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Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Short Discussion on The Hobbit Movie's Frame Rates

As the vast majority of world geeks already know, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first film (is that term really relevant anymore?) to be shot in 48fps, the so-called high-frame rate (HFR), in contrast with the century-old standard of 24fps. Peter Jackson (with some backing from James Cameron) is labeling the new frame rate as a revolution in cinema, stating that the increased rate will offer more clarity in 3D projections and will eliminate the -existing- strobing effect found in 24fps projections, especially when panning shots are used.  Initial feedback on short segments of HFR footage was negative, while there were some reports on the movie's premiere that it caused nausea to some audience members.

I was able to watch the movie in arguably the best formats possible: IMAX 3D (24fps) and HFR 3D; and the end result really does make a difference. The IMAX 3D presentation was a standard digital blow-up, with excellent use of 3D, really good colors and brightness levels, with the only nitpicks being a relative lack of detail compared to traditional IMAX cameras due to the use of 4K digital cameras, and a strobing effect in the numerous panning shots that Jackson obviously used in order to demonstrate the superiority of the HFR format.

The HFR format however was an entirely different business. In the first shot I was really terrified from what I saw, with indoor shots seemingly being projected in super-speed motion, and the movie having a look resembling an awesomely HD version of Fawlty Towers! Thankfully after 5 minutes or so I started getting used to that look, although I was still having motion perception problems due to the fact that I was not used to that much information projected into my eyes. The argument for 48fps is that it looks like 'real life', although I guess in real life one does not cut every 2 seconds and our eyes do not constantly zoom in and out, pan and tilt, and generally do all the crazy things that Peter Jackson's cameras typically do.

A very good point for 48fps was however the fact that all strobing artifacts were eliminated; no longer did I see split frames when the camera moved all over Bilbo's map or when the bird's eye view panned over the city of Dale in the opening prologue. And yes, the added motion did somewhat improve the 3D experience. A major downside were the washed-out colors and the dim brightness typically offered by standard-grade 3D projectors - I guess sometime in the future IMAX projectors will be able to work in 48fps as well, but from what I understand all so-called 'IMAX 48fps' adverts were in fact pseudo-IMAX in 2K, which should be avoided, unless one wants to count digital artifacts on the screen.

And finally, after about one hour of viewing, I was able to adapt to the new motion offered by HFR and forgot about these nitpicks. One very valid question posed by Devin Faraci was that the new format, if adopted, might make 24fps viewing unbearable. I do not necessarily agree with that; as with e.g. black and white film, the human mind is complex enough to be able to train itself and adapt to different conditions. But the fact remains that this format does narrow the barrier between what is real and what is not, which is an aesthetic choice that some filmakers might (and should!) opt out from.


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