48 Frame Staying Power + Jackson Turnaround

It’s a curious thing to have harbored mostly negative reactions to all things Peter Jackson for many years (aside from Heavenly Creatures and a fair-sized portion of The Lovely Bones), and then experience an abrupt turnaround within a four-month period due to (a) his funding, producing and promoting of Amy Berg‘s brilliant West of Memphis, and (b) his using 48 frames per second photography in The Hobbit and advocating for this new technology, which is altogether stunning.

Jackson’s reactions to the 48 fps hoo-hah out of Cinemacon appeared yesterday.

“Nobody is going to stop,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “This technology is going to keep evolving. At first it’s unusual because you’ve never seen a movie like this before. It’s literally a new experience, but you know, that doesn’t last the entire experience of the film; not by any stretch, after 10 minutes or so. You settle into it.”

The post-demonstration rumble, I was told, was that Warner Bros. execs have confided that perhaps the 48 fps image could be roughed up a bit so as to look a bit more “cinematic” and less high-def video-ish. (This was seemingly alluded to in Jackson’s remark about how 48 fps technology is going to “keep evolving.”)

The bottom line is that once younger audiences get a taste of it, 48 frames per second will be here to stay. I’m dead certain there won’t be any going back to 24 fps when it comes to CG fantasy and action and heavily immersive atmosphere-spectacle films. I knew in an instant during the Cinemacon screening that it would soon be the only game in town for those genres. Action sequences are incredibly affecting at 48 fps, and I was knocked out by the realism of Jackson (and Andy Serkis’s) CG Gollum character in 48 fps. You know it’s CG, of course, but it’s hard to dismiss it out of hand, as I do regularly with 24 fps, because it looks so real.

Remember Dean Goodhill‘s Maxivision, the 48 fps 35mm process that Roger Ebert has been passionately promoting for the last twelve or thirteen years? It never took off, and it’s certainly dead now that Jackson’s digital 48 fps process has the spotlight, but there’s no way that 48 fps will recede. Not a chance.

Straight character- and dialogue-driven dramas can and probably will remain in the 24 fps mode without any issues or complaints, although I would advocate an industry-wide acceptance of at least 30 frames per second overall. 30 fps is cleaner and more fluid with reduced pan blur during motion shots. Only two mainstream films have been shot and exhibited at 30 fps — the original Todd AO roadshow presentation of Fred Zinneman‘s Oklahoma! (’55) (a restored version of which was screened in Hollywood in ’84 or thereabouts) and Michael Todd‘s Around The World in Eighty Days (’56). Exhibitor complaints about cost resulted in a downgrading of Todd AO to 24 frames with the release of South Pacific (’58).

  • Storm Serge

    Is there any sort of 48 fps demo online?

  • Ray

    “It’s a curious thing to have harbored mostly negative reactions to all things Peter Jackson for many years”

    “Curious” is one way to describe it.

  • Mr. F.

    “The bottom line is that once younger audiences get a taste of it, 48 frames per second will be here to stay.”

    Sounds frighteningly similar to another topic:

    “The bottom line is that once younger audiences get a taste of it, texting during movies will be here to stay.”

    What I have a hard time wrapping my head around — and you can speak to this, Wells, in a little more detail as you’ve seen the 48 fps footage — is this: exactly HOW does this make movies “better”? Is it that they look more “real”? When you say it makes action scenes and CG more “affecting”… just what does that mean?

    I’m not trying to sound like a Luddite here. I’m just not sure how 24 fps is “broken.” Even with digital, I get it — easier to distribute “prints”, the image never degrades, etc. But what am I missing about 48 fps?

  • Jeffrey Wells

    You’re serious? You want me to explain the concept of motion fluidity and lack of strobing and flickering as rendered by 48 fps? That’s too primitive. You have to bring basic cards to the HE table. It looks super-sharp high-def video, hence the complaints that 48 fps isn;t “cinematic.”

  • Mr. F.

    Sorry, let me be more clear.

    After listening to 48 fps advocates over the years — Ebert, Trumbull, etc. — I had come to believe that 48 fps was about one thing: making film images look “lifelike.” That’s why Ebert loves (or loved) Maxivision. He said it was like real life. Like looking out a window.

    But no one who saw the Hobbit footage — not even you, Wells, a fan of the look — said anything remotely similar. Instead, it’s about “motion fluidity” and, worse, “lack of strobing and flickering” (which I’d argue hasn’t been a problem in cinema for decades). Most damning, you say it still looks like “hi-def video.” No matter how super-sharp it may be… still not likelike. Which I thought was ultimately the whole point of this 48 fps exercise.

