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Saturday December 17, 2011 9:51 am

Fox offers Avatar extras for free to spur digital sales

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: HDTV, Home Entertainment, Movies

The studio behind the blockbuster Avatar is offering an unprecedented look into digital filmmaking, with downloadable extras that will allow a viewer to watch the motion capture actors or CGI in real time.

Beginning on Dec. 20, customers can now download a total of six hours of extras via Apple's iTunes from Twentieth Century Fox, which include the three different views of the movie, plus a number of other extras that offer a real-time look into how the movie was made.

The Avatar iTunes Extras Special Edition will cost $19.99 for a high-definition version, and $14.99 for the standard version; both include the movie as well as the extras. Apple will begin accepting preorders at 11 AM PT, a Fox spokeswoman said.

Fox's motivation is to encourage consumers to get into "digital collecting" of digital movies, explained Aubrey Freeborn, senior vice president of marketing and product management for PPV, VOD and EST for Twentieth-Century Fox. The extras will be released to the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia on Dec. 20. Avatar is the top-selling Blu-ray disc of all time.

"We strive to develop compelling experiences for every screen whether it's on Blu-ray, VOD or digital download," Freeborn said. "As consumers' entertainment choices expand, it is critical that we deliver the right value proposition to enhance digital ownership and drive increased adoption."

Avatar's Blu-ray disc allows users to watch either one of three versions: the theatrical version of the film, a version that tracks the motion capture actors, and the "template," or early CGI rendering. Lightstorm Entertainment, the company founded by Avatar director James Cameron, filmed the extra scenes and supplied them to Fox.

Avatar Extras Views

What the new extras add is the ability to either watch one view or all three views simultaneously, covering 120 minutes each. Users can also divide the film into multiple regions, so that the he or she can see the head and shoulders of the CGI Na'vi in the film, and the legs and torso of the actual motion-capped actor who created the scene below.

"This really allows viewers to engage with the film in a whole new way," Freeborn said.

In addition, Fox has added a "green screen X-ray" with never-seen-before footage. A viewer can mouse over a scene as it plays, and the "radar" will "expose" the part of the scene that used green-screen footage. In one scene, for example, mousing over an actor who moved "weightlessly" in space exposed the hoop harness he used.

Fox isn't charging extra for the extras, although the download times and capacity may be daunting: 7 gigabytes for the SD version (4.6 Gbytes for the extras) and 12 gigabytes for the high-def version (with 7 Gbytes for the new extra material). The content includes the 2D version of the film.

"Cloud storage over time will make a lot of sense for this, over time," Freeborn said.

Customers who bought the three-disc Avatar collector's edition version of the film were able to view the theatrical, template, or mo-cap versions of the film, Freeborn explained. But the ability to blend and combine the various versions digitally is new, as is the fact that the entire film is now covered.

While the movie itself was considered a landmark for filmmaking (especially for modern 3D technology, which it helped pioneer, plus CGI) the new extras allow the users to gain an unprecedented look behind the scenes, Freeborn said.

Without the enhancements of the CGI, the sets themselves are sparse, with brooms and other props used as guides for the actors. "It gives you a fuller appreciation for what these actors go through," Freeborn said.

Avatar Extras

Freeborn said that Fox is taking the same approach to extras to other new releases, including dramas and comedies, but acknowledged that the rich diversity of content (a Na'vi-to-English dictionary is included, for instance) lends itself to rich worlds such as the one created by Avatar.

Apple's iTunes is the leader in the digital space, and the "elegant delivery of extras," Freeborn said. "But we're also strongly encouraging other retailers and platforms to enable this type of interface, because that will expand digital overall."

This article, written by Mark Hachman, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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