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Are Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ Sequels Destined to be 60 FPS, Theme Park Attraction?

Written by on September 21, 2011 

Just days after the first lady of sci-fi Sigourney Weaver assured fans she’d return to Pandora (despite the fact her character croaked in Avatar), James Cameron has revealed his next envelope-pushing device to THR: more frames per second. Maybe 48 fps, though he would “personally favor” 60 fps because,I think it is such an affinitive answer.” Make of that ambiguous statement what you will, but Cameron has been pushing for use of higher frame rates [literally the number of still frames displayed per second] since last spring when he illustrated the difference between 24 fps footage (the current standard) and 48 and 60 fps. There, he declared, “The 3D shows you a window into reality; the higher frame rate takes the glass out of the window.”

As someone who still thinks of 3D as a gimmick rather than the next frontier of quality filmmaking (as Cameron sees it), I’m underwhelmed by his enthusiasm. Still it looks like Cameron will be pushing higher frame rates as much as he lobbied for 3D, pointing out that theaters with digital projectors could potentially get a software upgrade to properly display higher frame rates, so, “It doesn’t change anything at the projector; you don’t have to change the lamp house or the lenses. If you are uploading software you can upload it for 48 and 60 and let the filmmakers decide.”

The determining factor on whether Avatars 2 & 3 will be 48 or 60 will be determined by the market, meaning if theaters take to Cameron’s proposed “dual standard” idea, he’ll go 60, otherwise, it would make the sequels unscreenable in too many venues. Also – more frames per second means more frames to render means more rendering time for special effects means a higher budget. Yet Cameron claims the costs for special effects won’t rise greatly, assuring, “I believe there are ways to do it, but there is some code that needs to be written to do it, and I’m working with some of the big FX providers on that now. You can’t expect people to run off adopting a higher frame rate if it is going to cost an addition 10 percent of their FX costs, which are already pretty high. We have to get it down to 1 percent or so, which I think is achievable.” Though many are scoffing at Cameron’s suggested increase — saying FX costs would inevitably skyrocket — the main point here is moviemaking and movie theaters are not yet at a place where Avatar sequels can afford to be shot in 60 fps. But stay tuned, I’m sure this is not the last we’ll hear from Cameron on higher frame rates.

In other Avatar news: though the sequels aren’t set to hit theaters until Christmas of 2014 and 2015, Disney has already begun plans to create a series of attractions inspired by the franchise.  The licensing deal with Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment includes Cameron as a consultant on the attractions’ developments. The first Avatar attraction will begin construction in Orlando’s Animal Kingdom in 2013 and will include shops and restaurants that will “bring that world to life,” you know, through the magic of buying stuff.  [Read the full press release at Deadline.] It’s likely Disney is hoping to replicate the kind of mania that Universal Studios has garnered with their Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. But it’s worth noting that that fictional world had a shopping center built in, and so seems better suited to a tourist attraction. Since Avatar’s main thrust seemed to be about nature and thwarting avarice, it seems a strange move to promote the would-be attractions shops and food vendors right out the gate.

But [full disclosure] my cynicism about the lush world of Pandora being translated into an enticing amusement park experience may be due to own grim childhood experience of eagerly visiting Disney’s Honey I Shrunk the Kids attraction, where there was a giant oatmeal creme pie just like in the movie! Except made of plaster instead of giant gooey goodness. The crushing blow disappointment haunts me still.

Do you think higher frame rates will be the next cinema trend? What would you want to see in Disney’s Avatar attractions? Do you think Unobtainium will be easily obtainable at the gift shop? Were you ever similarly disappointed in a movie-themed attraction? Tell us in comments.

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