    Maybe it’s just the difference between film at 48 fps and digital video at 48 fps. But when you have Peter Jackson, the biggest proponent of the technology right now, almost APOLOGIZING for the experience, explaining that it’s still “evolving” and is a “work in progress”… it’s a bit of a downer. Frankly, Wells, you’ve been the most positive about the footage that I’ve seen. Everyone else falls into the “I guess I liked it… but it looks kinda weird” camp.

    And for me, personally — that’s not what 48 fps was supposed to be about.

  • MrTribeca

    Devin Faraci has posted a very different view of 48fps technology over at Badass Digest – you can find it here.

  • http://hitfix.com/incontention Kristopher Tapley

    Why do you keep insisting that “younger audiences” are the ones who’ll glom onto this? I hear just as many “younger” folks who hate the 120Hz, fake-real look as I do any other. Time to lay off this hypothesis, at least a touch.

    “‘lack of strobing and flickering’ (which I’d argue hasn’t been a problem in cinema for decades)”

    Precisely. There is a threshold of awkwardness for this stuff. As I’ve said, how about this: it’s a movie. Stop trying to make it reality.

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  • Dave

    younger audiences are all about the fidelity and splendor. that’s why they buy up all the blu-rays and 3d movie tickets.

    i’m very skeptical that most people are going to NEED 48fps for any kind of movie anytime soon.

  • Eddie Mars Attacks!

    Kristopher Tapley is a 24fps fascist.

  • Ray

    Way to bite Mr. F’s head off, shit.

    I find the same thing perplexing, recalling Ebert’s “like looking through a window” comment about 48 fps **film**. How does 48 fps digital stack up against 48 fps film? THAT might be the source of the angst of others not named “Jeffrey Wells.”

  • a_loco

    I fucking hate this talk of how “real” it looks. What the hell does that mean? That it looks like you’re looking through a window? For one thing, two people “looking through a window” don’t see the same thing. We can focus on whichever field of depth we choose, and when we look at a different angle, new things come into our view. Cameras, no matter what frame rate they shoot at, shoot from a single perspective, which is forced on every viewer, no matter their position in relation to the screen.

    Furthermore, in 3D, your focal point is being forced. You don’t even get to decide where on the screen you get to look without risking an even worse headache than the 3D is already going to give you.

    Say it looks like hi-def video. Say it reduces flicker and strobing. Talk about the benefits and drawbacks of the new technology. But these things create a DIFFERENT viewing experience, not one that is more “real”. Cinematographers will continue to manipulate light and images in the same way they always have. No camera reproduces reality, it creates a representation of it.

    Fuck. This shit is Film School 101. The world “realism” has been co-opted for so many purposes (social realism, neo-realism, Bazinian realism, Brechtian realism), that every nerd on the internet should know by now that it shouldn’t be bandied about like this.

    In a few years, we’re gonna look at the supposed “realism” of higher frame rates the same way we look at the “realism” of method acting in the 50s, i.e. it’s a different style of acting, and a totally legitimate style at that, but it’s not one that provides a better recreation of actual behaviour and mannerisms in the real world, it’s just different.

  • bluefugue

    >Say it looks like hi-def video. Say it reduces flicker and strobing. Talk about the benefits and drawbacks of the new technology. But these things create a DIFFERENT viewing experience, not one that is more “real”. Cinematographers will continue to manipulate light and images in the same way they always have. No camera reproduces reality, it creates a representation of it.

    There are varying degrees of fidelity to the experience of human vision. Color is closer to it than black-and-white (for most of it). Something of sufficiently sharp resolution is closer to it than, say, a 300×200 grid. There’s no reason why it’s somehow verboten to apply a similar approach to description of higher frame-rate images. I’m not sure why the term ‘realism’ is so offensive to you. No one is claiming the fidelity is total, and whether closer fidelity is desirable for artistic purposes is a different question.

    I went to film school, by the way, although I admit I didn’t attend “101” (I did attend, 290, 310, and 480, among others).

  • jujuju

    48fps is, by necessity, shot at a shutter speed twice that of standard 24fps. this higher shutter speed freezes action better and, as the blackout time (strobing/flickering) between frames is half as much, there is a smoother look to the footage.

    so: action which looks sharper + a smoother look due to twice as many frames per second = more ‘real’ looking imagery

    stop here if you’ve had enough tech talk

    the human eye takes a picture about once every 30th of a second — or, put another way — 30 shots in one second. this is why stuff moving faster than a given speed at a given distance appears to blur. if your eye’s ‘shutter speed’ was, say a 250th of a second, your hand wouldn’t appear to blur when you wave it back and forth in front of your face. if your eyes worked at that speed you would be able to make out the lines and creases in your palm, even finger prints, as you waved your hand back and forth.

    okay, that established…

    if you round 24 up a bit you get 30 — for convenience, let’s use that. let’s say 24fps is actually 30fps. so, for simplicity sake, movies are shown at 30fps.

    okay. in order to get 30 frames to show in one second you have to flash 30 frames of film past the lamp, stopping each frame for a given period of time then moving to the next.

    when you move to the next frame there is a blackout. a shutter closes and no light is projected. during this interval (approximately 1/60th of a second) the next frame is brought into place and stopped. once the frame is stopped the shutter opens and light passes through the film onto the screen. do this 60 times — 30 frames and 30 blackouts — and you get motion pictures.

    each part, the frame projection and the blackout, must last about 1/60th second in order to get 30 frames to show in one second.

    okay, if the eye freezes motion at about 1/30th second a blackout of 1/60th can be partially perceived. not really, but kinda. this results in the dreamy look we’ve come to know as movies. the flash of light followed by a blackout, each lasting about 1/60th second, is just beyond the eye’s ability to clearly see, but only by a bit. (considering the actual time is closer to 1/48th second — that is, 1/24th divided by 2 = 1/48th — it would be very close to what the eye is able to identify as a blackout). 1/30th is pretty close to 1/48th. this is what causes the ‘strobing’ or ‘painterly’ look of movies

    at 48fps there’s far less blackout. rounding up for convenience again, 48 becomes 50. so, here, we’re talking about 50fps.

    in order to get 50 frames to show in one second, each one stops in front of the projector lens for 1/100th of a second. then, while the next frame moves into place there is a blackout of 1/100th of a second.

    thus: 50 frames + 50 blackouts = 100 elements. 100 elements, each lasting 1/100th of a second, yields one second of footage. 100 x 1/100th(sec) = 1 second

    since the eye sees at the very low rate of 1/30th second, a blackout of 1/100th second would be far less noticeable than a blackout lasting 1/48th second. also, at 48fps we see twice as many pictures of the same amount of action than we do at 24fps

    that’s why 48fps looks clearer than 24fps.

    whether it’s better or preferable will be argued enthusiastically. but, as wells put it so aptly, “The bottom line is that once younger audiences get a taste of it, 48 frames per second will be here to stay”

    this has to be true. really, you could argue that ‘once younger audiences get a taste of it, (insert name of any new tech media/entertainment) will be here to stay’

    in fact, there’s talk of 60fps. i know james cameron likes this rate. i don’t see why we’d consider 48 if 60 is doable. higher capture rates are only a matter of speeding up the processing chip and improving the sensor so that the image (shot at higher ISO) will still look good.

    so, seems like we’ll be talking 60fps soon enough. then, 80fps, then 100fps, etc.

    i got no problem with that. for action sequences shot live (not cgi) 100fps would kill. the shutter speed for that would be around 1/250th a second which is considered by photographers to be the slowest ‘super-fast’ speed.

    stuff shot at a 250th is pretty much frozen. for ‘talking head’ shots this frame rate wouldn’t do a lot, but for, say, a car chase, this would leave an audience slack-jawed and hypnotized.

  • a_loco
  • MeekayD

    I think in this case the “younger generation” is larger than what we might normally think of it as, and might include people through their late 30’s. In this case, I think those that will most readily appreciate the extra frames are those who have grown up on 3d video games where frame rate has long been king.

    These games started into the mainstream in about 1996, and ever since gamers eyes have been trained to appreciate the difference and advantage of running-and-gunning at 60fps vs. 20. I won’t claim to have any sort of spectacular visual prowess, but I can’t *not* see the judder in film camera pans anymore, and it can be irritating as hell.

    No, the comparison is not precise, because there’s no shutter blackout on a computer monitor, but I don’t see how there is anything inherently superior about 24 frames that will cause anyone to cling to it once they get over the fact that their cheese has been moved and life has moved on.

  • jujuju

    meekayd

    i did not say there was a shutter blackout when watching a movie on a computer monitor. if that’s all you have to offer as to how the comparison is not precise, then i’d suggest your argument is lacking

  • a_loco

    IF the 48 fps resembles the 120Hz on HDTVs (and that’s a big “if”, although it’s been suggested), I do wonder if the move to 48 fps is as inevitable as it’s being claimed here.

    From my own anecdotal experience, I find that older generations (i.e. people who can afford to buy a nice TV and never change the setting on it aka my parents and the parents of my friends) don’t seem to notice or care when the 120Hz setting is on. However, people in my demographic (mid-20s) do seem to mind. An acquaintance of mine recently suggested I sell my own HDTV because he went to see his parents for a week, and associated the 120Hz soap opera effect on their TV with High Definition in general. I am also reminded of my sister-in-law watching my parents TV at Christmas and complaining that the image looked “too real” (again, she associated the soap effect with High Definition instead of higher frame rates).

