“At 120 frames per second your eyes get greedy,” says Hollywood film director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi) at the EMEA first-showing of his latest film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, at a landmark 120fps, 4K 3D and with an astonishing 28 foot-lamberts per eye brightness as part of this year’s IBC Big Screen Experience.
It was one of many notable quotes at the IBC conference where Lee was a keynote speaker.
Long-standing show director Julian Pinn opened the session promising, “I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this is cinema history in the making.” Further underlining what the audience was shortly to experience, Pinn added the clips would be shown on, “…the Christie Mirage, the only projector capable of showing 120fps, 3D, 4K at 28 foot-lamberts.”
Clips from Ang Lee’s soon-to-be-released film from Sony TriStar Pictures, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) - the story of a soldier who fought in the Iraq war - were then shown.
Pinn had spent some 18 months working to bring the experience to IBC and the keynote session was not only memorable for the audience’s reaction to seeing the movie clips but for the insights that emerged from the on-stage discussion between the movie’s team-- director Ang Lee, technical supervisor, Ben Gervais; the film’s editor Tim Squyres; and Scot Barbour, Head of Production Technology, Sony Pictures Entertainment.
For the 9-minute clip, the two Christie Mirage 4KLHs, the laser-light powered version of the original Xenon-lamp based Mirage, were installed in the auditorium, and a team of Christie engineers supported the screenings. The Christie Mirage Series is widely used in demanding applications such as 3D visualization, visitor attractions or theme park rides, since it is able to achieve said high frame rate and resolution, stemming from Christie’s investment in its TruLife™ electronics platform with a video-processing pipeline of up to 1.2 Gigapixels per second.
Ang Lee is known for both his dramatic storytelling and his embracing of new technologies, such as his 3D Life of Pi. Lee said the production team had decided to make the film in 120fps because HFR removes many of the limitations associated with 24fps 3D. However Ben Gervais revealed, “We never necessarily intended to see this film that way because none of us had ever seen (120fps, 4K) and finally one week before shooting we managed to get a set of (Mirage) projectors from Christie and all of us were awestruck. We hadn’t seen anything like it before.”
They started shooting and Tim Squyres, the movie’s editor said, “I had to cut at the highest resolution I could which was 60fps. We were on the edge of what the system could do. Then Christie came in with the Mirages; they brought the Christie projectors into our editing room. We had the best screening room on the planet. Ideally we wanted to see it as near as possible to how it was shot.”
Being able to see what they were shooting daily in 120fps 4K had immediate impact during the shoot as Ang Lee explained, referencing scenes set in Iraq, “We could see everything in that burning sunlight. We saw we couldn’t use make-up.” Commenting on the clarity and realism, he expanded with great honesty adding, “That’s the scary part, you see the acting!” However, he also relished the artistic advantages. “Most preciously to me were the faces. The film language has to change. I didn’t have much choice (filming) but to stick close to Billy Lynn. You feel how they feel, see the thoughts in their eyes.”
The discussion touched on what Pinn had described as, “how the interplay of art and science come together.”
Lee’s view of this was, “It’s humbling. Artists respond to what technology is giving us. I would go so far as to say this is a moment in cinematic history. I pick it up and take a leap of faith. I want to stress that the picture is captured so every format (from 24fps to 120 fps) is improved in my opinion.”
An interesting observation from Lee and his team was that the chemistry between art and technology differs at each level of frame rate and resolution. “But every level has its own merit,” Lee observed. “The compensation is the art. I think story telling brings wisdom to life. We are always telling stories. It’s how you tell a story that makes the difference.”
And the arch story-teller is taking current projection technology to explore this art further. “I think the artist and the industry has a lot of catching up. I’ll leave cameramen to figure out how. Now we are just beginning.”
The Christie Mirage 4KLH projector head – the laser version used at the IBC screening – combines Mirage’s unmatched video processing bandwidth with the world’s brightest laser system, Christie Freedom laser illumination system.
The projector has a potential of up to 60,000 lumens per head, potentially up to 120,000 lumens when used in a dual 6P configuration (six primary colour system).
In the RAI Auditorium at IBC, the configuration was a dual stacked Mirage 4KLH configuration; the 28 foot-lambert spec on the 17.00m wide x 6.69m high Harkness Matt Plus screen required 72, 000 lumen and the laser modules were supplied accordingly. One advantage of the Christie Freedom laser illumination system is that the laser banks are separate from the projector, stackable and scalable.