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Peter Jackson Starts Shooting 'The Hobbit' at 48 FPS: Why 24P May Be on the Way Out

04.16.11 @ 12:27PM Tags : , , , ,

Cinematographer/director/effects guru Douglas Trumball made an eye-opening presentation at NAB as part of the Digital Cinema Society conference this past week. Trumball, who was instrumental in the effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner, tried to get a 60 frames-per-second format known as Showscan off the ground in the late 70s (it never took). Was Trumball just ahead of his time? At the same time Trumball was presenting, Peter Jackson had begun shooting The Hobbit at 48 frames per second. Jackson expects there to be 10,000 theaters ready to exhibit the film at 48 FPS by the time of its release. He’s not the only one clamoring for a new cinema standard, however:

James Cameron is gung-ho about higher frame rates, saying he’s “agnostic” about whether the future is 48 or 60 FPS. George Lucas is also on board. Why the need for higher frame rates, especially when many of us have spent the better part of a decade trying to get 24 fps out of our video cameras? In his keynote, Trumball noted:

Douglas Trumball on a scientific experiment on human brain: bell curve shows people are most excited by moving images at 66 FPS. #nabshow

Not only that, but Trumball also said that shooting at an even higher frame rate of 120 FPS would allow for proper extraction of backwards-compatible frame rates:

Doug Trumball: Shooting at 120 FPS with a 360-degree shutter allows for 24 and 60 fps extractions WITH CORRECT (180) MOTION BLUR. #NABshow

I should note he also mentioned 48 FPS along with 24 and 60, but my tweet ran out of room. To demonstrate this correct motion blur, Trumball showed us this presentation:

Many of us think that there’s something magical about 24 FPS, because watching anything shot at 60i looks terribly “videoy” to us. It doesn’t seem appropriate for dramatic material. But in an entry on his Facebook Page, Jackson says the purists who’ve seen it in action on The Hobbit are on board:

Film purists will criticize the lack of blur and strobing artifacts, but all of our crew–many of whom are film purists–are now converts. You get used to this new look very quickly and it becomes a much more lifelike and comfortable viewing experience. It’s similar to the moment when vinyl records were supplanted by digital CDs. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’re heading towards movies being shot and projected at higher frame rates.

60i, it’s important to note, has the motion characteristics of 120 FPS 60P, since half of each frame is alternately refreshing at 60 times a second.1 If 48p maintains the same “magical” qualities we associate with 24p, perhaps the cinema standard of 24 FPS is on the way out. If it is, the main reason why I think higher frame rates will become widespread now, as opposed to the failed efforts of the past, is 3D. Eyestrain and headaches are apparently reduced at 48 FPS. Here’s Jackson on the difference:

Shooting and projecting at 48 fps does a lot to get rid of these issues. It looks much more lifelike, and it is much easier to watch, especially in 3-D. We’ve been watching HOBBIT tests and dailies at 48 fps now for several months, and we often sit through two hours worth of footage without getting any eye strain from the 3-D. It looks great, and we’ve actually become used to it now, to the point that other film experiences look a little primitive. I saw a new movie in the cinema on Sunday and I kept getting distracted by the juddery panning and blurring. We’re getting spoilt!

The other reason 48 FPS could succeed where Showscan failed is the fact that existing digital projectors can easily project higher frame rate images (many of them go up to 120-144Hz). Most projectors in digital cinemas all over the world should be able to accomodate 48 or 60 FPS with a software upgrade. So while Showscan was incredibly expensive — it was a 65mm negative that required new projectors and must’ve gobbled up celluloid at an alarming rate — in a digital world with rapidly diminishing storage costs, the extra 1s and 0s cost next to nothing.

It gets a little more interesting when you think about what happens after theatrical distribution, however. Does Blu-ray have a 48fps spec or would the movie be wrapped in a 60p file? If you double the frame rate of streaming Netflix, will you run out of bandwidth? Will manufacturers take this as an opportunity to sell you a new TV? That last one we can count on, I suppose…

What do you think? Is 24 FPS another example of lock-in?

