Jason Gorber's Cineruminations: THE HOBBIT, 48 Frames Per Second, and A Whole New Journey

Featured Critic; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
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Jason Gorber's Cineruminations: THE HOBBIT, 48 Frames Per Second, and A Whole New Journey

"To a regular cinemagoer...attendance at the motion-picture playhouse today is a continuously disturbing experience...The discovery that the shadowy images of the screen could be made articulate was as fruitful for exploitation to the captains of the cinema industry as was the realization that women would wear long skirts to the couturiers." -Critic Howard Barnes, deriding the emergence of "Talkies", 1931

Peter Jackson's The Hobbit is a coming home of sorts, very much in line with the other three films that formed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. From the casting, to the locations and settings, this film is an echo of the other works, and despite early involvement with Guillermo Del Toro, it's a film that very much feels to be a Peter Jackson film through and through.

From the music to the costumes to the iconic New Zealand vistas, it's easy for any fan of the other films to immediately feel that they're returning back to middle earth, except for one major technical change - eschewing the celluloid used as the main capture format for the previous trilogy, Jackson has instead shot The Hobbit on digital video, in 3D, and using 48 frames per second ("high frame rate", or HFR, as opposed to the normal 24fps), and with a 270° shutter angle.

After a pretty notorious brief "sizzle reel" shown to exhibitors several months ago, many were worried about how the film looked. In the 10 minute segment, people responded well to the vistas, but found that closeups made the sets and actors seem too "video-y", almost giving the look of daytime television rather that the "film look" that's been developed for decades. Naturally, much of this footage hadn't been fully timed (or, "colour corrected") to make it look like a final product, but there was much consternation by some that the move to HFR was going to be disruptive and distracting.

Without getting too much into the history of framerates, the short version is that 24fps has always been a kind of accidental, "good enough" standard, more tied to the need for synchronous sound and reduction in celluloid costs than for an ideal aesthetic medium to create moving images.

24fps does exhibit many characteristics that many take for granted, artifacts such as smearing and motion blur that (like grain) are often considered technical limitations rather than specific advantages. This contributes to the aesthetic often called "filmlike", and similar to scratches on a record or brushstrokes on a painting, they provide a familiarity to a long line of moving pictures.

Still, artists are known for taking advantages of these limitations, and through the century plus of experimentation have managed to exploit in often stunning ways these so-called impediments to the capture of so-called "reality". Yet look at any Michael Bay film, particularly the Transformers franchise, and you'll see just how ridiculous motion blur can be as an obstruction to clarity and coherence (the visuals, of course, not being the only impediment in this case). With "only" 24 frames captured per second, the shutter is open long enough for a quickly moving object to quite visibly streak through the frame. Doubling the capture rate means each individual frame, much like a series of snapshots, would have a significantly clearer image, free from this softness or blurriness.

What's perhaps not as well understood is that even for relatively still shot images, the capture and projection at 24fps still has these moments of motion blur exhibited, giving a kind of "glow" to micro movements, softening edges, making things feel more "painterly". Quite simply, this is the look of cinema as we have accepted it, and these various characteristics are what audiences have come to expect even from projects shot on digital video.

With a single scene in The Phantom Menace, followed by the two other prequel films, George Lucas helped usher in 24fps digital cinema for the modern blockbuster, paving the way for the recent 3D resurgence. As relatively "plastic" as some find these films looking, they nonetheless share many characteristics with traditional celluloid, particularly when elements of motion and blur artifacts are examined. There have been a slew of shot-with-digital productions since then, and the best-looking mimic celluloid's frame rate, resulting in a look that conforms well with our expectations for what a motion picture should look like.

HFR, it must be said, takes things to a whole different level.

I can state unequivocally that people used to a normal cinema experience will almost immediately find the look of HFR jarring. Some will certainly spend much of the running time annoyed by the look, the way that many are irritated by the whole notion of 3D cinema in the first place. The change to HFR may actually be even more radical than seeing a modern 3D film for the first time. Everything looks... cleaner, a characteristic often ascribed to HD video. It's as if a veil has been lifted off the image, you're able to see fine detail during camera movement that simply is not evident normally.

Expect vitriol, and plenty of it.

