NAB 2016: Ang Lee Sees Higher Frame Rates, 4K as Future of Cinema

Las Vegas — For the longest time, director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk) resisted making any of his films using digital. But to do most any of the things that Lee sees as the future of cinema, digital is a must.

“This is really the beginning of a … quest for new storytelling,” Lee said April 16, kicking off the annual NAB Show. “Now, I see something new [technologically], I want to get into it. The more I see, the more questions I have.”

Get into it he did, with his upcoming release Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk being the first-ever film shot at in 4K at a whopping 120 frames per second, with 3D thrown in for good measure. NAB Show attendees could be overheard praising a demo of the film, with people lining up for hours to get a peek.

But that doesn’t mean adding all these digital elements was easy for Lee and his team, or that they’ll translate into a better theatrical experience. Lee said many theaters aren’t equipped to show the film in the way he intended, and the production team had to rethink from the start how they were going to produce the project.

“We really knew we had no idea what we were doing,” said Tim Squyres, editor of the film. “We had to figure it out as we went.” Because of the higher definition picture and sheer number of frames, everyone from the make-up department to the post-production workflow people had to rethink how they approached their work, according to production systems supervisor Ben Gervais.

Lee decided to experiment with the 120 frames per second after first seeing Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which was shot in 48 frames per second, and caused an uproar among both critics and fans alike, who found the added frames distracting. Lee said he’s still positive higher frame rates can offer a clearer picture, and offer up new possibilities in the editing room. And it’s OK to experiment, he said.

“It will be a long, difficult, bumpier road,” he said. “This will be a long journey, and we’re at the beginning of finding out what digital cinema [can do].”