Ten minutes of glorious 48fps footage from The Hobbit was recently shown at CinemaCon in Las Vegas. It's unfortunate that RED couldn't show any footage at their NAB booth, but I'm sure fans of the series were delighted to get a glimpse of Peter Jackson's new epic film (pun intended) shot on RED Epic in 3D at 48fps. We've talked a little bit about frame rates before, and what they mean for our industry, but this is the first time a film of this scale is going to be filmed and exhibited at 48fps in 3D. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like the 270 degree shutter is helping things, as the results aren't impressing many of those who watched it.

Update: Looks like Peter Jackson has responded - he wants people to see the entire film before passing judgment.

While there were some positive comments, many were put-off by the hyper-realistic nature of the footage. The LA Times Blog had this to say:

Indeed, the footage shown did seem hyper-realistic. An opening aerial shot of dramatic rocky mountains appeared clearer than the images in most nature documentaries. But the effect was different when applied to scenes with actors dressed in period costume, whose every move -- and pore -- was crystal clear. Such realism put off some trade show attendees, who complained the footage didn't feel enough like a traditional film.

If you wanted to expose the digital sensor exactly the same as if it was shot at 24fps, and get more similar motion characteristics, you'd have to shoot at 360 degrees, or completely open. Usually with digital 24fps, we are shooting at a 1/48 of a second (1/50 with DSLRs) or 180 degree shutter. 270 degrees should actually have a more staccato feel to it, because it's being exposed less and thus there is less motion blur than 24fps at 180 degrees. I haven't tested any of this, but it actually might feel more filmic at 180 degrees and 48fps, because part of what makes higher frame rates feel so strange is that there is a lot less motion blur with the added frames. (Update: Marden Blake in our comments posted a great example of 24fps vs 48fps using the same settings as Peter Jackson)

IGN Movies was also there to cover it, and here's a quote from that review:

I didn't go into CinemaCon expecting to write anything less than great things about The Hobbit, but the very aesthetic chosen by Peter Jackson has made me very nervous about this film. It just looked ... cheap, like a videotaped or live TV version of Lord of the Rings and not the epic return to Tolkien that we have all so long been waiting for. I still have hope for The Hobbit, but I'd be lying if I didn't say my expectations for the film have now been greatly diminished.

If this is what's in store for 48fps then I'm not really sure it's the way of the future. People are unconsciously trained to know what TV looks like and what movies look like, mostly thanks to frame rate. It seems like many could not get over the massive difference between the motion characteristics of 24fps and 48fps, and the lower shutter doesn't seem to help much. This doesn't bode well for what James Cameron might be trying to do with the new Avatar, because 60fps is an even further jump from 24fps. The good thing about 48fps is that a great-looking 24fps master can be pulled from the original material, so all hope is not lost that the film can still look like we've always expected it to.

If this movie ends up looking like people are saying, the best place to see it might be in a 2D theater with a film projector. It's hard to change what people feel when watching a film, and 24fps for a movie just feels right, because we're used to it. The fact that 24fps is slower than the way our eyes see makes a film feel less real and more distant from reality. In a way, 24fps actually allows us to become more engaged and drawn into a film because the distancing effect gives us more time to savor all of the details. Unfortunately, it's looking like 48fps doesn't allow for that distancing - and it's very hard for viewers who've been watching movies the old-fashioned way on film projectors at 24fps to handle the change.

A lot of this talk reminds me of the sheer hatred that was thrown the way of Michael Mann when he released his film Public Enemies. That film was shot at 24fps, but because Mann wanted the film to feel more like live TV coverage, most, if not all, of the film was exposed at a 1/24 of a second or 360 degree shutter. This made the film feel more present, exactly what Mann was hoping for, but it actually disengages the viewer quite a bit because there is no distance - no time to allow the viewer to absorb what is happening.

Many films that have been shot on Panavision Genesis have used a more open shutter - usually around 270 but occasionally at 360. Part of it is the look, since some DPs don't like the staccato or stroby feel of the Genesis, but many also like having another 1/2 to full stop of light. It seems that most films shot on Genesis have been shot with something other than 180 degrees. This is something I've really never seen with films shot on RED or Alexa, thankfully. Even though some are bothered by strobing, it's a natural occurrence with 24fps material if the camera is moving too fast.

Personally I don't have a problem with what 24fps looks like, and I'm only slightly bothered when the camera is panning or tilting too quickly. Stu Maschwitz had a great post on his blog not that far back about new TVs ruining movies because they feature all sorts of smoothing algorithms. Even with those smoothing and anti-judder options turned off, 120hz and 240hz televisions feel different than 60hz. Technically a better 24fps picture can be derived from 120hz or 240hz since it doesn't require a pulldown, but I still prefer what films look like on a 60hz TV at 24fps.

I would imagine that the new Hobbit film might feel something like one of these 120hz televisions with all of the anti-judder and smoothing settings turned all the way up. If that's the case, count me out, and I'll stick to watching it at 24fps in a non-digital, non-3D theater.

Can The Hobbit succeed at 48fps, or will audiences be turned off by the hyper-real feeling a higher frame rate creates? What do you guys think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

[LA Times Blog & IGN Movies]