What it does not look like is broadcast video, although that might be the first thing that people respond with (HD video shoots with a higher framerate than most celluloid productions). Given the entire package - the careful colour timing, the 4K resolution, the 3D and of course the HFR, this is very much a new experience, one that certainly takes some time to acclimate to, but once accepted becomes quite revelatory. Alas, people used to movies looking a certain way will immediately dismiss it as being "too video-like", and decry the whole process.

I personally found the effect most evident in, of all things, a simple flame. Naturally, a flame dances around extremely quickly, often one of the more rapidly moving elements captured during any given scene. In HFR, the tiny details are brought to life, the thin wisps of smoke are shown clearly, the tiniest of details of each fork of the flame tip captured with little smearing. It's a unique experience for me, and whenever a flame would be on screen, it was the first elements that caught my eye, reminding me that what I was seeing was indeed something quite different than normal.

This might be the number one crutch against HFR - most people, even many critics, don't ever think about the artifacts baked into what they're watching; we've spent much of our lives consuming films in a particular fashion, giving zero mind to 24fps. Throw us something using HFR, and we're quickly made to notice it, making it slightly offputting and distracting from the other things going on up on the screen. This I think was certainly the case with the 10 minute sizzle reel, where the audience was thrown into the deep end of HFR, and didn't have enough time to acclimate to it.

Minutes into the film, I found myself lost in the imagery, reveling in some of the scenes and (if briefly) forgetting about the HFR. I would be shocked if people didn't notice the difference right away, but I'd also be pretty surprised if most didn't acclimate relatively quickly to the technique. Unless one is held back by stubbornness or sheer will, most will quickly grow to at least become used to the new look to the point of forgetting about it, and at best embrace it as a new cinematic tool worthy of appreciation. On the other hand, I think it will be a rallying cry for some, and become the central focus of most people's reactions to the film.

Being first with this sort of thing is hard, and if the role of a critic has any validity, it's in preparing the audience for something new, potentially jarring, and certainly different to established expectations. We can dismiss any change as mere fad or something meant to mask poor storytelling if that's called for, but in this case I think that Jackson's decision is a decent one, pushing the audience in a positive direction for this type of 3D/effects-driven project. This fact won't stop the pile-on of hate, of course, but I do respect the desire for an increase in fidelity and clarity over a fetishization of the status quo in order to placate some convenient semblance of what's to be considered "cinematic".

You'll see people complain that things appear "too real", suddenly seeing details usually masked by a slurry of blur and judder that traditional 24fps masks. For some it's a visual uncanny valley, where suddenly the movement on the big screen lacks certain characteristics we've been trained to accept as "real", so that when we see the new class of projection it seems off. I imagine some felt the migration from handcranked, ~11fps to a standardized 24fps may have gone through the same transition, but we certainly have plenty of examples of people slamming the move to the talkies, to colour, to widescreen, and of late, to digital capture and projection.

There's been a slew of hyperbole on both sides - apart from the detractors, there have also been HFR advocates that talk of a "window-like" experience opening up on the cinema screen. Dialing that back a bit, it's certainly an extremely clear and vivid image (particularly when projected with 4K resolution), but anyone confusing the elements of montage for anything less than a cinema presentation is fooling themselves. This rapidly-changing vista never lets us truly forget we're watching something assembled for our engagement, and no radical technological move will truly make us feel that we're suddenly in some magical window environment.

Frankly, the metaphor is further compromised by the whole notion of a closeup, where you see far more detail than even when being the most compromising of personal space - heck, I'd replace all the windows in my house if I could have images like I see as part of this presentation as vividly and in as much detail gazing from the kitchen as you do when watching this work on a giant screen.

At its best, HFR does provide something quite extraordinary. Tiny details on the texture of wood, the writing on a sword, or the wisps of hair on a Dwarven beard, all are etched in at times astonishing detail, not simply as a still image but during movement. These feel less like video images, and more like a series of great photographic depth. After all, photography hasn't been limited to shooting at 1/24th of a second, and a capable photographer can capture and time digital imagery to create appropriately glossy, rich imagery without it appearing to be some soap opera. Yes, the increase in resolution helps a lot, but more than that, the ability to capture without the aggravated motion artifacting opens up the world on screen in a way that's pretty unique.