On a related note, here’s Peter Jackson’s first video blog from the set of The Hobbit:


Link: 48 Frames Per Second – Peter Jackson

  1. Right? []

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  • test, please erase

  • quote:
    Why 24P May Be on the Way Out….

    IS on the way out, IS! It is not a matter of if, but when. the 24 fps has held now for way too long. And as always, the non innovative people out there (the majority) are fighting new better things, because they don’t understand (that is why they don’t innovate) and hang on to things, for tradition’s sake. It made sense in 1950 when film material was very expensive. Nowadays, it is all data and data storage is cheap.
    Yes, I know that for many people it is a cozy warm feeling to wallow in the outdated standards. Bad and substandard quality or realism suddenly becomes artistic. When the horse and buggy got threatened by the car, many defended the horse as a “better and more human way” to travel. That driving a car had almost no drawbacks to that of using a horse became very apparent. 48 or 60 fps has absolutely no draw backs compared to 24fps. You can even simulate the jerky and eye insulting jitter and blur on 60 fps if you like and need it. Why 60 fps is a good idea and absolutely necessary? Look at action movies: They show that 24fps has serious limits of how fast something can move. If it moves faster, you won’t be able to tell anymore what is actually happening on screen. Look at the fighting scenes in the Transformer movies. Try to see who is fighting who and doing which moves. Totally impossible to discern. Or the Star Wars revenge of the sith: check out the initial fighting scene, how the camera pans widly between ships. Can you still see what is going on? Not really, the cam moves so fast that the eye cannot even see that as “moving pictures” anymore. Thought that was very cinematic and cool? When ever has low quality been sexy???

    Many of us think that there’s something magical about 24 FPS, because watching anything shot at 60i looks terribly “videoy” to us. It doesn’t seem appropriate for dramatic material.

    Well, go check the comments from people when black and white film was due to be replaced by color and you will find the exactl same words. Black and white is better for artistic / dramatic material. Color looks too real (too videoy) ;-) Funny how history constantly repeats. So people like Cameron and Jackson and me have to drag you into the future, kicking and screaming. Because we get why 60 fps is superior in every way.

    • Nice! Totally agree. Wasn’t the same critisizm leveled at digital photography, vs film? And Kodak just went bankrupt because they incorrectly held on to the belief that film is better.

  • Jerky motion and incomprehensible filmmaking are signs of bad filmmaking, not of outdated technology. Watch the Honk Kong films of Johnnie To or John Woo and you can see that terrific action doesn’t need higher frame rates – it only needs good direction. Michael Bay doesn’t know what to do during an action sequence, so he cuts and moves the camera around. John Woo has single shots and cuts in Hard Boiled that are more kinetic than any camera movement or cut michael bay has ever dreamed of. New Technology will never help people who don’t know what they’re doing.

  • I just don’t think making Leave it to Beaver into color or 3D would be a good idea… lol

  • quote:
    Watch the Honk Kong films of Johnnie To or John Woo and you can see that terrific action doesn’t need higher frame rates
    It absolutely needs it. John Woo might be very expert at working around the horrific limitation that is 24 fps, but why have to work around it? You defending the old outdated system is akin to somebody touting Mono as superior, because “it does not distract from the real music”. I am sure that somebody said that at some point, fighting stereo taking over.
    Yes, we do have 2 ears, so stereo makes sense and beats mono in every way. And for the exactly same reason, mono turned into stereo, that 24 fps is going to lead into a faster framerate: there is no technical reason anymore why not to. Film used to be very expensive, doubling the cost of the production. Nowadays it is not.
    And in the same analogy of mono and stereo: your eyes can se a lot more than 24 fps, so why keep the media restricted? It is obvious that you can do anything with 48 or 60 fps that you can do with 24, you just have to add the blur and jitter with special effects, old time movie goers will be thrilled to have their old style cinema back, the same way that some people were probably blissed out when some movies still stuck to black and white, when movies turned color or reverted to being silent, eventhough the talkies were taking over.

