gave us a chance to see a movie projected at 48 fps, and, unless he changes his mind, James Cameron plans to show us Avatar 2
at 60 fps. Others, including Douglas Trumbull, are talking -- and working in -- 120 fps.
Rob Legato, ASC on the set of Hugo
It's to be expected that many people who've spent a lifetime watching and making 24 fps movies object to the look, many calling it similar to TV or video. HFR Cinema simply goes against the grain. "I prefer the romanticized version of 24 fps for films," says Rob Legato, ASC. "I come from a generation that saw the difference between film and video because of frame rate. Anything that was 30 fps looked like a PBS documentary and anything in 24 fps looked like a film, which was what I was interested in."
Legato notes that "there is no evidence at the moment that everyone is clamoring to see 48 fps," and opines that 48 fps would be ideal to use for "reality show" sequences in features. "I think there's a place for it," he says. And he also realizes that not everyone has his bias for the look of 24 fps movies.
"Another generation that didn't grow up with that and that sees video games at a high frame rate may become more used to it than I did or not have that negative connotation," he says. "So I don't rule it out. I'll reserve judgment but I'm not a fan of 48 fps for a narrative format."
Plenty of film/TV professionals agree with Legato's assessment. But it's also a good idea to hear from people who believe that HFR adds something to the cinema experience. Take Douglas Trumbull
, someone who knows a thing or two about High Frame Rate Cinema. When he developed the Showscan Film process in the late 1970s, he added a twist to the 70mm wide screen presentation format: 60 fps. In fact, Trumbull was an advocate of HFR 3D before there was a name for it.
Now, with the debut of The Hobbit
from director Peter Jackson, Trumbull -- who is now working on Showscan Digital at 120 fps -- believes he sees the beginning of an exciting new era in filmmaking. "In broad strokes, my guess is that The Hobbit
will be received very enthusiastically," he says. "I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that improving frame rate improves all the bad aspects of 3D."
People who have been involved with the technical development of HFR Cinema are more circumspect. "In terms of storytelling, I find it hard to predict how I will react to the HFR and non-HFR versions of The Hobbit
," says Michael Karagosian, co-chair of SMPTE
's HFR Study Group. [Read more, as Michael Karagosian focuses on 3D, Digital Cinema & HFR
] "The visual appearance of HFR should be well known: motion will be observed with an appearance closer to normal eyesight, as opposed to the blur introduced by 24 fps. But that doesn't necessarily equate to a better experience."
Rob Engle, Sony Imageworks
Rob Engle, a 3D supervisor at Sony Imageworks
, notes the advantage of 3D HFR. "Things feel smoother," he says. "There's more of a sense that you're there." At the same time, he notes, every new advance in cinematic technology has trade-offs. "Projectors are limited in terms of the total speed at which they can change the image. When you make the transition from triple to double flash, you increase the appearance of 3D temporal artifacts. A pan doesn't have a problem but if someone runs left to right, they lift off the surface or run into the ground depending on how they're running."
His point -- well taken -- is that the introduction of HFR Cinema may mean that we have yet to discover some of the pitfalls that the new technology creates.
John Galt, Panavision
Somebody who lived that experience with the long introduction of High Definition is John Galt, now Senior Vice President of Digital Imaging at Panavision
. [Read John Galt's look at 2K, 4K and the future of pixels
] He's enthused about Trumbull's work on 120 fps. "He sees 60 fps as the low end of the HFR," says Galt. "He's with NHK
and the Ultra HD folks, saying that 120 fps is the frame rate. What he's proposing is an extension of what he did 25 years ago with Showscan, except now it's technically possible to do. I always felt Showscan was the most 3D-like images I ever saw. It was like looking through a window into a scene behind the screen."
Siegried Foessel, Fraunhofer
The push to 120 fps is also echoed in the research being done at Fraunhofer
's Department of Moving Picture Technologies. According to Department head Siegried Foessel, his group has conducted tests with the ARRI
Alexa, shooting at 120 fps per eye. The goal was to test ways to down-convert HFR Cinema to lower frame rates -- an issue that filmmakers will face for years to come.
"What we discovered is that if you shoot with 120 fps, it's quite easy to create in parallel 24 and 60 out of the same material," says Foessel. "We also saw that with the higher frame rate you can get more immersive or realistic look."
"You have to differentiate between production and projection frame rate," adds Foessel. "For production, it's good to have 120 fps and then you can derive all the different distribution formats out of this. For projection frame rate, 60 fps is enough. In principal, there isn't a big difference between 60 and 120 fps because the motion blur is so small the human eye cannot really differentiate this high frame rate. It will be different if you have a 4K or 8K screen where you look at a wide angle, then this will be different. But in a regular theatre, 60 fps will be enough."
