Cameron Enters the Big Picture
Large Format Cinema Association Conference 2003
The 70mm Newsletter
by: William Kallay
May 20, 2003
MIR 2 pilot Genya Chernaiev (left) and Bill Paxton
(center) look through a porthole in the submersible to the wreckage on the
deck of Titanic.
Proving once again that James Cameron hasn’t met a seemingly impossible
challenge he didn’t like, the writer/director spoke to a crowd of LFCA
members about his high definition 3D film, "Ghosts of the Abyss". The
normally “tough” audience of large format filmmakers, exhibitors and
other delegates gathered in Los Angeles to hear Cameron give his keynote
address. He is one of the few high profile commercial directors to enter
the realm of large format filmmaking. Not that Cameron or his film seemed
to ruffle feathers within the LFCA. Both were greeted with a warm
reception. With the likes of Cameron, Disney and Warner Bros. releasing
films in the large format, and with digital filmmaking making inroads into
large format, one has to wonder what sort of changes are in store for the
in 70mm reading:
in70mm.com's IMAX Page
Ghosts of the Abyss
From left-to-right: Robert Dennis, CFI; Director James
Cameron; Charlotte Huggins, NWAVE Pictures; Paul Holliman, Buena Vista
Cameron’s foray into the world of documentary filmmaking is somewhat
unusual for a director who has helmed large scale epics like "Terminator 2:
Judgment Day" (1991) and "Titanic" (1997). But Cameron has bent the envelope
more times than not. The director shot Ghosts in high definition video,
bypassing the large format world’s preferred method of shooting in
15-perf 70mm. Digital technology, such as CGI and digital film processing,
has been used in the large format industry. But rarely has HD, let alone
3D HD, been used in conjunction with a movie for large format release. The
director and his crew used a “Reality Cam,” which is a modified Sony
HD 24p camera with Panavision lenses. Over 300 hours of footage was
recorded and then edited into a 60-minute film.
“I want to shoot everything in 3D,” said Cameron. “The camera system
is pretty easy to use. Now that we’ve seen that the camera can do almost
anything it needs to do, I want to shoot features in the same camera
The film was not run through IMAX’s Digital Re-Mastering (DMR) process,
according to Cameron, because it would’ve been cost prohibitive, for the
budget was around $12.5 million.
“If you’ve got a $100 million feature and you want to put it out on a
100 IMAX screens, I think it’s worth spending the money.”
In the case of "Ghosts", the HD footage was scanned directly out to large
format film. Cameron did, however, reveal plans that there is a
possibility that "Titanic" could receive DMR treatment.
Director of Photography Rodney Taylor Saluted
Rodney Taylor was given the 5th Annual Kodak Vision Award for his work in
large format cinematography, presented by writer Ray Zone. Taylor’s
resume includes "Alaska: Spirit of the Wild" (1997), "Amazing Journeys"
(1999), "All Access" (2001), "Ultimate X" (2002) and most recently,
Writer Ray Zone and
D.P. Rodney Taylor
"It is a very big honor to be in the same company as David Douglas, Reed Smoot, Sean Phillips, and Noel Archambault, the past recipients. These are cinematographers that I have learned a lot from over the last 13 years and I have loved watching their images. This is also a tribute to the directors that I have been very lucky to collaborate with. I am very lucky that I get to shoot large format films," said Taylor in an interview after the conference.
Clips of his work were shown on the California Science
Center IMAX screen during the award presentation. True to the
adventuresome work that goes into shooting many large format films, Taylor
has been around the world. Wild bears in Alaska, wildfires in the American
wilderness and riding along with X Gamers in a street luge race hasn’t
stopped Taylor from getting great shots.
A crew member (left) prepares the unique camera
as Mike Cameron (center) looks on.
Digital. The buzzword was used frequently during the course of the LFCA
conference. Consider that "Ghosts of the Abyss" was shot in HD. Consider
that a few more 35mm features have been earmarked for IMAX’s Digital
Re-mastering process (DMR). Consider that Disney’s recent animated films
were converted to large format from digital files. Consider that digital
image correction was used in the 3D film, "Bugs!" (2003) to align images.
