by Michael S. Palmer
Though last year had our favorite Uncle Marty, Blu-Con 2010 featured filmmakers James Cameron and Jon Landau as keynote speakers (frankly, the whole day might as well have been called Cameron/Landau-Con 2010). Not only did these guys earn 20th Century Fox dumptrucks of cash, but they changed Hollywood's view on 3D forever (though sadly, not always for the better) and single handedly broke all previous Blu-ray sales records (one in five homes with a Blu-ray disc player owns a copy of 'Avatar'). In the least shocking announcement ever to be featured here on High-Def Digest... James Cameron loves Blu-ray. He loves its unparalleled picture and color qualities. And he loves how much information he and partner Jon Landau can squeeze onto the discs.
'Avatar' 3-Disc Extended Edition
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment President and subsequently Cameron's biggest fan, Mike Dunn, introduced the filmmakers with a short speech themed, "details matter." Of course 'Avatar' is all about detail in the Blu-ray resolution sense, but it's also a film with a completely fabricated language that took a USC professor three years to invent (the professor now gets fan mail written in Na'Vi). It's a film where a botanist slaved to create scientifically-based and accurate names for the fauna of a world that does not exist. It's a film that used revolutionary advancements in facial motion capture technology to capture the fully live performances from the actors involved.
All of these things are among the many subjects to soon be featured on the 3-Disc 'Avatar: Extended Collectors Edition'. If you own the original 'Avatar' Blu-ray release, use its BD-Live section to check out an extended peak at what's on the 3-Disc edition. Obviously sensitive to the double-dipping trend, Cameron and Landau reiterated that this 3-Disc edition will be the last 2D version of 'Avatar' ever (there will of course be a 3D version available in December, but it's exclusive to Panasonic for a limited time). This is it. I know many High-Def Digest readers are frustrated about bare bones vs. special editions, but to be fair, this 3-Disc edition was announced before the original release so we could choose to wait (or rent). The real reason for the delay is that extended edition(s) footage needed to be fully rendered by WETA which takes 50-100 hours per frame to render 'Avatar' (which of course we have to multiply times two for 3D) at a cost of $1Million per minute (for finished product). Mr. Landau also pointed out that because of seamless branching, they were able to put all three versions of the movie (theatrical, special edition re-release, and extended edition exclusive to this Blu-ray) on one disc, and did not lower the bit-rate from the original release.
On top of the 16 minutes of new footage (or 7 minutes if you've already seen the special edition) which includes a brand new 5 minute opening on a 'Blade Runner'-esc Earth, there will be 47 minutes worth of unfinished / low resolution deleted scenes, and viewers have the option of watching about 60 minutes of the film using a picture in picture mode where the actors on the motion-capture stage are next to their full-res digital counterparts. This is actually very engaging to watch, and proves that 'Avatar' isn't an animated film, but one with real actors embodying otherworldly characters. Here's an example (sorry about the blurry picture):
"You don't just want the motion, you want the emotion" – Jon Landau
Cameron and Landau also showed a clip entitled the "Sturmbeast Hunt." While I've seen this sequence before on the Special Edition re-release, I was more surprised how clear, and realistic everything looked on a (estimating here) 15-18 foot screen. For relative terms, the Blu-Con 2010 screens were akin a smaller theatrical screens, yet Blu-ray is essentially half the vertical resolution of a 2K projector. Definitely a score for the format (alas, I took a picture, but in the darkened room it came out too blurry to give anyone a proper example of the experience).
Also, I don't know if this is included in any of the special features, but apparently during the film's preproduction, Cameron took actors Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana to Hawaii so they could get the sensory experience of a real rain forest. One day, Worthington was running around in makeup and a loin cloth while speaking Na'Vi when a man out walking his dog asked what they were all doing. Worthington said, "we're making a movie, mate. See that guy over there? That's James Cameron; he made 'Titanic'." To which the man with the dog replied, "Boy, he's really gone down hill."
"I haven't seen anything that didn't benefit from 3D. I watched the Masters and I hate golf. Why would I watch it? But I watched The Masters in 3D. It was really cool!" – James Cameron.
No conversation with James Cameron is complete without his thoughts on 3D technology. He believes it's not a fad, but "we're only hitting the tip of the iceberg" (his words, not mine). The first 3D technology was good and we're already a few generations past that. We will need the glasses for 3d viewing for another 8-10 years. Apparently for displays to work without glasses, the displays will have to have much more resolution which is then split back down to master for the multiple viewing angles [If anyone actually knows how that might work, please drop us a line in the forums; I'm fascinated.].
Mr. Cameron said the key to 3D expansion is generating enough content. So it won't be movies. They take too long. 3D sports / video will be the biggest push. He likened the progression of 3D to the advancement of color film. Color films started in the 30s, but weren't a majority until the 60s because in make a network TV sale (this is before any other form of home entertainment, of course), filmmakers needed color movies for the latest craze, color television. Mr. Cameron surmises it'll work the same in the not-too-distant future. 3D will just be a standard.
On the topic of good vs. bad 3D, his advice to all filmmakers and studios is the A) shoot in 3D, or B) spend the time and money to do post-conversion right. For this films need an extra six month built into the post-production schedules. When studios typically factor in the cost of post-conversion, they're not taking into consideration the time itself, and with all things considered, it's much easier to shoot in 3D. It's more natural and makes the medium fun. Cameron's goal, he says, for all 3D is to give people a premium product worth premium ticket or technology upgrade expenses. And they can't do that with sloppy conversions.
Post-conversions, Cameron said, should be for classics like 'Jaws', 'E.T.', 'Close Encounters', (all Spielberg films, he admitted, but they're his favorites) and even 'Titanic' because there's no time machine available to go back and reshoot these films in 3D.
What do you think, dear Readers? Is Cameron right? Let us know in the forums and keep your eyes out for the next Blu-Con 2010 article where we'll be focusing more specifically on 3D Blu-ray outside the Cameron universe.