You Should Watch Films

A celebration, meditation, rumination, and examination of the movie-going experience.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Next New Level

Cameron is a certified genius, or is at least smart enough to work with the right geniuses. And he's right about the higher framerate being the next step. If you've ever watched the 120 Hz mode that some HDTVs display, you can see a big difference in sports or movies.

I haven't seen Showscan or any other high framerate formats, but I can imagine how vivid it'd be on the big screen. 24 fps is the bare minimum for the illusion of motion, and the earliest filmmakers had to make do. But in this digital age, we could and should do better.

A tentpole release like Avatar, or Spider-Man or Disney's Pirates, would see its effects budget skyrocket, more than doubling its render time and processing needs from an increase from 24 fps to 48 or 60 fps. Movies released in 3-D already have a substantial cost added to them for re-rendering the effects for both eyes.

However, if more special effects, not visual effects, were captured in camera, then the increase in framerate would be a non-issue. By now, matte painting, rear projection, miniatures, puppetry, animatronics, and make-up are becoming lost arts, but would become necessities and revitalized in a 48/60 fps production.

Before Pandora's digital forests, Peter Jackson realized King Kong's Skull Island through big-a-tures. Independence Day was a perfect melding of digital and model work, as were Jackson's Lord of the Rings series. And the T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park wouldn't have been as visceral or withstood the test of time if not for Stan Winston's work.

So, to realize a high-def, high-framerate feature in 3-D, and to maintain current costs in effects, concessions would be needed. 2000 effect shots in 24 fps would cost the same as 1000 shots in 48 fps, or 800 shots in 60 fps. And what happens next?

Davy Jones becomes KNB makeup or Henson Shop animatronics? Worked for Predator. Worked for Ninja Turtles. Iron Man and War Machine are 100% Stan Winston suits instead of a shot or two? Worked for Robocop. More in-camera explosions? More live-action footage and plates? Why not? What better way to reproduce photorealism than to use photographic actuality?

What better way to recapture the wonder of cinema? Without the Pace-Cameron Fusion camera to ground Avatar's live-action sequences, the film might have lost its moorings visually. There is still room for magicianship in cinema, and not just at the keyboard. And maybe the new next level is a very familiar one instead.

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