And consider that Olympus has introduced its prototype Super High
Definition (SHD) 4K resolution camera, which was used for large format
tests done at Imagica U.S.A. Digital is no longer a buzzword in the large
format industry, but more of a reality.
For the past few years at the LFCA conference, there have been some
HD-to-IMAX and 5-perf 70mm tests performed. In the so-called early days of
the demonstrations, some of the HD footage looked good, but some didn’t
due to the technology not being ready for primetime. Even at last year’s
conference, some HD-to-IMAX footage drew laughs in comparison to 15/70
originated material. But how things can change. Hardly anyone commented on
either "Ghosts of the Abyss"’ use of digital cinematography or the Olympus
SHD demo in negative light. Both presented an alternative to large format
photography. The cameras are lightweight and fairly adaptive to rigorous
environments. It is notable that a number of formats have been used in
large format films, and most audiences probably haven’t noticed it.
Almost every type of visual medium has been used from old-time photographs
to broadcast video. Is this to say that large format’s days are
numbered? Not at all. It seems that filmmakers in this industry prefer to
use 15/70 or 8/70 cameras for their projects. But their range of using
different tools has increased.
This year’s LFCA conference included a number of large format showings.
Unlike in past years, there wasn’t a special 5-perf 70mm presentation or
a revival of This Is Cinerama. Most of the films shown were traditional
IMAX documentaries, with a few shorts thrown in. Those films included "Ghosts of the
Abyss"; "Legend of the Forest-Special Edition"; "Ocean
Wonderland 3D"; "Straight Up! Helicopters in Action";
"Bugs! 3D"; "India-Kingdom
of the Tiger"; "Texas: The Big Picture"; shorts "Falling in Love
of Freedom" & "Where the Trains Used to Go";
"Our Country"; "Adrenaline Rush": "The Science of
Risk"; "Pulse: a STOMP Odyssey" and "Coral Reef
"The film Bugs! 3D" (2003) won Best Feature Film and the short,
Trains Used To Go", won Best Short at the LFCA Annual Gala Dinner.
Size Matters, Even In DMR
MIR at Titanic
Though I wasn’t able to attend one of the sessions, “Re-purposing Film
for Large Format Presentation,” IMAX’s re-mastering efforts have given
the large format industry a small imprint on the commercial side of the
movie business. DMR is a computer program that can digitally blow-up 35mm
or HD footage into the 15/70. Grain is significantly reduced and the
overall picture quality is quite good.
Box office has been mixed on the DMR versions of Hollywood productions. "Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience" was a financial disappointment, while
Wars: Attack of the Clones-The IMAX Experience" drew a little over $7
million (source-LF Examiner/cinergetics.com). In the scale of big time
Hollywood fare, this kind of draw is nothing special. But for a film that
earned over $200 million in North America during its regular engagement,
and was critically dismissed, those aren’t bad numbers. It is possible
that the re-mastered versions of "The Matrix Reloaded" and
Revolutions" in 15/70 could perform strongly at the box office. With the
built-in audience awareness of the Matrix series and with Warner Bros.’
marketing power, a successful run in large format could bring more
commercial fare to the IMAX screen on a day-and-date basis.
Conclusions About LFCA 2003
The California Science Center in Los Angeles
This year’s conference wasn’t so much about commercial versus
institutional large format filmmaking and distribution, as it has been in
the past. It was a combination of factors. One of the most successful
directors in Hollywood has released a film in large format. Digital
cinematography is being used in select projects. And some commercial films
are being released with DMR prints, rather than in “enhanced 35mm” in
large format cinemas. What does this mean for the large format industry?
Will commercial filmmaking dominate venues in which large format
documentaries reign? Will digital technology replace traditional large
format photography? Of course, it’s difficult to predict what changes
will occur. But changes are in the air.
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