Jean-Luc Godard may have famously said that “cinema is truth 24 frames per second,” but James Cameron is currently convinced that shooting at a rate of 60 frames per second offers a more truthful image.
As he readies to shoot Avatar 2 and 3, the technologically-savvy director has been looking at higher frame rates of 48 and 60 frames per second. And, he tells The Hollywood Reporter, at the moment he would “personally favor” 60 fps. “I think it is such an affinitive answer,” he said. “But other people may choose 48 for other reasons.”
Last March at CinemaCon, Cameron said he “fully intends” to film the Avatar sequels at a higher frame rate and he presented an extensive test showing the differences between images shot at 24, 48 and 60 fps. At that time, he said, “The 3D shows you a window into reality; the higher frame rate takes the glass out of the window.”
But as for choosing between 48—which Peter Jackson has selected for production of The Hobbit—and 60, Cameron left that for the industry to discuss.
“The reason I went down that path is because I believe it makes for better 3D,” Cameron said of his advocacy of higher frame rates in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “There were lots of arguments for why 48 and why 60. My feeling is if it is a software upgrade (for digital cinema projectors), do both. It doesn’t change anything at the projector; you don’t have to change the lamp house or the lenses. If you are uploading software you can upload it for 48 and 60 and let the filmmakers decide.”
In terms of how he will decide at what rate to shoot the Avatar sequels, Cameron said, “If the exhibitors will adopt the idea of a dual standard, than I’ll probably want to shoot 60. If they don’t, then I will have to look very carefully at the pros and cons of 60 and 48.”
Frame rates are the number of images displayed by a projector within one second. 24 frames per second (fps) has long been the standard in cinema.
In related news, Lightstorm Entertainment and digital cinema projector maker Christie recently inked a five-year agreement aimed at furthering 3D digital cinema and the use of higher frame rates. Additionally, Christie has started to demonstrate the use of higher frames rates within a single projector setup.
As part of the agreement with Lightstorm, Christie will assist in outfitting Cameron’s new production facilities, including two screening rooms that will serve as virtual production sites for the next two Avatar movies.
Projectors are just one part of the equation. Cameron said, “The cost (to go to higher frame rates) is not at the camera, which is very straightforward; the cost is not at the projectors, because it is a software upgrade. I could go out right now, shoot a movie at 60 fps if it was all live action and project it, and have a stunning effect. It has value immediately. What we have to work on is the FX workflow—primarily the render pipeline.”
“The trick in the near term is going to be to not have a big upward inflection in the cost of visual effects,” he explained. “I believe there are ways to do it, but there is some code that needs to be written to do it, and I’m working with some of the big FX providers on that now. You can’t expect people to run off adopting a higher frame rate if it is going to cost an addition 10 percent of their FX costs, which are already pretty high. We have to get it down to 1 percent or so, which I think is achievable.”