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While Disney is keeping tight-lipped, CinemaCon attendees are expected to get a first glimpse at James Cameron’s wildly anticipated Avatar sequels — the first of which is scheduled to open Dec. 16 — during its slate presentation Wednesday at the theater owners confab.
Avatar’s immense impact on movies — from production to exhibition — can’t be understated. Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic is the highest-grossing movie of all time with $2.84 billion, and exhibitors no doubt hope for more of that magic in the pandemic era. Avatar also played a large role in cinema innovation, from ushering in the digital 3D movie era to introducing new production techniques in areas such as performance capture and virtual production.
As it has in recent years, CinemaCon sponsor Dolby has outfitted the Colosseum — CinemaCon’s main venue at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas — with Dolby Atmos immersive sound and Dolby Vision, meaning they are installing the company’s premium 4K, high dynamic range, high frame rate and 3D capable laser-based projection system. Dolby has also prepped thousands of 3D glasses for CinemaCon.
The Colosseum also houses both Christie and Barco laser projectors for this week’s event. With such capabilities, it would seem Cameron, producer Jon Landau and Disney/20th Century intend to dazzle delegates.
It is understood that, when released, Avatar 2 will be offered in a wide variety of formats to support the range of movie theater configurations in the U.S. and around the world, including 3D and 4K and incorporating a high frame rate of 48 fps.
In fact, there will be more versions Avatar 2 than any movie “in the history of movies,” asserted John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, at CinemaCon on Tuesday. “We are talking about high resolution, high frame rates, 3D, IMAX, PLF, different sound systems and in 160 different languages. He is working very closely with our members around the world to show his movie in the best possible way. Jim is uniquely driven. He’s brilliant.”
Of this ambitious plan, Fithian added, “There may be only a couple hundred screens in [some of the formats], but he wants [Avatar 2] on those screens. It’s time to make sure your light levels are correct and everything about the picture is correct. We’re excited about it.”
Before the release of 2009’s Avatar, Cameron created more than 100 versions of deliverables in various light levels, 2D and 3D, sound systems and the like. It was the most ambitious digital release at that time.
Also on Tuesday, projector maker Christie and Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment announced their 16-year partnership includes collaborating on advancing theatrical display capabilities for 3D and high frame rates for Avatar 2.
The partnership has included providing Lightstorm with Christie’s newest projection systems as well as support. “Over the years, we’ve worked closely with the team at Lightstorm,” said Brian Claypool, executive vp cinema at Christie. “With our range of Xenon and RGB laser projectors with Real|Laser technology, Lightstorm has been able to review footage at various stages of production, to ensure the final product looks as intended on the big screen.”
Part of Lightstorm’s production process includes a Christie 4K, high-frame-rate-capable projector installed into a “pod,” used to review footage as it’s filmed on set. Additionally, Lightstorm has Christie projectors installed in multiple postproduction environments, allowing Cameron to work on creating the final images to be used in Avatar 2.
“Christie has been a good partner. We’re using their projection systems at all our production sites, in the U.S. and New Zealand,” said Cameron in a statement. “Wherever I am, I can view progress on my films in high-quality stereo 3D, just as the audience will see the movies in theaters when they come out. This is essential to our working process.”
Cinema tech developers at CinemaCon are focused on the theatrical exhibition of Avatar sequels. Among them is Cinionic, the cinema company that offers Barco projectors. “He’s pushing the boundaries again on technology. We are really looking forward to that,” Cinionic CEO Wim Buyens said of Cameron.
Buyens tells The Hollywood Reporter that Barco projectors are installed in 100,000 cinema auditoriums worldwide, with 30,000 of those being the higher-brightness laser-based systems. He adds that 25,000 screens are additionally equipped with the Barco Alchemy media servers that enable high frame rate projection. “On 3D, we are doubling down and getting a lot of questions from customers, because 3D has been a little in the background, but [the industry is] trying to get back to a great 3D presentation. We are working together with partners like RealD and others to make that happen.”
April 26, 2:09 p.m Updated with John Fithian’s remarks.
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