Wow. This is a big deal to a geek like me. James Cameron genuinely has a great idea for how he’s going to approach Avatar 2 and 3. It’s not a new idea, I should say, and Cameron himself has been talking about it for a while, but he does now actually seem in a position to actually put it into action.
Cameron did provide a couple of interesting nuggets. One is that he would like to shoot the sequels at a higher frame rate than the current 24 fps limitation of film; perhaps at 48, 60 fps, or even higher. The reason? It helps reduce or eliminate motion artifacts.
Now, I don’t want to get too technical, but I think Cameron’s on to something. Famously, it’s been said that Bruce Lee had to slow down for film. That is, to put it another way, with a whole 1/24th of a second between frames, if Lee was moving at full speed you wouldn’t actually see all of his movements at all – at best you’d see a blur, at worst it could seem like the moving part isn’t there at all.
What Cameron is talking about is something closer – just a bit closer, but a significant bit – the the constancy of vision we have in real life.
There’s a lot of bias against images shot at 48 or 60fps, because they simply aren’t cinematic in the conventional sense. We associate squared off rectangular images, artificially shallow depth of field and long-interval sampling, as with 24fps filming, with “cinema”. This is what we find to be a “cinematic” look. But this is just a convention that we’re used to. We can get over it. Just like we can get over our resistance to sync sound, technicolor and, now, 3D.
There’s one hurdle in Cameron’s way, but it’s a tall one – the exhibition technology he’ll have at his disposal won’t necessarily be as up to date as his films. He can shoot at 60fps all he wants, but if the film has to be played back at 24fps, nobody would ever know. There would need to be changes to both cinema projection and Blu-ray players made in order to accommodate Cameron’s plans across the marketplace.
Maybe this is what Cameron has meant when he’s brought up the idea of “future proofing” the films in recent interviews? It’s not impossible our first taste of Avatar 2 and 3 will be in 24fps, with 48 or 60fps re-release somewhere down the road?
Just a quick note: we’re not talking about what happens when you play your TV at 60 or 100hz here. This is about 48 or 60 progressive frames being stored, and then played back. It is a bit tech-nerdy, but if you don’t care to understand, just take away that I personally think Cameron’s onto something real and wonderful here.
Further reading for you: On Douglas Trumbull’s Showscan.