump,” eliminating digital effects.
Do you think Cameron will be able to make these advances by 2014? And do you think either is as important as he makes it sound?