Cameron has distinctive tack on tech

Director says Hollywood's conventional wisdom wrong

As usual, James Cameron thinks Hollywood’s conventional wisdom is wrong. And when it comes to technology, he has a point.

Last week at the 3D Entertainment Summit my colleague Rachel Abrams and I got a few minutes to talk to Cameron about his upcoming projects — the 3D conversion of “Titanic” and the two “Avatar” sequels — as well as the direction of movie technology. In typical fashion, he took the occasion to poke holes in some traditional thinking about movie tech.

Take 3D. Pros in the stereoscopic format may be taken aback at his take on the dreaded 3D “edge violation,” in which an object or actor touches the edge of the frame and breaks the 3D illusion. But Cameron said flatly, “I don’t believe in edge violations.”

“I mean, if you think about it, if you’re not prepared to do edge violations, you can’t do a movie,” he says. “How could you do a closeup? Where’s the rest of the guy’s body? It’s violating the bottom frame line. Unless you do the old theme-park-attraction concept of having things fully bounded by clear space around them for every shot in the movie, then you know every single shot is going to have edge violations.”

But he conceded there is an issue when something is in frame for one eye but out of frame for the other. For the “Titanic” conversion, Cameron’s team is digitally removing such objects from the frame altogether.

For “Titanic 3D,” he said, they’ve gone back to the original super-35 negative to extract a new master for 3D conversion. Though the picture originally went out in the widescreen ‘Scope format, Cameron said: “We have the equivalent of a 16×9 frame available. As we do our cleanup and paint-out on all of our 3D stuff, we’re protecting for 16×9. So when we release on Imax, we will release it in 16×9 format, but all of the other digital 3D platforms will be in the ‘Scope format. You’ll see a little bit more than you saw before if you see it at Imax.”

Cameron said that the two “Avatar” sequels will not be shot back to back but instead will have interwoven schedules, so they’re being shot concurrently. “Each one will have a three-act structure,” he said. “Avatar 2” is a “standalone movie. It’s not going to leave you hanging at the edge of a cliff, but there’s a larger story arc that plays through the two films as well.”

Cameron has talked publicly about the need to amortize the costs of “Avatar’s” innovative technology over the two sequels, but that doesn’t mean he’s using exactly the same tech as he did on the original; after all, he points out, that tech would be 8 or 9 years old by the time “Avatar 3” bows.

“So we’re taking the hiatus between one and two, three to upgrade the technology,” he said. Specifically, they’re making the pipeline faster and more efficient.

On “Avatar,” the vfx team at Weta couldn’t directly import the “template” footage that came from the virtual shoot. Instead, they’d have to re-create the digital scenes and characters from scratch. On the sequels, Weta will be able to bring that template in as a low-res version of the scene and start working on upgrading the image without having to start over.

Cameron’s next crusade is for higher frame rates — something for which he’s been advocating almost as long as for 3D — but there’s been a question about what the director favors: 48 frames per second (twice the current movie standard) or 60 fps (twice the current TV standard). Peter Jackson is shooting “The Hobbit” at 48.

Cameron said the cost for the higher frame rates is still unknown, mostly because it means rendering many more digital images, but added, “Frankly, I think it can get down to around 10% of the rendering cost, and the rendering cost is typically 10% of the effects cost of a movie, so we’re talking down about 1% (of the vfx cost) if we do it right.”

“I am now leaning toward 60 frames mostly because of broadcast,” he said. “Broadcast is already at 60. We can’t tell people going to the movie theater that you’re going to see less. Now that we have surfaced this idea of frame rates into the public consciousness and into the discourse, we can’t tell people they are seeing less in a movie theater than they are seeing in their home. And they’re seeing 60 right now in their home. Sports broadcasts are 60i (interlaced) moving to 60p (progressive) in the next year. We can’t appear to be noncompetitive.”

BITS & BYTES: The Hollywood Post Alliance has skedded its’ Reference Monitor Symposium for October 1 at Disney Studios. … The Cinema Audio Society will present its “Parade of Production Sound Carts” seminar October 15 at Local 80 Sound Stage in Burbank. Event is open to the public at no charge. … Createasphere is presenting its “3D Road Show” series of one-day educational workshops in Chicago Oct. 6, Burbank Nov. 4, New York Dec. 1, Austin Dec. 8 and Miami Dec. 15.

“Lee’s Adventure,” set for release Oct. 1 in mainland China, is the first pic in that territory to be released in Dolby 7.1 … San Franciso-based SPY, a Fotokem company, provided DI, visual effects and 3D conversion on Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt.” … Company 3 has added Deluxe 142’s London facility to its network of digital intermediate facilities. … Animation studio Blue Sky has adopted the Shotgun web-based production management system as the central platform for collaboration among its 400 employees, as well as producers and directors.

Volfoni has introduced new 3D active shutter glasses. The Edge 1.2 line claims to be lighter, brighter, and longer-lasting. … Litepanels has introduced two new LED lighting instruments. The Croma LED fixture is billed as a solution for news shooting and event videography. Litepanels says it is HD-friendly and offers variable color temperatore from daylight to tungsten. The Hilio High Output LED light is a softlight capable of illuminating over a 20-25 foot distance. Hilio offers 5600K …

Christie has introduced an upgrade kit to convert the Christie CP2230 d-cinema projector from 2K to 4K. … DreamWorks’ boxing-robot pic “Real Steel” will be shown with the D-Box motion effects system at more than 100 theaters worldwide.