Immersed in Movies: Talking 'The Hobbit,' Higher Frame Rates, and Virtual Production at FMX [Updated]

Festivals
by Bill Desowitz
May 10, 2012 6:36 AM
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'The Hobbit'
I'm in Stuttgart, Germany, this week for the FMX conference on animation, VFX, games, and transmedia. This marks the 17th gathering in what has become Europe's most prestigious computer graphics confab in this hub of activity (fittingly, the Museum Square battle in "The Avengers," though shot in Cleveland, occurs in Stuttgart).
 
Not surprisingly, the emphasis at FMX is on virtual production, the hottest industry topic, thanks to the influence of "Avatar" and the lingering interest in last year's Oscar winner, "Hugo," among others.
 
In fact, the ability to now perform principal photography in the computer completes the digital production pipeline for movies and points to the total convergence of live action and animation, so there's a lot of attention being paid at FMX to some of Hollywood's latest and greatest eyecandy, including "The Avengers," "Battleship," "The Hunger Games," "The Lorax," the "Total Recall" remake, "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," "Men in Black 3," and "Wreck-It Ralph," among others.

It's all about creating unique and compelling CG characters and immersive worlds with greater photorealism and rendering power. One of the new buzzwords is "world building," which has to do with inventing universes comprised of geography, culture, and history. These worlds can be fantastical ("Total Recall") or grounded in reality (Steven Spielberg's "War Horse"). Regardless, they need to be designed and manufactured with total believability and a visceral power that transport us. One of the amazing revelations was the Third Floor's sophisticated previs of "War Horse," in which every detail was executed effectively in a low-res version from the English period landscape to the "Paths of Glory"-like trench warfare to the choreography of the calvary charge to the emotional power of Joey, the heroic horse. Some of the details were so effective that they saved Spielberg about three week's worth of work, which is previs at its best.

However, the highlight for me was moderating a panel about higher frame rates with the pioneering Doug Trumbull, technology expert Ray Feeney and Arri engineer Johannes Steurer. Trumbull is adamant about returning to directing with a daring new first-person, sci-fi project he's developing that's tailor-made for virtual production and 3-D at higher frame rates, which could be just the kind of game-changer that reinvigorates the theatrical experience a la "2001: A Space Odyssey." Yet Trumbull's experiment would be a low-budget indie made on his Berkshires farm.

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