Cameron, Lucas, Katzenberg at CinemaCon

When James Cameron, George Lucas and Jeffrey Katzenberg get together after a massive upheaval in filmmaking and projection technology to say that movies are about to get much better, it almost seems like overkill.

And yet there they were at Wednesday’s CinemaCon panel in Las Vegas, insisting that although the wave of digital conversion has largely washed over, innovations in 3D and animation are on the horizon that will fundamentally change the way movies are made and seen.

“The changes now being made in digital are little tweaks … tiny little things that make it better,” Lucas said. Next up: More frames-per-second, a passion project of Cameron’s, which will intensify the clarity of 3D images; and an exponential boost in computing power that Katzenberg said will allow animators to see their work in real time.

“I fully intend to make the next two ‘Avatar’ films at a higher frame rate, 48 to 60,” Cameron said, as opposed to the industry-standard 24.

“If the 3D puts you into the picture, the higher frame rate takes the glass out of the window.”

Cameron didn’t go much more into specifics, but he will at an

8 a.m. panel today. No reason was given for the absence of Illumination Entertainment’s Chris Meledandri from Wednesday’s panel.

As for animation, a sea change is coming, Katzenberg said, in the form of a process that will “fundamentally change the quality of what we do.” It’s called scalable multicore processing, essentially another exponent of computing power that will take the tedium of rendering out of the animation process.

“The power and the speed of the chips is about to take a quantum leap, the result of which is that our artists will be able to see their work in real time,” Katzenberg said.

As of now, animators make a couple of seconds of rough, low-resolution footage that’s sent to a rendering farm and returned as much as 12 hours later.

Not for much longer.

“It’s almost as if they were painting blind,” Katzenberg said. “What this next generation does is that the artist will see their work as they’re creating it. … I cannot tell you how transformative that will be in our storytelling.”

Lucas implored the gathering of theater owners to invest in digital projection and upgrade their facilities to stay competitive.

“Once you go digital, once you spend the big bucks to get in the game, everything after that is infinitely cheaper,” Lucas said. “We will try to make better movies, but the better the venue, the more prosperous you’re gonna be. The technology we’re using is accessible on televisions and iPhones and everything else. What makes the difference is what you guys provide.”

The three also addressed 3D conversion, and though Lucas and Cameron are converting their previous works for an extra-dimensional re-release, they weren’t afraid to express displeasure with the process in general.

“Let me slam conversion for a second,” Cameron quipped. “It’s not a question of the amount of stereo you’re getting, it’s the quality. There’s no magic wand — there’s no computer program in the world that can tell you where an object relates in space.”

But Cameron insisted that his familiarity with the “Titanic” set gives him the unique authority to oversee the conversion process. “I can tell you exactly how far apart those columns are,” he said.”We’ve discovered that it’s not really a technical problem, it’s a creative problem,” Cameron said. “You need people to be making decisions that are just as important as color timing.”

Lucas agreed that putting time and resources into a conversion can transcend rush-jobs that have dogged the 3D revolution.

“It’s taken me seven years with ILM and a lot of research and development — we’re actually spending more money than we did on the original ‘Star Wars’ — and that’s the thing that will win the day,” Lucas said.

The bigger issue, all three agreed, is that if you want to make a movie in 3D, there’s virtually no reason — cost or otherwise — not to just shoot it in 3D.

Moderator Michael Lewis, chairman, CEO and co-founder of RealD, seized on that notion with a question especially for Lucas: “So does that mean (the “Star Wars” sequel) will be shot in 3D?

“Yep,” Lucas replied. “But by then it’ll be a hologram.”

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