James Cameron uses ‘Simple Hack’ for 3D in ‘Avatar’ sequel.

  • “Avatar” producer Jon Landau says the sequel couldn’t have been delivered even five years ago.
  • Director James Cameron described the technological improvements in 3D he brings to “The Way of Water.”
  • He called it a “simple hack” involving variable frame rates in the movie.

“Avatar: The Way of Water” hits theaters in December, 13 years after the first film broke box office records.

There’s a reason it took so long. During the Busan International Film Festival on Thursday, producer Jon Landau said the cutting-edge technology needed to make the sequel only recently became possible.

“We couldn’t have delivered what people saw today, five years ago, eight years ago, nine years ago,” he said after showing 15 minutes of footage. “We needed time to get it to the level we can offer people today.”

Director James Cameron, during a video call, laid out the technological improvements he’s bringing to “The Way of Water” and described the high-frame-rate “hack” he’s using to enhance the 3D experience that elevated the original film.

“We use [high frame rate] to enhance the 3D where we want a heightened sense of presence, such as underwater or in some of the flight scenes,” Cameron said. [high frame rate] it works against us because it creates a kind of hyper-realism in scenes that are more ordinary, more normal. And sometimes we need that cinematic feel of 24 fps.”

Most theaters do not have the capabilities to handle the different frame rates required for “The Way of Water.” But Cameron found a scam.

“Can cinemas support variable frame rate, switching between 24 frames per second and 48 frames per second? The answer is no, they just run it at 48 frames per second,” Cameron said. “Anywhere in the scene we want at 24 frames per second, we just double the frames. And so, they actually show the same frame twice, but the viewer doesn’t see it that way. And so, we basically use a simple hack to use the high frame rate platform that already exists.”

Cameron’s “hack” could avoid the kind of divisive audience reaction that the last big high-frame-rate game received. Director Peter Jackson wanted to shoot The Hobbit at 48 frames per second instead of the industry standard 24 frames per second to present a sharper image. But it was met with mixed reviews.

“Everything takes on an exaggerated, artificial quality, in which the authenticity of the sets and costumes becomes apparent, while well-lit areas bleed into their surroundings, like watching a high-quality movie at home,” wrote Variety at the time.

“Avatar” started a 3D trend after becoming the biggest film of all time, grossing $2.9 billion worldwide (and counting, thanks to a recent re-release). But many movies are converted to 3D in post-production instead of being filmed with 3D digital cameras, like “Avatar.”

Cameron has said in the past that 3D is a normal part of the theater experience now, thanks in large part to “Avatar.”

“I think around the time of ‘Avatar,’ people were going to see movies because they were in 3D,” Cameron told Slashfilm in an interview in September. “I think it’s had an impact on the way films are presented that are now just accepted and part of the event and how it’s done.”

Movie leaders have high hopes for “The Way of Water” as the industry still struggles to recover from the pandemic, largely due to a lack of releases.

“Avatar 2 will be, technologically, the movie that offers the most choices to consumers [this year], John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theater Owners, told Insider earlier this year. “It will have the options of high frame rate, high dynamic range, 3D, premium large format and any combination of the above.”

He added, “This shows the wide range of technological experiences and visual experiences you can have in theaters that you can never get at home. This is also part of our comeback story.”

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