How Did Motion-Smoothing Reinvigorate 'Jason and the Argonauts'?

Credit: Columbia Pictures
I love seeing classic movies, but their VFX can take you out of the story. 

There is nothing better than sitting down and watching a classic adventure movie. There's something about the music and bold acting that makes you feel a rush of energy. The problem is that some of the effects don't withstand the test of time. 

One of my favorites is the 1963 movie Jason of the Argonauts. It was shot in Eastman Color and has a Bernard Herrmann score. It was very advanced when it came out.

The film was made in collaboration with stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen, whose work now has been subjected to a motion-smooth to make it look even better. Check out how CaptRobau used an AI program to interpolate the scene to a higher frame rate to see what that would look like.

I think it makes the images clearer. It's hard to see the tangible changes in all the scenes, but seeing the giant walk smoothly and the skeletons fight smoothly definitely makes the work hold up a little more.

I think the ethical question might be—while this is okay to have fun with online—should we alter these movies now? 

The answer is probably not. It's cool to play around, but at the end of the day, you want to see how the directors intended them to be, even if it takes you out of it. I think part of appreciating art is learning what capacity the artists had at the time and what wonders they did with it. 

Let me know what you think in the comments.     

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9 Comments

Ethically, I have no issue with motion-smoothing or otherwise retouching old films, as long as the original is always available to watch. A great example of this is Metropolis, which I personally find a joy to watch in the “enhanced” version — though in that case, that was an actual restoration of damage, not just adding extra sauce on top.

But overall, I think it’s normal for artists to play around and riff on the work of older artists.

That being said, I think this attempt doesn’t quite work. With motion smoothing, the monsters look almost cartoonish, or like video game animations. And it has the unfortunate side effect of motion smoothing the human actors (particularly in that boat escape from the Colossus), which gives the film a cheap video-like sheen.

I’m assuming the artist here took the final movie and just motion-smoothed it — I’d be curious to see how this might work if they could access the original matte layers and tweak only those, in isolation.

Also, fwiw, I think the “jerkiness” actually plays into the physicality of the colossus and the skeletons — watching it again, it seems weird that creatures of bone or metal would move smoothly...

Just my two cents! Interesting experiment in any case!

April 28, 2021 at 7:09AM, Edited April 28, 7:11AM

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Bryan Howell
Screenwriter, corporate videographer, and indie filmmaker
567

This is absolutely horrendous. Looks like video. Just please people, stop. It's fine to have the fingerprints of the creativity that went into making these classics.

April 28, 2021 at 9:51AM

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Dean
371

This looks terrible. By smoothing it, it not only makes it look like video, it also takes away from the "clunky" nature of a giant statue coming to life. It helps nothing. Instead, it robs the original stop-motion of its charm.

April 28, 2021 at 10:54AM

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Jeff Payne
Writer/Director
456

How do you actually change it from 24 to 120? Where and how are the extra frames acquired?

April 28, 2021 at 11:33AM

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there are many Ai driven tool that regenerate frame from few frame, are good for slowmotion or to repair damaged frames, but like here, it's only an experimental tool.
If the author choose Harryhousen it's only be cause himself admire his work.

April 28, 2021 at 11:47AM

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Carlo Macchiavello
Director (with strong tech knowledge)
968

This is as bad as Lucas messing around with the Star Wars original trilogy.

April 28, 2021 at 12:43PM

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Bob Sirwaitis
Videographer/Editor/Director (Semi-Retired)
83

Let's "smooth" out the work of the greatest stop motion animator who ever lived. His work doesn't need to be "reinvigorated." Ugh.

April 28, 2021 at 1:58PM

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A better headline would have been: "How to make a classic film look like a cheap soap opera"

April 28, 2021 at 6:45PM

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William Streeter
Filmmaker
130

I think interpreting frames is fine as long as it maintains the original intended 24fps cinematic experience. I think a better solution to improving the stop-motion effects, especially if restoring these films, would be to simply simulate motion-blur - a technology that we can do easily today.

I made a video showcasing examples from this film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjWI8YKIIVI

April 30, 2021 at 11:57PM

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D.L. Watson
Filmmaker / Freelancer / etc.
68