I fully expect a slew of negative rants about the process. It's almost more of a radical departure from normal 24fps capture as High Definition television was from SD, and the established ways of what we consider to be "cinematic" are extremely entrenched. It's a bold move on PJ's part to go in this direction, and once the shock has worn off (and even being well prepared for what I was to expect, it was quite a shock) I think many will be more than satisfied with the look of the piece.

Others will slam it as a "continuously disturbing experience" as per the quotation above. For the open eyed, it will be like the HD to SD comparison, a case made for looking at the other films in the cycle suddenly seeing issues you hadn't before, becoming distracted in time by the blurriness and juddery pans that we've taken for granted. This may become the new normal, at least for films of this scope and type, and with familiarity will come a form of acceptance about the advantages from an aesthetic point of view rather than simply a reciting of its technical specifications or departure from a previous way of doing things.

There's one particularly aggravating comparison that should certainly be avoided, and that's to the 120/240hz "motion smoothing" mode that exists on many new television sets. In this instance, the TV manufactures interleaved frames to boost the rate, crafting artificial images that really do look more like plasticine than either broadcast video or a "cinematic" look. One should not confuse this digital processing trickery with the actuality of capturing images using higher frame rates.

No real-time post processing could ever approach HFR capture, and what many of these TV tricks do is simply exacerbate the limitations inherent in the signal, over emphasizing the limitations motion blurry source, and then running a subsequent "clean" pass that gives the image a particularly repulsive, Claymation-like look. Fear not, those that have messed with their settings on their TVs, The Hobbit looks nothing like these abominations, and you should take time to disable any such processing whenever you come into contact with such setups.

It has been promised that the move to HFR is a boon for 3D presentations, resulting in less eye strain or headaches. I'm not sure this is necessarily the case, but over the course of the three hour film I didn't find myself perturbed by the film in any physical sense. The clarity does result in having a few more artifacts become slightly more evident, there are brief moments where images are slightly ghosted, seeing a mild "echo" of one eye bleeding into the other (say, a faint outline of a ghostly sword just to the left of the outthrust weapon).

In the end, just like lens selection, camera movements, montage decisions, and so on, HFR is another tool in the filmmaker's toolbox. It is in many ways jarring, but it's in many other ways revelatory, providing some supremely engaging images on screen. Just as seeing Dark Knight films on celluloid IMAX or The Master in 70mm respected the desires of the filmmakers, so to does the HFR 3D presentation of The Hobbit very much correspond with what Jackson and his team want the film to look like. The care with which it has been crafted, the quality of the presentation, and the sheer bravado nature of some of the sequences speak very much to this fact.

Jackson has been comparing the effect to the move from vinyl to CD. The comparison is apt, but not for the reasons he's making - many still prefer the "warmth" of vinyl to the "coldness" of digital, thinking it closer to the original production. Sure, for older recordings there may be an argument here (a losing one, but an argument), but for something sourced in digital to be then spat out onto an analogue format is simply adding in distortion for the sake of familiarity or whim.

One could easily master a high resolution audio disc (say, 24/192) with pops and clicks, and do a roll-off of the high end with increased noise and replicate immediately the vintage sound, if that's what the artist would like to present. This would be for aesthetic reasons, not technical, and is the basis for why Paul Thomas Anderson leaves noise in the 4K digital files for The Master. 3D/HFR is what Jackson wants his film to look like, and all other presentations are compromises of this vision meant to sate a marketplace that's often adverse to change of any sort.

The Hobbit is sure to be one of the big event films of the season, coming on the heels of the previous films in the series that went on to win many Oscars, including Best Picture. There will be plenty of time to discuss the merits of the film itself, for now I'd simply suggest that the move to HFR should not be one to be wary of, and in fact seems very much to be the preferred mode to watch this film. It results in a look that's in its own way quite beautiful, even if it's a beauty type that takes even the most open-minded some time to get used to.

The film will be presented in a wide variety of formats, a celluloid version (the down-conversion to 24fps helped in part by the decision on shutter angle), IMAX 3D blow ups, and so on. I would suggest, when picking up your ticket for the opening week, that you go out of your way to try to find one of the select theatres showing the film in the way it was intended. Any distraction about the look quickly fades as you're drawn into the story, of course, but there's still several times throughout the running time where you can sit back and marvel as the imagery, presented in this new and pretty incredible fashion.