What everyone agrees on is that 48 fps is just not enough. "You see 2K and HFR every night when you watch TV," Galt says. "Depending on what you watch, it's 60 fields per second. I don't think that this is really going to come of age until you're doing at least 60 fps and you're doing true 4K acquisition and true 4K projection. Then you're going to see a significant difference."
Which brings us to the fact that, parallel to theatrical releases, special venue filmmaking embraces HFR to create immersive experiences. Telenova
is working on two 20-minute productions of phantasmagoric fables, for release in fulldome theaters at two locales in China: Mohe in Heilongjiang Province and Changbai in Jilin Province.
Mohe, Heilongjiang Fulldome cinema
...and the Fulldome experience.
Terry Tanner Clark
"We plan to merge 8K stereoscopic CGI with 4K 3D video to deliver 8K resolution at 60 fps," says director/producer Barry Clark, who works with writer Terry Tanner Clark. "The productions are designed for presentation in specialized fulldome theatres, equipped with 12 x 4K xenon-powered DLP projectors, to display 8K across half of the 360 degree circumference of the screens."
"We, like Mr. Jackson, will be shooting in deep focus, and we, like him, will welcome the surreal look that this produces," he continues. "We will also welcome the increment in perceived spatial resolution that the faster frame rate affords. By our calculations, the system we plan to deploy will produce an angular resolution of about 82 arcseconds per pixel, which compares favorably with the approximately 78 arcseconds per pixel of a 15/70 IMAX film." He further notes that the "limit of acuity of the average human eye is said to be about 30 arcseconds per pixel, although "there is wide disagreement on the exact figure, just as there is wide disagreement on the temporal resolution of the average human eye."
Barry Clark & 3D rig
Clark says the 12 x 4K DLPs should deliver a luminance to the eyes of the viewers (after accounting for losses in the passive 3D glasses) of about 2.4 ftL, which is less than half the luminance that is claimed for 3D 15/70 IMAX (5.5 ftL), but not much less than the approx. 3 ftL that 3D digital cinema systems seem to deliver to the eye. "Brightness is a critical factor in big screen 3D presentations, and because of this we are waiting eagerly for the commercial introduction of the laser-powered DLPs, which, in tests, have output up to 75K lumens, compared to the maximum of 35K lumens claimed for the xenon-arc DLPs," he says. "Barco and Christie both have prototype DLPs that employ TI's 4K chips, and Christie tells us that their prototype projector is operating at 60K lumens. They say that, unless the deployment is delayed by safety certifications, they will be able to begin delivering these projectors by mid-2015."
"I know what Peter Jackson means when he says he can achieve a storybook feel by shooting with deep focus at 48 fps," Clark adds. "Deep focus is a plus for 3D since it does not force the audience to attempt to resolve images on the screen that cannot be brought into focus; but our eyes do not see in deep focus. James Cameron, however, believes in using shallow and selective focus in 3D productions, arguing that the viewer's eyes can be directed to the subjects upon which the director wishes them to focus and, if they do that, they will not let their eyes roam around the screen and attempt to resolve elements that cannot be resolved."
Clark admits there will be resistance to changing the theater-going experience. "Steven Poster, ASC [president of the International Camera Guild
] said it many years ago, that we have come to enjoy the flickering images we see on a movie screen," he says. "The steady flicker, and the motion judder, somehow make us feel at ease, a feeling that we don't get, for example, when we go to the theatre and see live human beings performing on a stage. But I have no doubt that, with the benefit of accumulated experience, the majority of moviegoers will adjust to the new language of 60 fps, and higher, motion pictures, and will look back on the only 24 fps world in the way we look back on black & white movies at 18 fps: quaint artifacts of another world."
Not a quaint artifact from another world. Scene from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
I still love seeing old movies...black & white, silent. I don't want to see them all the time, but I'm glad they're there and still available to audiences. I'm not so sure that I see all movies moving to HFR, just as I don't think all movies need to be in stereoscopic 3D. To the argument that all movies should be in 3D because we see in 3D, my response is that stereoscopic 3D in the movie theater is merely an illusion, a simulacrum of human vision. What intrigues me about HFR are the still-unplumbed opportunities to create a variety of looks, or illusions if you prefer, that, to my eye at least, can be immersive and beautiful.
Movie-making trends will go where the money is, and early box office for The Hobbit
is record-breaking: $27.3 million in 42 overseas markets and $13 million in U.S./Canada opening night. Granted, that's not all on HFR 3D screens, but my guess is that when the bean-counters do the breakdown, HFR 3D will look even more promising -- especially for studios and exhibitors -- for the future of movie exhibition.
(L-r) IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf and HUGO WEAVING as the Elf Lord Elrond in the fantasy adventure "THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY," a production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM), released by Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Title image treatment: (L-r) CATE BLANCHETT as Galadriel and IAN McKELLEN as Gandalf in the fantasy adventure "THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY," a production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM), released by Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures