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Peter Jackson shooting The Hobbit at 48 fps, will movies never look the same way again?

Posted by
Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

By Marcus Leshock

Who knew frame rate could make headlines?

Yesterday, director Peter Jackson announced via his Facebook page, that he will be shooting “The Hobbit” at 48 frames per second. Movies are traditionally shot (on film) at 24 frames per second. How this was originally decided is complicated, full of speculation, and has a lot to do with the cost of film stock, so we won’t get into that here.

But movies have been shot this way for decades. 24 fps gives the cinema its “film look,” something videographers have been clamoring for over the years. In modern times, we’ve seen the invention of 24P, a digital video frame rate that makes your work look like something out of Hollywood.

So why in the world would filmmakers want to move to yet ANOTHER frame rate? Jackson explains….

The key thing to understand is that this process requires both shooting and projecting at 48 fps [i.e. frames per second], rather than the usual 24 fps (films have been shot at 24 frames per second since the late 1920′s). So the result looks like normal speed, but the image has hugely enhanced clarity and smoothness. Looking at 24 frames every second may seem ok — and we’ve all seen thousands of films like this over the last 90 years — but there is often quite a lot of blur in each frame, during fast movements, and if the camera is moving around quickly, the image can judder or “strobe.”

Film purists may argue that the “blur,” “judder” and “strobe” of traditional film stock and 24 fps are attractive qualities. There’s a certain grain and depth that come from film – it’s often missing in today’s digital movies, which can look a bit too “commercial-ish” for my taste (not sure commercial-ish is a word, but let’s go with it). Jackson is well aware of these gripes and he addresses it in his post.

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.

Entertainment Weekly has posted a link to a nifty demonstration that showcases the visual difference between 15fps, 30fps, and 60fps. See it here. The bouncing block at 60fps is no doubt much sharper and clearer, but my favorite portion of the site is the quote near the end.

No way should films and TV be shot at 30fps. Unless you want No Country for Old Men to look like Days of Our Lives.

I couldn’t have said it any better.

“The Hobbit” is also being shot in 3D – something I’m on the record of NOT being a fan of. I find today’s 3D to be easy on the eyes, but it’s like wearing a pair of sunglasses in a dark movie theater. It mutes colors and kills your brightness. “Avatar” worked because Pandora was designed for 3D – lots of overly saturated plants and animals that popped from the canvas. It’s the best use of the technology yet, and Jackson says he’s following in James Cameron’s footsteps, so maybe “The Hobbit” will prove me wrong. But if it’s half as dark as any of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, I’ll pass on the Blu Blockers.

Follow Peter Jackson’s musings on Facebook HERE.

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