I wish you well in your journey back to Middle Earth; it's never looked quite the same as this, this is true, yet in many ways it can be argued that it has never looked better.

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48 FPScineruminationsHFRPeter JacksonThe HobbitFran WalshPhilippa BoyensGuillermo del ToroJ.R.R. TolkienIan McKellenMartin FreemanRichard ArmitageKen StottAdventureFantasy

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ron bauerleDecember 4, 2012 3:57 PM

well said.

Sean KellyDecember 4, 2012 4:06 PM

Excellent post.

It did annoy somewhat when reactionary anti-HFR tweets started to fill my stream last night. Said tweets also suggested that Christopher Nolan was God and that all films should be filmed and projected in IMAX.

I'm a huge supporter of IMAX (and would be seeing THE HOBBIT in the format if the Cineplex presale allowed me to), but I don't want to to be seen by people as the ONLY way to see a film.

I'm seeing THE HOBBIT in HFR next week with an open mind and I'm going to judge it as fairly and unbiased as I can.

Jason GorberDecember 4, 2012 4:23 PM

...and that's all one can ask for. Thanks for commenting!

As for HOBBIT in IMAX, it will make for an interesting comparison, the DMR vs. native 4K. There will be an update on that, I'll certainly be seeing it multiple times.

Full review will be posted in the morning, pending life of embargo

JohnDecember 4, 2012 4:28 PM

Let me summarize Hobbits look , in a simpler way :

It Looks Like Shit.

They had no experience in lighting a movie for such a high framerate , they messed the exposures. They know it.

It Looks Like Shit.

Jason GorberDecember 4, 2012 4:35 PM

Excellent counter argument.

Ross WilsonDecember 4, 2012 6:29 PM

You suggest you saw this movie in 4K and 48 fps; my understanding was that no commercially available projector is currently capable of delivering both (it's either 2K x 48 or 4K x 24). Are you sure you saw it in 4K?

Jason GorberDecember 4, 2012 6:47 PM

You have a source for that? It's certainly a 4K projector (well, UltraHD, as they all are), in this case a Christie with the latest FW and ingestion upgrade to allow for HFR. I find loads of references to 4K/3D, and none to your suggestion. I'd be happy to research it further, but I believe that the latest projectors, with the latest updates, are able to do full res.

It might be be complicated by a per-eye relative resolution issue, but I'm unaware of any challenges on this front. Regardless, I can assure as per above that the jump from 2K to 4K isn't anywhere as dramatic as the jump from 24 to 48fps capture.

Ben UmsteadDecember 4, 2012 7:07 PM

Jason, as our seemingly go-to-guy right now for all things Middle Earth I greatly appreciated your balanced and in-depth perspective here. It was far more informative over everything else I've read about HFR up to this point.

Unless HFR is used on a non-3D production or broadcast I tend to wonder if I'll ever experience it myself as I'm blind in my left eye. That is to say 3D has no effect on me other than tinting the screen gray when I wear the glasses. So considering that, this article on both the idea and execution of this technology, may be the closest I get to it for some time.

Ross WilsonDecember 4, 2012 7:13 PM

Here's what I have - and I've heard it discussed other places as well:
"As for frame rates, the current DCI specification supports 2K resolution
at up to 48 fps and 4K resolution at up to 24 fps. Unless these
specifications are modified, which they no doubt will be, 4K 3D will
require two projectors (like the upcoming IMAX system)."
From: http://tinyurl.com/ayfbjfm

The film was certainly shot in 4K and perhaps finished in 4K, but I don't think it can be projected in 4K if it's 48 fps. I think it's an information flux bottleneck on the prohector side: it's a lot of pixels to push considering the doubling induced by 3D vs 2D *and* by 48 vs 24 FPS. And if doubling vertical resolution (4K vs. 2K) quadruples the pixels (doubling in both dimensions), I think the resolution ends up taking the hit.

I agree that 2K v 4K is minor point regarding the final experience (and almost certainly not detectable for me since I'm a bit nearsighted and don't double up on glasses when I view 3D) but you want to be precise, right?