    These are young people that don’t pay attention to the technical specs on movies like we do here in film-snob-blog-world. They are the people that will have to be sold on the new technology, and I wonder if Cameron and Jackson, et al are gonna be able to sell these expensive upgrades to exhibitors if it means they’re forcing an unwanted learning curve on general audiences. It’s not an simple concept, like 3D.

    That said, seeing a film actually shot in 48 fps may be an entirely different experience to the 120 Hz, in which case, I’m talking out of my ass and you can ignore me.

  • MeekayD

    I was referring to my own argument as being imprecise…

  • jujuju

    sorry, can’t tell what you’re saying

    fps has just about the same effect on a game played on a computer screen.

    the ‘blackout’ on a computer screen would depend on the refresh rate. i think 60hz is standard for computer monitors.

    we’re up to 240hz for big tvs though. that’s got to have an impact on how movies look.

  • D

    3D films don’t force your eyes where to look. I just caught Titanic 3D and my eyes went wherever they wanted on the 3D IMAX screen: left, right, foreground, background, wherever. I chose among the tons of details in each shot.

  • /3rtfu11

    OLED can’t come soon enough to usurp both Plasma and LCD/LED back-lit panels forever.

  • Captain EO

    I liked what Douglas Trumbull has to say about this issue during his interview with Harry Knowles, especially his ideas about optimizing theater design for a new paradigm of viewer experience – that (and banning texting) would make me a more frequent theater attendee…

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  • The Thing

    1) Comparing it to video gaming is stupid. For a gamer, a high frame rate is preferred not because of the clearer, more “realistic’ picture (although this is a secondary reason), but because video games are all about reaction. When you need to time a variety of button presses, it’s a lot easier to do when you’re getting 60 frames of information as opposed to 24. Even in “dumb” shooting games, accuracy and when to find cover rely on quick reactions, which is easier when you have more fps. While the difference isn’t incredibly obvious, subliminally it helps a lot.

    2) It’s easy to accept a high frame rate for a TV show, but I tend to find movies shown at even 120hz on TV tend to look strange. Maybe I’m just not used to seeing these films with less motion blur, but sometimes it’s detrimental. The effects tend to look a lot more fake. For instance, I thought the 2001 sfx held up pretty well, until I saw them at 120hz, and it was pretty obvious that it was just photos of models moving across the screen.

    Maybe this 48 fps will make it feel more natural to see things with less blur, and make special effects more immersive. I don’t know. I haven’t seen anything at 48 frames, so I can’t say. Once the Hobbit comes out, we’ll be able to make an argument. Until then, for most of us, it’s all hypothetical.

  • Travis Actiontree

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  • JLC

    Too be fair, Jeffrey, I think you also called King Kong a “solid double” when it was first released. Yes, it’s way too long, but there’s a lot of good stuff in there, most notably Serkis’ performance of Kong, which foreshadowed his work as Caesar.

    By the way, run time is my biggest concern with The Hobbit. The 70s Rankin Bass animated version did a serviceable job in under 90 minutes. Flesh out the battle scenes at the end and the duel with the spiders in the forest, and you should still have a 2 1/2 hour movie at most. But we’re going to get 5+ hours, easy. And I’m not sure how well all other Middle Earth LOTR stuff is going to integrate with the simpler, more kid-friendly Hobbit story. But that’s what you get in a world when they make a ton of money by splitting the one book in the Potter series that absolutely did not need it.

  • Sasha Stone

    “okay, if the eye freezes motion at about 1/30th second a blackout of 1/60th can be partially perceived. not really, but kinda. this results in the dreamy look we’ve come to know as movies. the flash of light followed by a blackout, each lasting about 1/60th second, is just beyond the eye’s ability to clearly see, but only by a bit. (considering the actual time is closer to 1/48th second — that is, 1/24th divided by 2 = 1/48th — it would be very close to what the eye is able to identify as a blackout). 1/30th is pretty close to 1/48th. this is what causes the ‘strobing’ or ‘painterly’ look of movies”

    It’s funny, I guess, because in the photography world, digital costs more depending on how close it looks to actual film. I thought that was the same reasoning for digital filmmaking: to make it look more like FILM and less like video. But this seems to be skipping over all of that entirely. Can they co-exist,these new technologies without one having to replace the other?

  • JLC

    I think it’s also curious that Roger Ebert has thus far been silent on the issue. He’s been pushing for HFR for years. Now that it’s a commericial reality and not being universally embraced, nada.

  • shane

    Storm Serge – check this out. Douglas Trumbull Showscan Digital. Going for 60fps. This’ll help you see – haha. Sorry if repost.

    http://youtu.be/YO26GVq29g4

  • shane

    i mean this one –
    http://youtu.be/NkWLZy7gbLg

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