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Avatar: The Way Of Water Is The First Film To Use Motion Grading, But What Is It?

Whenever James Cameron gets ahold of a camera, he doesn't just aim to make another movie but to reinvent the wheel as he does so. Throughout his vast and fruitful filmmaking career, James Cameron has continuously pushed his technical and artistic craft to not only enhance his own filmography but to create a greater ripple effect throughout the film industry. From the phenomenal practical effects in "Aliens" (via Filmsite) to the groundbreaking use of computer-generated imagery in "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" (via Red Shark News) to the blending of digital and miniature elements to show the sinking of the titular vessel in "Titanic," Cameron's never-say-never outlook on what can be done with the cinematic art form knows no bounds. 

But "innovator" truly became James Cameron's middle name when he dived into his greatest filmmaking venture yet with the "Avatar" franchise. "Avatar" blew audiences' minds when the film was released in late 2009 thanks in large part to its jaw-dropping use of motion capture performance and stunningly realistic digitally-created environments. So when it came time to helm the film's sequel, "Avatar: The Way of Water," Cameron saw another opportunity to innovate on behalf of the entire film industry.

Motion grading makes 48 frames-per-second easier on the eyes

Most movies play out at the traditional 24 frames per second, including the first "Avatar." But going into the sequel, James Cameron and his team chose to modify the look using the Pixelworks' TrueCut Motion platform which, as explained by Pixelworks' Richard Miller on CNBC, allowed "The Way of Water" to double its speed to 48 frames per second. The same technique was also utilized for the 2022 re-release of the original "Avatar" as well. Using a higher frame rate is nothing new, as other notable blockbusters such as the "Hobbit" trilogy and "Gemini Man" have used similar techniques to varying results, but the team behind "Way of Water" had different intentions with the technology. 

In an interview with Y.M. Cinema Magazine, Cameron explained that the new technique of motion grading was used to combat the main gripe with high frame rate films, as well as improve the look of the 3D version. "We created new 48 frames-per-second inter-frames to smooth out some of the strobing and some of the rapid camera moves." In other words, the frame rate was adjusted scene by scene, depending on what the moment called for. Action and underwater sequences were given the crisp 48-frames-per-second treatment, while regular dramatic scenes were adjusted to appear like the normal, 24-frames-per-second cinematic look. This avoided the so-called "soap opera" effect that plagued "The Hobbit." 

With "The Way of Water" being another box office juggernaut, it shouldn't take long before motion grading becomes a new industry-standard addition to the long list of Cameron's cinematic innovations. Pixelworks' Miller, for one, noted that he hopes this will soon become as commonplace as color grading.