NicDecember 4, 2012 7:48 PM

This is the most fair and concise analysis of the HFR I have read yet, so thank you for the well thought-out piece. I will be seeing this on Monday in the HFR format and I am excited, but a bit anxious as well. I will, however, go in with an open mind and I am looking forward to seeing the film in its true vision. After my eyes adapt, of course.

Jason GorberDecember 4, 2012 8:18 PM

I actually find this pretty fascinating - I have a friend that would only like really terrible 3D films (say, the ones Zemeckis did) and not respond at all to, say, the Pixar films. We were at a Best Buy, and I had him put on a pair of the glasses showing fish in an aquarium. As this shark swam way out of the z-plane, he said he could barely see any effect.

I asked if both his eyes were 20/20, and he said when he was a kid he had a lazy eye, and that one was more dominant. Never came up when he'd kvetch about how 3D looked!
So, alas, you're unlikely to realize the real benefit, but it might be worth sneaking in for a few minutes, just to grab a peek...

Jason GorberDecember 4, 2012 8:19 PM

It remains a bit frustrating to see all the vitriol from a vocal few - I welcome to hear what you thought of it afterwards, be sure to post again!

Jason GorberDecember 4, 2012 8:25 PM

All you need to do is project at 96hz, hardly a strain for modern systems, especially given the fact that we're talking the latest generation systems, with upgrades to the servers to allow for larger bandwidth.

It's true, back in 2010 (when that article was written) that there were bottlenecks, but from everything =I've= read, we're getting single lens, RealD 4K 48hz per eye.

GodsAreMonstersDecember 4, 2012 10:38 PM

Ya'know I feel there was a way to write positively about the new frame rate without being a smug twat that implies that people that don't like it are club carrying cave dwellers. Its ok to just not like it in the face of fact and your twatty opinion. Twat.

resident01December 4, 2012 11:33 PM

Purchased tickets for an IMAX 48 FPS 3D showing yesterday. Bit of a drive, but I'm looking forward to the experience.

Simon JohnstonDecember 5, 2012 12:30 AM


Jason GorberDecember 5, 2012 12:31 AM


Jason GorberDecember 5, 2012 12:31 AM

Certainly will be a unique theatrical experience, and, as above, well worth it.

Simon JohnstonDecember 5, 2012 12:49 AM

I'm so glad I read this.
The anti HFR arguments I've read so far seem to be arguments against HD, not 48fps - it seems they just never looked that closely before now.
I expect the right wing will be doing the same thing when Obamacare goes into full effect!

Thank you, Jason. I'm really looking forward to seeing this in the intended HFR 3D.

Simon JohnstonDecember 5, 2012 12:52 AM

Showing yesterday, looking forward to it...?

Simon JohnstonDecember 5, 2012 12:53 AM

If that's all you can come up with, you're only going to encourage HFR sales.

Jason GorberDecember 5, 2012 2:02 AM

hah, just move to Canada...:)

Jason GorberDecember 5, 2012 2:03 AM

Yeah, he means yesterday he picked up tix for a showing, and will be going when it opens. I think.

JohnDecember 5, 2012 12:27 PM

Im going to encourage HFR sales because i say something that looks bad...looks bad ? LOL . Now that would be a pity action to take.

Everybody knows the gimmick 3d looks like garbage with any sort of motion pan. More frames with the right shutter speed will help that. Shame they messed it up with the Hobbit.

Jason GorberDecember 5, 2012 4:22 PM

Shutter -angle-, and 48fps helps a lot with motion judder. Not, of course, that I'm able to convince you it seems.

Simon JohnstonDecember 5, 2012 6:43 PM

People are going to be convinced to see it when they see ignorant people who have no idea what they're talking about tell them that their technical expertise is so vastly superior to any actual film maker or technician that they need not see it.
Clearly you have not even bothered to find out what this system does.

Dave PostmaDecember 6, 2012 7:50 AM

My friends studio records their records on analog master tape, when he releases them on Vinyl shouldn't that be a superior sound? Digital sounds flat no, since the frequenties have been pulled striaght? I don't buy new music anyway, but when I DJ vinyl it sounds so much bigger then from CD, epecially the bass is so big, on some sound systems, or is that just the jamaican way of recording?

