Blockbuster Tech: Powering Innovation on the Big Screen


Blockbuster Tech: Powering Innovation on the Big Screen

While groundbreaking in the 19th century, the first motion pictures were grainy, black-and-white soundless scenes. The oldest known surviving film, Roundhay Garden Scene, was shot in 1888  and lasted just 2.1 seconds at 12 frames per second. Watch it below:

Fast-forward to today’s high-tech movies that are recorded in at least 24 frames per second (and even 48 fps!) and digitally projected onto displays with surround sound to mirror reality, or at least the reality the director envisions. As we approach the Oscars, here’s a look at some nominated films that showcase how rapid advances in technology have pushed the boundaries of film and changed the movie going experience.

The Hobbit, Peter Jackson’s latest take on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, may have looked different from other movies you’ve seen- Jackson filmed the movie at 48 fps (frames per second) to create clear, clean shots that would normally blur during fast on-screen movements. 48 fps is double the industry standard that has been used for the past 80 years, and while this makes for smooth action scenes and better 3D viewing, some people thought it made the movie ‘too real,’ and “much more like visiting the set…than seeing the textured cinematography of a finished movie,” as one blogger commented. Given the film’s mixed in-theater reviews, it remains to be seen whether 48 fps will gain traction with filmmakers and be adopted on a greater scale. However, the new speed does challenge set designers, makeup artists, and directors to strengthen their craft to create an Oscar-worthy production.

Another advanced technology making movies more realistic is the use of Computer Generated Imagery, or CGI. Although CGI has been used for years in film, the effects have often resulted in unintentionally hilarious, unrealistic shots. 2009’s Avatar paved the way for a more sophisticated use of CGI, and this year’s The Life of Pi is another great example of the varied potential of the technology.

Pictured above, the two main characters of the movie share a small boat. Of course, actor Suraj Sharma couldn’t actually share a tiny boat with his co-star, a Bengal tiger. Resorting to high-quality computer graphics for the majority of the movie allowed the filmmakers much more creative freedom, but the bar was set high to create a realistic CGI tiger. To make this fantastic situation a reality, the animators studied the movements and behavior of 4 live tigers around a mockup of Pi’s boat in an enclosure. They then digitally built up the bones, muscles and fur of their own tiger over the course of a year to make the movie’s unlikely scenario possible. As CGI becomes more advanced, we can expect even more fantastic scenes and scenarios– like the Tiger, could CGI become so sophisticated one day that we won’t be able to tell the difference between an actor and a digital animation?

Nominated in the animation category, ParaNorman’s innovative 3D stop-motion technology earned praise from creators around the world, and is particularly unique as it is the first stop-motion film to use 3D printers to make the characters’ faces. It’s a fantastic blend of old techniques and new 3D animation technology, that has been pioneered by Dreamworks.

In 2002, Dreamworks’ Shrek won the first ever Academy Award For Best Animated Feature, which was pivotal in opening up the market for high-value animated productions. It takes years and millions of computer rendering hours to make modern animated films, so with the goal of both retaining their talent and upping their output, Dreamworks began to parallelize their software to take full advantage of Intel’s server farms and get faster feedback on work. This way, project managers could have animators and artists work on several different parts of a film at once, greatly reducing production times. And by using InTru3D, a technology that was jointly developed by Intel and Dreamworks 2008, filmmakers can create directly in 3D rather than dealing with a 2D and 3D version of a project.  

At the pace filmmaking technology advances, part of the moviegoing experience has become an expectation of a new level of graphics and hyperreality with each release. While older audiences may yearn for the soft blur of analogue film (and there is certainly room for that aesthetic), younger consumers who use HD TVs and tablets to consume media tend to look for the slickest, most vivid flick out there; so studios like Dreamworks, with their massive investment in the best tech available, will be right in front to give ‘em what they want.