CinemaCon: 'Avatar' Producer Jon Landau Says Film Industry Needs to Adopt High Frame Rates

There are 35 movies scheduled for release in 3D during 2016, up from 27 domestic releases in 2015.
Courtesy of Nicholas Gingold/Capture Imaging
Jon Landau

Hollywood has yet to adopt high frame rates, but Jon Landau, the Academy Award-winning producer of Titanic and Avatar, told exhibitors Thursday at a session on 3D filmmaking at the CinemaCon exhibitors convention in Las Vegas that the motion picture industry "needs to learn how to use high frame rates" in order to "build the best theatrical experience."

As part of the discussion of 3D, Jonathan Penn, director of content programming and analysis at Cinemark Theatres, reported that of the $36.3 billion in worldwide box office in 2015, $7.8 billion came from 3D ticket sales. There are 35 movies scheduled for release in 3D during 2016, up from 27 domestic releases in 2015, including Disney's The Jungle Book, which opens Friday, and Paramount's upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and Warner Bros.' Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Before the discussion focused on 3D, though, Landau first touted high frame rates. "It's a presentation format," he said. "It's about learning to use the tool so that we create the cinematic experience." Landau said that both production and exhibition need to be involved.  

Frames rates originally referred to the speed at which film passed through a projector, but now that film has given way to digital, they signify the number of still images projected each second. Most movies screen at 24 frames per second, although Peter Jackson adopted 48 fps for his Hobbit movies, and Ang Lee hopes to present his upcoming Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk at 120 fps.

Even though HFR is now a hot topic because of Lynn's choice to employ it for Billy Lynn, it's something that Landau has been advocating for some time. At the 2011 edition of CinemaCon, his partner James Cameron urged Hollywood to learn how to use high frame rates and showed an early test that he directed to illustrate the differences between 24fps, 48fps and 60fps.

At Twentieth Century Fox's CinemaCon slate presentation on Thursday morning, Cameron announced plans to make four Avatar sequels. He has said in past years that he and Landau intend to make the Avatar sequels in 3D with HFRs

During his talk, Landau didn't mention the sequels; instead he focused on urging the creative use of 3D. "We have a responsibility, if we are using 3D, to do it right," he said. "We have to think of 3D as a creative process. The goal is to create an immersive, emotional experience."

As an example of the impact that 3D can have, Landau showed a deleted clip from Avatar — showing Jake training to be a Na’vi — in 2D and then in 3D. Landau said 3D is not just for big action sequences, but it can be most effective "in the moments of intimacy that puts you in the space with the characters — to enhance the characters and emotion in the film."

In addition to their Avatar sequels, Landau and Cameron are also converting Terminator 2: Judgment Day to 3D for a planned fall re-release. T2, the sequel to Cameron's 1984 original, was the highest grossing film of 1991, earning $519.8 million worldwide.

"The future is bright for 3D," said Chris Parks, another member of the panel. Creative director and stereo supervisor at U.K.-based Vision3, Parks is the stereo supervisor on Warner Bros’ upcoming Fantastic Beasts. "Directors are demanding more from 3D, not just spectacle, but to create characters," he said.

Noting that 3D is often considered to be at its best when it is used behind the screen plane, rather than projected images out into the auditorium, Parks said that if used “with a narrative purpose and spectacle, coming out of the screen adds to the scene of involvement, and not in a gimmicky way. I also believe passionately about the use of 3D to support drama. For instance, taking a character in front of the screen when the character is feeling a threat." To Illustrate his point, he showed clips from his recent projects, including Gravity.

Paramount senior vp postproduction Corey Turner described the steps involved for a studio in producing a 3D release. He showed for the first time the 3D version of the new trailer for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, which opens June 3.

Paul Becker, executive producer at Gener8, walked attendees through the 2D to 3D conversion process, using clips from his recent work on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. "Conversion got a bad rap at first, due to errors and cash grabs," he admitted.

Leading the conversation with Landau was Michael Lewis, co-founder and CEO of RealD, which is marking its tenth anniversary since its involvement in the first digital 3D release, Disney’s Chicken Little.

This year, RealD is beginning to roll out its Ultimate Screen technology, which it is promoting for its ability to achieve brightness and uniform distribution of light (meaning without a ‘hot spot” in the center of the screen). It already has a few systems installed in Asia and in the U.S.

Also during the session, Jose Letayf Sr. of Seating Concepts received the International Cinema Technology Association's Distinguished Service Award.