    – it only needs good direction. Michael Bay doesn’t know what to do during an action sequence, so he cuts and moves the camera around. John Woo has single shots and cuts in Hard Boiled that are more kinetic than any camera movement or cut michael bay has ever dreamed of. New Technology will never help people who don’t know what they’re doing.
    You are saying “you only need to know the limitations and how to work around them, to know how to use the media and what it cannot do and avoid that”
    We are talking about removing some obsolete limitation. It does not make any sense to keep it. Of course, as always , people with less vision and more feeling for tradition or just plain focused on the past, instead of the future will fight it, always have and probably always will.

    When video came around, it also removed lots of limitations that moviemaking with film had: Too expensive, needs lots of equipment. The market opened up for a lot more movie makers. Did it degrade the quality? Well, you could argue so, now that joe and bob and dick could all make movies, even without proper training. But it still brought out a lot of great other stuff. I am glad that Michael Bay can make movies. I wish to see how his next transformer movie will look in 60 fps, probably a lot better. The action scenes he shows are amazing, but just beyond the limit of 24 fps: As an information technology expert, I know that there is just a limit of how much movement information can be fit into 24 fps. Doubling it is great, you will be able to show movements double as fast as this.
    You will not have to cut and work around the limits, you can just film the scene and viewers can see what is happening. Currently, you could have a fist move in a martial arts movie that you could not see in 24 fps, that would be clearly visible in 48 fps.
    Just the possibilities in HD to do pans over landscapes without insulting your eyes is wonderful.

    I am currently looking for an SLR that can do 60 fps in full HD and currently there is only one (expensive) . The current ones do 720 p in 60 fps and 1080 p in only 25 fps, and I know exactly how that is and want to get away from it, as pans just look terrible in 25 fps, if you don’t slow it way down.

    60 fps will by the way introduce a new wave of action movies of the likes you have never seen, because before with 24 fps it was just not possible. Comparing a fast computer game, playing it at 25 fps and at 60 fps shows this incredibly well: it just looks aweful and terrible at 25 fps, the realism gets totally lost.
    I don’t know why we are discussing this at all, the new standard will come anyway and the old cinematic style will be available for anybody that wants to use it. There will be a plugin in any cutting program, saying “render in 24p”, just adding blut and jitter, basically removing half the information. And I think it will be valid for certain movies, as well as black and white is still used for some.

  • I am not sure what everyone is so up in arms for with regard to embracing this technology. I have been watching movies for 2 years cranked up with a 120hz TV, and I have to say that I can’t go back. I maxed out the 120hz and the Judder reduction and watched Avatar rendered in crystal clear bluray with 1080p resolution and when you see that scene of the helicopter flying down the waterfall and you can see the individual drops of water as the camera pans by…it is unparalleled clarity. Now yes I agree that it gives it a home video look, but honestly after you watch about 10 movies and become acclimated to the clarity and smoothness, you’ll find that you don’t even notice the home video feel anymore, while becoming spoiled by the clarity of fast moving scenes. Going back to 24 frames per second however, is almost painful as you will feel like your are chasing the scene and it is staying ahead of you giving you a blurry rendition and leaving you longing for the smoothness you have become accustomed to. I have become so used to 60fps that when I saw The Hobbit an hour ago I thought that the scenes were still too blurry, even at 48 fps. I am no expert and please correct me if I am wrong those of you with the technical insight in this field but if the movie is shot and played back at 48fps vice 24fps, that is less of a jump when converting to 60fps on a 120hz HDTV, so I would think that it would look even better then the original trilogy watched at 24fps in 1080 dialed up to 60fps by the 120hz. I say give it a chance…watch about 10 movies and see if you even notice the “TV” look. And afterwards try to watch a traditional movie and see if you can sit through it without missing your 60fps. My challenge to you ;).

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