CinemaCon: New Partnership Aimed at Launching 120fps High Frame Rate Filmmaking (Exclusive)

Ang Lee at NAB 1 - H 2016
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

China's Huaxia Film Distribution, California-headquartered projector maker Christie and Hong Kong-headquartered cinema tech firm GDC will reveal a strategic alliance to develop an advanced cinema system with the ability to play 120fps (frames per second) per eye, along with 4K, 3D, high dynamic range (HDR), a wide color gamut (WCG) and immersive sound Wednesday evening at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.

It’s expected to launch in August, in advance of the Oct. 11 release of Oscar-winning director Ang Lee's Gemini Man, a Paramount sci-fi movie starring Will Smith, Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Benedict Wong that was made in this bleeding-edge format.

Lee pioneered this 120fps high frame rate (HFR) format with his 2016 Sony release Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk, but at the time, only a handful of supported projectors were installed for theatrical exhibition (Christie provided those projectors). Both Billy Lynn and now Gemini Man were made with unique production processes developed specifically for these movies.

Dubbed the Cinity Cinema System, the Huaxia, Christie and GDC collaboration encompasses production, postproduction, distribution and projection. It includes a jointly developed projection system that will use a new model of Christie’s dual RGB laser projection configuration, combined with a new media server from GDC that can play back 120fps per eye, or 240fps. Starting in August, the first 100 of these projection systems will be installed in cinemas across mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, followed by additional countries, the companies report.

With this potentially far-reaching initiative, Huaxia also plans to invest in the production of such advanced-format movies. And as part of the effort, Huaxia will create a Cinity Film Lab to combine production, postproduction and distribution; it's inviting various organizations and filmmakers to participate in the construction of the lab and in filmmaking using the system. 

According to the companies, some “internationally renowned film directors” have been invited to serve as consultants for the Cinity Film Lab, to help Huaxia conduct various tests and research projects as well as give filmmakers hands-on experience with the advanced formats.

Presumably one of them is Lee, who, THR has learned, is expected to attend the Wednesday evening deal-signing ceremony. Lee is also expected to appear during Paramount’s CinemaCon slate presentation Thursday (though Gemini Man material will be shown in today’s standard 24fps, as the Caesars Palace Colosseum venue isn’t equipped to display HFR cinema).

Other likely consultant candidates are director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau. Cameron has said he would make his Avatar sequels in 3D incorporating HFRs, though he hasn’t revealed details.

Another is Peter Jackson, whose The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was the first film to be released in cinemas at a frame rate higher than today's standard 24fps (it was released in 48fps, which was the cutting edge of cinema when the film opened in late 2012).

Douglas Trumbull, the director and VFX pioneer behind 2001: A Space Odyssey, might also be involved. Trumbull developed an early system dubbed MAGI for displaying an HFR of 120fps and in doing so worked with Christie projection.

Frame rates originally referred to the speed at which a film ran through a projector, but now that film has given way to digital, the number could go higher and offer filmmakers a range of new creative options. Proponents such as Lee, Cameron and Jackson have said that HFR can create a smoother, more natural look and more comfortable way to view 3D. Though in the eyes of many who saw the earliest work on The Hobbit and Billy Lynn, it fell short of expectations with what was described as a video look. But this hasn't stopped the likes of Lee and Cameron from believing in the promise of HFR and continuing their pioneering development of the format.

Huaxia, Christie and GDC hope to help advance this work.

“The industry has made some successful efforts in shooting and postproduction of advanced-format movies, and developed some preliminary solutions,” said Fu Ruoqing, chairman of Huaxia Film. “At present, technical challenges along the industry chain are mostly linked to projection...with the application of HFR and other technologies as the bottleneck."

Ruoqing added, "By entering into strategic partnerships with Christie and GDC Technology, Huaxia Film will work closely with them to remove this bottleneck and develop the Cinity Cinema System, thus driving innovation and upgrading of the advanced-format movie industry with technological breakthroughs in the field of projection. By combining art with technology, we will deliver more forms of artistic presentation to the shooting and production processes to improve movie production, create a differentiated and high-end market, and keep movies alive and competitive."

Said Jack Kline, longtime chairperson, CEO and president at Christie, “we are proud to participate in the latest, seminal improvement to the film industry...which will allow cinemas to show commercial movies in a seamless advanced format encompassing 4K, 3D, 120fps HFR, HDR, WCG and immersive sound."

Man-Nang Chong, founder, chairman and CEO of GDC Technology, added, “By working with Huaxia Film and Christie, we will launch advanced-format movies, their technologies and projection approaches across the world to promote exchanges of these films between different regions, and open a new channel for international cultural interactions."