Next week, The Penguins Of Madagascar will be opening on a wide release platform, allowing audiences around the country to see the cute and cuddly adventures of Skipper and his brothers in arms. For the most part, those screens will be equipped with digital projectors that display the film at the highest image quality possible by theatrical standards. While this seems like the right move forward in terms of progress, it nor represents an as of yet unreported drawback, in particular for films of the animated variety. While 4K projection has upped the game for live action films, it's going to prove to be hell for CGI animated films.
The BBC reported today that the 4K revolution is proving to be a stumbling block for the animated market, as it not only puts a strain on the limitations of the machines that are currently used in the production, but they also could cause the production teams to run into delays with the time it takes to actually make the movie. To be more specific, animated films are currently running at 2k resolution and 24 frames per second, and the higher end that filmmakers like Peter Jackson are pushing for run at 4K resolution, and at least 48 frames per second.
According to Bruno Mahe, the technical head at one of Illumination Entertainment's studios, the resolution of current animation projects would have to be bumped up by at least 2.5 times. Increased resolution means increased memory needs, which means that the render farms of 20,000 computers that Illumination uses currently (amounting to a memory allocation of 680 terabytes on last year's Despicable Me 2) need to grow accordingly.
Judging by the 2.5 figure Mahe provided the BBC, as well as the current figures Illumination Entertainment has provided for their production purposes, a film like next year's Minions would require 50,000 computers in the render farm, with a memory allocation of 1.7 petabytes to be shown in 4K/48fps. If the budget increases at the same rate, $190 million would represent the new budgetary figure for a "state of the art" 4K animated film. Though if Minions performs as well as Despicable Me 2 did last summer, it would make those production costs back in no time, as a $190 million budget would only require a $285 million return to be considered 1.5 times profitable. (Despicable Me 2 made $970.8 million internationally.)
However, the economics "just do not support it," according to Bruno Mahe. While $190 million might not sound like that big of an investment, there's probably a lot more moving budgetary parts that need to be accounted for with such an expansion. Factors such as all of the software upgrades, and all of the additional animators that need to be added onto the payroll could account for those missing factors we don't have the cost data to crunch.
The future of cinematic experiences is already a fluctuating prospect, with the digital vs. film war pretty much a one sided fight at this point. Throwing animated films into the mix makes the marketplace even more unstable, especially considering how many 4K projectors are in operation at this current moment, with that number continuing to grow as time goes on. Here's hoping that the cost to upgrade animated films into a more high resolution friendly environment doesn't put companies like Dreamworks Animation into hotter water they they already are against studios like Walt Disney Animation Studios that'll be more than able to foot the cost of the future.
For now, you can enjoy The Penguins Of Madagascar in theaters (4K or not) next Friday.