Saturday, April 16, 2016

Reactions and details on 'Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk' at the NAB Show - 16 April 2016

Photo Source: NABShow
Photo Source: NABShow
THR The Oscar-winning director who is pushing the envelope by using an unprecedent 4k, 3D, 120 fps format unveiled 11 minutes of footage from his new film, "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," to an enthusiastic audience.

An overflow crowd of filmmakers and tech execs at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas enthusiastically applauded an 11-minute clip from director Ang Lee's upcoming Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk when it screened today for the first time in public in 4K resolution, 3D and a whopping 120 frames-per-second, per eye — an unprecedented production format for a Hollywood feature-length film.

Although a few viewers complained that the results looked too much like video — the same complaint that greeted Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies when Jackson went beyond the Hollywood standard of 24 frames-per-second to present those movies at 48 fps — most of the reactions to Lee's footage were overwhelmingly positive, with viewers tossing out words like "awesome" and "unbelievable."

Lee, the Oscar-winning director of Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi, is offering multiple screenings of the clip today at NAB, where he is delivering the afternoon's keynote as part of the Future of Cinema conference. In introducing the demonstration clip, he said that the footage was unfinished and and included some temporary visual effects.

Sony's TriStar and Britain's Film4 are partnering with Jeff Robinov's Studio 8 on Billy Lynn, an adaptation of Ben Fountain's novel about a 19-year-old Army private (newcomer Joe Alwyn) who survives a battle in Iraq. He and his company of soldiers return to the States for a promotional tour culminating with a halftime-show appearance at a Thanksgiving football game.

The clip cut back and forth between the war scenes — which used the high frame rates for a realistic, some would say hyper real, way to convey the intense experience of a battle, showing the horror of war in the close-ups of the soldiers. Scenes from the halftime show had a different look, with all the lights and the star-like flashes in the stadium  Lee is said to be varying the frame rates throughout the film for creative purposes. In the film, Destiny's Child performs during the halftime show, though in the clip, only the backs of the performers' heads were shown from a difference.

Those attending the first screening of the footage included Avatar producer Jon Landau, visual effects master Douglas Trumbull, technology execs from the Hollywood studios, and representatives from many digital cinema technology companies.

"I'm shaking," said Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers standards director Howard Lukk immediately following the screening. "That content combined with the technology — it was the most compelling 3D I have ever seen."

Trumbull — the director and VFX pioneer who created effects for such classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner and who is a proponent of high frame rates, having developed his own system — said "Awesome. And this as the worst possible scenario [for a screening setup]. It was like being there, which I anticipated. It looks like he will be delivering a stunning movie experience. I'm trembling."

Since there is currently no single digital cinema projector capable of playing back 4K, 3D at 120fps, per eye, a projector configuration that used two 4K "Mirage" laser projectors from manufacturer Christie, Dolby 3D glasses and 7th Sense's Delta Infinity III servers for playback was installed at the Las Vegas Convention Center for the screening. There was a long line that snaked around the hall as delegates eagerly attempted to get into the screenings.

Billy Lynn, which given Lee's track record is considered a potential Oscar contender, is currently in postproduction and scheduled for a Nov. 11 release. It will be the first studio feature in the experimental, cutting-edge format, and Hollywood's entertainment technology community has been abuzz with anticipation about this demonstration for weeks. Some even stayed in Las Vegas after CinemaCon ended on Thursday, just to catch a glimpse of the presentation.

Sony hasn't announced how and in what format it plans to release the film release, but insiders say the intent is to project it in various formats, extracted from the master format.

Variety Advanced format leaves attendees praising both tech and the film itself.

Any worries Ang Lee had about how the technologists at the Future of Cinema Conference would receive his presentation of footage from “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” were laid to rest on Saturday.

The presentation of an 11-minute sequence from the film in its native format (3D, at 4K resolution and 120 frames per second for each eye) electrified the conference in Las Vegas, leaving even experienced pros grasping for superlatives to convey what they had seen. Their praise wasn’t reserved for the technology, but for the film itself as well.

Former Disney exec, now Society of Motion Picture Engineers (SMPTE) executive Howard Lukk told Variety moments after emerging from a showing “I’m stunned. It’s a really powerful film, and a really clear presentation. It’s the best 3D I’ve ever seen in my life. The 3D is really, really good on this thing. Absolutely amazing.”

Visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren was in the very first screening, along with “Avatar” producer Jon Landau, high-frame-rate pioneer Douglas Trumbull and numerous other VIPs. Muren, a friend of Lee’s since they worked together on “Hulk,” told Variety, “I thought it was amazing and incredibly emotional. I started to talk to Ang about the technology stuff and said ‘What the heck am I talking about? It’s an emotional film. I’m totally with this guy and the experience he’s going through, as though I was there, at the moment, looking at it.’ Muren, a fan of high frame rate cinema, said of the 120fps format, “You can see the difference. And feel the difference. It’s really about feeling.”

The big question many had coming in was: Will it look like television. The answer to that was “yes and no.” Several people felt that for the first few seconds, they thought it looked like a TV soap, but it quickly began to feel like nothing they’d seen before.

The sequence chosen for viewing is 11 minutes intercutting an Iraq War battle with a celebration of the soldiers at an NFL game in Dallas. The experience of the soldiers at home, as performers (almost props) in a celebration in a darkened stadium, contrasts with their firefight and hand-to-hand combat of the Iraq scenes.

The clarity and the almost VR-like sense of presence it creates gives the battle sequences a profound impact. One viewer said after emerging, “Every American ought to see this, this way; then we wouldn’t have any wars for a while.”

