Cinema’s Next Step

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Thu, 11/29/2012 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

During a panel discussion at the first CinemaCon in 2011 director George Lucas one of digital cinema’s true pioneers made the observation that the completion of the worldwide transition from 35mm film projection to digital will mark not only the end of one era but also the start of a newer more exciting one. He argued that once most of the world’s theatres are equipped with digital technology new and exciting advances can and will happen and they will happen rather quickly. I was reminded of his remarks this week when the industry took another significant – if controversial – step forward with the high frame rate premiere of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. As has been widely reported for more than a year Jackson and a handful of other top filmmakers (James Cameron is another) have been publicly advocating and demonstrating what they believe are the many creative advantages of shooting at frame rates higher than the arcane film-based model of 24-frames a second. There is no disputing the fact that shooting at rates of 48-frames per second (Jackson’s choice and what he used for The Hobbit trilogy) or 60-frames a second (Cameron’s stated preference) make for a brighter sharper image and eliminates motion blur and other artifacts. This is especially useful when shooting 3D. But there is also no disputing the fact that shooting in HFR costs more money or that many filmmakers and filmgoers find HFR images too bright too sharp too something unpleasant. Some Hollywood cinematographers deride HFR images as “hypercinema.” The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a Warner Bros. Pictures Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and New Line Cinema presentation is the first chance for the public at large to experience a 3D HFR movie and to offer their opinion. Christie was chosen to supply the digital cinema/HFR projection technology for the world premiere which was held at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington New Zealand on November 28. Two Christie Solaria CP2230 series digital projectors will were used to fill the screen with more than 12 foot lamberts (ft-L) brightness. The current standard for 3D light levels on screens is 3-to-4.5 ft-L while 2D light levels are standardized at 14 ft-L. “With Christie's support our Wellington Premiere will present The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at its full technical potential – in vibrant bright High Frame Rate 3D. I thank Christie for helping us push the boundaries and give audiences a glimpse into the exciting future of cinema presentation ” Jackson said. Jack Kline president and COO Christie Digital Systems USA said “Endorsements from industry leaders like Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. Pictures MGM and New Line Cinema compliment Christie’s leadership position in the visual technology world which we’ve achieved by consistently delivering what exhibitors and audiences want.” Christie’s digital projectors installed by its Xebex cinema partner were also used at the Tokyo premiere which took place at the Toho Cinemas in Roppongi Hills on December 1st with Jackson in attendance. Christie signed a technology co-operation agreement with Park Road Post and Weta Digital in April 2012 to work together to advance the state of the art of digital cinema production and projection with an emphasis on high frame rate delivery. As part of that agreement Park Road and Weta upgraded their facilities with Christie projectors and provided Christie with review testing and feedback on new hardware and software developments related to high-bandwidth interfaces and HFR technology as well as sample movie content (consistent with the content owner’s permission) for Christie to use in testing its projectors and integrated media block units. “The success of our joint research and knowledge exchange has led to the creation of the most reliable high frame rate IMB/projection solution available and this will be evident to all at The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey premiere and beyond ” said Cameron Harland general manager Park Road “and using the world’s first totally integrated and commercially available dual-projection system we are anticipating a stunning rendition of the film.” The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The three films tell a continuous story set in Middle-earth 60 years before The Lord of the Rings which Jackson and his filmmaking team brought to the big screen in the blockbuster trilogy that culminated with the Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The screenplay for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro.  Jackson is also producing the film together with Carolynne Cunningham Zane Weiner and Fran Walsh.  The executive producers are Alan Horn Toby Emmerich Ken Kamins and Carolyn Blackwood with Boyens and Eileen Moran serving as co-producers. Under Jackson’s direction production took place at his own facilities in Miramar Wellington and on location around New Zealand.   The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and the second and third films of the trilogy are productions of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures with New Line managing production.  Warner Bros. Pictures is handling worldwide theatrical distribution with select international territories as well as all international television distribution being handled by MGM. Dan Fellman Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution told Ben Fritz of The Los Angeles Times that the HFR version of the movie will screen in about 450 theaters in the U.S. and Canada (all of which are also 3D). Fellman said the high frame rate theaters will be located in or near most major and mid-sized cities. The distribution chief added that he does not expect theaters to charge moviegoers an additional ticket price premium for the high frame rate showings on top of 3D surcharges. 450 is a very manageable number [of theaters] for us to make sure the installations are proper and can be checked before the movie plays Fellman told The Times. If the success is what we think it will be by the second Hobbit we'll be much wider. The second of the three Hobbit movies is scheduled to open in December 2013. Only time will tell how well audiences and the creative community embrace HFR moviemaking. I suspect that as filmmakers better understand how to use this new tool and given the many technological issues it can solve HFR will become the norm. There will be other advances two of which – laser projection and 8K production and projection – are already on the horizon. But HFR marks the first real break from legacy film-based practices that can only be justified because that’s the way things have always been done. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a big step forward in the ongoing evolution of digital production post-production distribution and exhibition. Film is dead.