James Cameron Is Not a Fan of Ang Lee's High Frame Rate

High Frame Rate brings the clearest and most realistic picture to the cinema. But is it the future of the industry or a gimmick that won't last? Two greats disagree. 

There's a saying that goes "The world comes at you fast..." and, over the last few years, it applies to filmmaking. The rise in digital has made creating content easier and easier, but in the beginning, cinema purists pushed back on it. 

The same goes for large format cameras, which seem to be all the rage now with cinematographers everywhere thanks to them cheapening in price. 

Now, high frame rate is at a similar crossroads. And traditional frame rate has found a staunch defender in James Cameron. 

The High Frame Rate Debate: Cameron vs. Lee

James Cameron always finds himself working at the center of the technological revolution. His new Avatar films will be shot on cameras he helped invent, and edited with the technology he pioneered. 

But Cameron told IndieWire Wednesday that they definitely will NOT be shot (entirely) in high frame rate. 

“I have a personal philosophy around high frame rate, which is that it is a specific solution to specific problems having to do with 3D... And when you get the strobing and the jutter of certain shots that pan or certain lateral movement across frame, it’s distracting in 3D. And to me, [high frame rate is] just a solution for those shots. I don’t think it’s a format. That’s just me personally. I know Ang sees it that way. I don’t think it’s like the next 70 millimeters or the next big thing. I think it’s a tool to be used to solve problems in 3D projection.”

This is all very technical, but suffice it to say. Avatar 2 and the other three sequels won't be shot completely in HFR. 

So what's the big deal with high frame rate? 

Well, another visionary director loves it. 

Ang Lee, whose last two films -- Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk and Gemini Man -- have been shot in HFR, thinks 120fps is the way of the future. It's why he keeps using it and why he thinks it'll be a bigger part of the future of filmmaking. 

Lee told IndieWire

“They are trying to make digital look like film... It’s a different media with a different perception, different requirements. Digital doesn’t want to be film, it wants to be something else. I think we need to get past that and discover what it is.”

So what does digital want to be moving forward? 

Probably a mix of both. 

Cameron admits that he did use high frame rate for select scenes in the Avatar sequels to smooth the 3D out. While this may feel like a cop-out, it's interesting to think about HFR as a bandaid you can apply when necessary. 

While many critics bumped on high frame rate in Billy Lynn, they said it was because the static shots and establishing shots all looked fake. But critics did seem to enjoy its employment in action scenes, especially in Gemini Man, because it made those scenes feel visceral. 

So where does that leave us? 

As a fan of both these directors, I am happy to see them both hopefully meet in the middle. Use HFR to accentuate what needs help, and then allow traditional shots to be done in the normal frame rate so audiences don't leave the story or bump on ideas. 

Part of the main issue is that I don't think we've seen HFR used in an undeniably good film. 

I liked Gemini Man and enjoyed parts of Billy Lynn, but each movie had to overcome story issues as well as new technology. The Hobbit used 48fps and alienated a lot of its audience members, but Peter Jackson attributed that to two different generations. One used to seeing things in HFR and one not. 

Maybe, as the youngest of us grow up with HFR, they'll find it less jarring. 

I think we need something completely different. What I'm looking for is this generation's Zodiac

That Fincher film was perfect for many reasons, but it also was Fincher making a dramatic statement that digital could be just as moving and picturesque as film. Until we have a similar film in HFR, we may never know if an audience can stay put long enough to appreciate the story and tech working in tandem. 

What do you think? Is HFR the future? Let us know in the comments.      

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Your Comment


Can you explain "next generation Zodiac"?

October 23, 2019 at 11:23AM


It's explained in the next paragraph. He's talking about a film that would validate HFR's place in cinema in thy way that Zodiac validated the use of digital filmmaking.

October 23, 2019 at 4:14PM


That's what I meant. I didn't know Zodiac was such a big deal for digital filmmaking, is there an article maybe here on NFS on that?

October 24, 2019 at 8:18AM


The lack of motion blur in high frame rates and the way it is perceived as "near reality" forces the acting bar to be raised.. where the goal of less is more is a prerequisite to a "good" 120fps performance. This is the main problem. Believability in the performance. Actors have nowhere to hide in 120 frames per second paradigm. During the slow emotional scenes, the cracks of the performance are so much more visible to the audience who sees every micro-movement with new clarity. I could see a higher budget documentary working well in that frame rate, but its tougher with actors where the audience is actively looking for the cracks in the lies of the characters on screen. True Crime or a Herzog film like Grizzly man where the interview subjects are seen as "performers" to have their motivations and lies dissected.

October 23, 2019 at 11:46AM


Thank you. I said this exact thing after seeing Gemini Man and people looked at me like I was crazy. I could sense that they were acting, the fidelity of behavior did not match the fidelity of the image.

December 2, 2020 at 10:50PM

Eric Wilson
Compositing Supervisor

It looks like live video from sports. Not good for drama.

October 23, 2019 at 2:04PM

Javier Diez

I firmly believe that the odd look of HFR go some is 100% a mental perception thing.
When I saw Billy Lynn in 60fps the first 10-15 movies looked weird to me. Kind of like a camcorder or live performance. But then I got used to it and it looked like a movie again. The same thing happened with the Hobbit films, but for a much shorter duration.
People also say the same about the look of motion smoothing on my projector, but I'm so used to it that I don't notice it any more and movies just look like movies. I definitely notice the judder/strobing when smoothing is off though. I think people just need to get used to it and it won't look weird any more.

October 23, 2019 at 4:24PM


I'd like to see something like a vanishing point movie with practical effects, real explosions shot in HFR. CGI falls apart in these films under this format.
There is an other worldly, maybe, just reality feel to it where everything feels cinematically demystified that could prove interesting.

October 23, 2019 at 8:12PM

Vincent Gortho

Well, I would give you the benefit of the doubt regarding HFR and perception.

But if you're also OK with the "motion smoothing", perhaps the issue is that you have no discerning taste. Like some people who can eat anything, no matter how bad it is cooked.

So whether you got used to it, might be a coincidence with you being an outlier...

October 24, 2019 at 3:28AM


Why would being OK with motion smoothing mean I have no discerning taste? Just because you don't like something and I do means I don't have good taste? What does frame rate have to do with taste anyway? You do realize this is all subjective right?

How is the perception of HFR and being used to it different than the same with motion smoothing? Apart from some motion artifacts now and then, they look very similar.

It sounds like you're just being a snob and accusing someone with different taste as you of being unrefined. Just because I'm an outlier doesn't mean I'm wrong. You can't say by any objective measure that lower frame rate or lack of motion smoothing is "better".

October 24, 2019 at 5:58PM


The future I feel like is shooting 240, finishing in 120, and adding motion blur to look 23.98. This has just what I have gathered from a few talks at NAB over the past few years

October 24, 2019 at 9:32AM

Alex Alva

Initially I was distracted by the hfr difference.
But once I got use to it.. and over and over again during the film saw shots simply not possibly with 24 fps (and not judder to nearly inperceptible blurr..)

If I had the option I would see all films made this way over 24fps. And I expect so would many people. Especially younger, use to hfr in games. It's what they expect.

October 24, 2019 at 1:17PM

James Gardiner