Dolby VP of technology Pat Griffiss, who was in the first screening, called the footage “Absolutely spectacular.”

“When it first started up … I thought ‘Oh, this is going to look like a video newsreel.’ But it was in 3D, the realism and the brightness and the frame rate, it was literally as if you were there.” Griffiss added, “This is undoubtedly the best 3D I’ve ever seen.”

Former Sony tech executive George Joblove, now an independent consultant, agreed about the you-are-there feeling of the video, but wasn’t entirely sure that would be a plus. “I’m trying to decide whether it’s my bias, as someone having grew up in the 20th century, and being used to the idea that narrative filmmaking should be at 24 frames per second to let you know you’re watching a story. I wonder whether people younger than I am will have that bias. I will be curious to see what the public reaction to this will be, because it definitely makes you feel like you’re there.”

Andrew Stucker, also a former Sony exec turned consultant, said “I was extraordinarily impressed. I didn’t see a movie-like image, but I saw something entirely different. It was as immersive and involving an image play as I’ve ever seen.” Asked if it looked like video, he said “Not really. When you first look at it, you think, ‘Oh, that’s video.’ But it’s an extension beyond video. Whatever that is, I’m not entirely sure, but it’s more than video.”

By the time Lee took the panel to discuss the making of the film, there was a palpable sense of history being made. However that excitement was tempered by the knowledge that most of the public is unlikely to be able to see the film in this form. It was a shown on dual-projector setup specially assembled for the show, using high-end Christie projectors and Dolby 3D. Without dual projectors, no commercial movie theaters will be able to show 3D/4K/120. Even with dual projectors, the best format likely to be available is 3D/4K/60.

But still, at a Future of Cinema Conference, a glimpse of the future is what the attendees wanted; Sony and Lee gave it to them, and then some. Chief technology officer Jim Whittlesey of London-based Eikon Group, agreed that the footage felt like video at first bent beyond a video look. “I thought the images were absolutely stunning, some of the most beautiful images you’ll ever see,” he said. “This is what cinema should be.

Tweets below via @Variety_DSCohen
  • BTW, the actual movie, separate from the images? Very powerful. Best Picture buzz is appropriate. 
  • Yeah, it needs be widely seen. It's a little disorienting at first, but then incredibly immersive. (more) 
  • This really does feel like being present for history being made, like people will be bragging about having been here. 
  • As impressive as the "Billy Lynn" footage was, we saw temp color, temp sound (w/ improvised sound system), unfinished vfx. 
  • Clarification on what we saw: They showed us an 11-minute sequence lifted  from the film, not separate clips. Very powerful. 
  • Also told "Billy Lynn" was captured with high dynamic range data, will be graded for HDR. Release in HDR? Uncertain. 
  • General consensus on 3D/4K/120 is: feels like video for the first few seconds, but then it goes way beyond. #3D feels flawless. 
  • .@HowardLukk after seeing the "Billy Lynn" footage: "Stunned... the best #3D I've ever seen... absolutely amazing. 
  • And yes, by the way, what we saw suggests this movie will be very much in conversation for major awards. @kristapley 
  • I don't know the future, but this seems to me like it really is something to bring people back to theaters. 
  • There's a close-up on a hand-to-hand fight; as close as I ever hope to be to a fight to the death. Indelible. 
  • Explosions got audible reaction from audience. Close ups are incredibly intimate. 
  • We saw a battle sequence intercut with the Dallas halftime show. Both gain power from the clarity. 
  • Second: This isn't just a novelty, or tech for tech's sake. Perfect match of material with format. This clarity = storytelling. 
  • My reax: First, it doesn't look like video, but it doesn't look like 24-frame film, either. It's something new. (more) 
  • Dennis Muren was grinning ear to ear when he congratulated Ang Lee afterward. 
  • Doug Trumbull had a big group in the VIP section for the first showing. His reax: It's going to change the industry. 
  • It was a helluva power room watching that first showing: "Avatar" producer Jon Landau, @ILMVFX legend Dennis Muren, and many more. 
  • First, let's say up front, it's causing a sensation here at the Future of Cinema Conference
  • People are super-excited.
Tweets via @NABShow
  • Ang Lee: “Filmmaking is from the beginning to end. It’s more organic and inspiring [than just shooting]” 
  • Tim Squyres: “With this format, you can have fast movement and still get a feel for [the actor’s] performance.” 
  • Ang Lee: “This work is my dream. These types of dreams require a lot of collaborations. It needs an ecosystem.” 
  • Ang Lee highlighting the difficulties and inspirations related to exploring new media technology in film 
  • Ang Lee: on this new form of media “’s a great way to examine society and humanity.” 
  • Ang Lee: “I grew up wanting to be a filmmaker - trusting movies more than life itself.” 
Tweets via @nabpilot
  • Ang Lee "When you shoot, you're just doing grocery shopping. It's in the editing room you do the real cooking."
  • "Part of the motivation for going hi frame rate was...[to effectively] capture the actors performance and the action" editor Tim Squyres
  • Ang Lee "let's do it together" 
  • Ang Lee "Movies can be entertaining they can be spiritual. We share them in a dark room. That would be my dream" #nabshow #nabpilot
  • Ang Lee "This is really a new beginning of a quest in cinema" #nabshow #nabpilot
  • Ang Lee: on this new form of media “’s a great way to examine society and humanity.” 
  • Ang Lee on "reality" at a high frame rate "If you try to act it looks like your trying to act."
  • Ang Lee: "(Billy Lynn)...a perfect test for new media.'
  • Ang Lee: "I trust movies more than life itself, I have an existential problem actually..."

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