The Aesthetics of High Frame Rate Cinema
COW Library : Cinematography : Debra Kaufman : The Aesthetics of High Frame Rate Cinema
The Hobbit 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.
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."
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."
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.
"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.
"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."
"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