Jason GorberDecember 6, 2012 2:44 PM

That is a way, way longer conversation to have sometime, an argument that (like HFR) becomes a matter of taste rather than actual fact. HFR can be done badly, just as Vinyl mastering can be crap, or CD production can be a brickwalled monstrosity. The issue isn't whether the process is inherently flawed at doing what you want aesthetically, it's whether or not the process has been used in a way that's a clear representation of what the filmmaker desires.

But, yeah, happy to have that conversation, but you might find loads more resources on this very topic of audio recording and the fetishization of analogue elsewhere.

Blind SideDecember 6, 2012 7:37 PM

I wish that plot and character development were as important as the production budget and technology. Oh well, I guess that's dead. Long live technique a la Jacques Elull. Let's get that videodrome rolling.

Simon JohnstonDecember 6, 2012 10:56 PM

What the...?
It really is. Really it is.
What on earth are you talking about. Have you seen the depth of absolutely amazing acting talent in this film?
With regards to this particular film, if you have that problem with the film(have even you seen it?), then you have that problem with the book. In fact you have more of a problem with the book than the film.
I find it so tiresome people assuming things about a film just because of it's technology.
Sure, Transformers was a shocker. Many 'high tech' films are really, really bad.

But here's a challenge: how about you use that noggin of yours, and judge each film on it's own merits?

Peter A. MartinDecember 7, 2012 12:13 AM

Having seen the film in HFR today, I'm solidly in the middle. Some sequences certainly appeared to be enhanced by Jackson's decisions, while others looked artificial to my eyes, and still others were neither better nor worse. Like any film that is the first to use a new technology, there's a sense that the filmmakers are learning (and improving) as they go along. Like 3D, it's not something that I'd want to see for every movie, and, at this point, it's not something I'd pay extra to see. Yet, definitely, it's something that needs to be seen and experienced -- at least once!

NostraDecember 7, 2012 8:44 AM

Great article, really looking forward to experiencing it myself next week.

Jim TudorDecember 7, 2012 4:42 PM

I also saw it, and I found it deeply unsettling the entire time. Disturbing, in fact. Call me a curmudgeon or a cave dweller or whatever, but to me, HFR is the worst technical abomination to cinema that I've seen in years. The problem is that unlike 3D or currently accepted digital cinematography (mimicking conventional film, as Jason points out), this is ultimately reductive to cinema itself. I'll have to write my own piece on this...

Luke BryantDecember 8, 2012 7:57 AM

Jason, very interesting article, was wondering where you got the information about them using a 270 degree shutter from? Using a 270 degree shutter will actually give more motion blur than the regular shutter angle of 172.8 or 180, as the exposure time per frame will be slightly more. For example Saving Private Ryan (45 degree) or Terminator: Salvation (144 degree) both used a smaller shutter to decrease motion blur. Spinotti's work in Public Enemies often used a 360 degree shutter (in effect turning it off) and led to a much more 'smeary' look.
You're absolutely right that what many people think of as 'filmic' are really limitations of the format that we've got used to shooting in/watching over time.

Jason GorberDecember 10, 2012 10:25 AM

I look forward to reading it - it's a hard argument to make, how something more revelatory should be considered "reductive" (not dissimilar to the sentiment about the "fruitfulness" of the inclusion of sound indicated above), but as always I look forward to your take.

Jason GorberDecember 10, 2012 10:31 AM

Given that it will exclusively play in theatres equipped for it, and that those theatres tend to be the top-notch venues, I would be willing to pay a premium for it, but I fell the same way about IMAX, or even "vanilla" 3D presentations with a reserved seating, (very) large screen digital projection venue.

Still, I think I'm not so far away from the middle described as you, I'd just slightly more strongly argue for its use in this case, and would certainly find its use unnecessary or even detrimental in another context, just as shooting, I don't know, HAPPY GILMORE in Black and White or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN in 3D would be using the wrong cinematic toolbox for that given project.

Jason GorberDecember 10, 2012 10:37 AM

There are loads of interviews and articles where he talked about it - I wish I'd read this comment earlier, as that's one of the things I (very briefly) had the opportunity to speak with PJ about.

At any rate, this wonderful post (http://www.videocandycompany.c... by Doug De Young seems to have one of the best descriptions about what's involved, for those wanting to know:

"Shutter speed refers to how long the shutter of the camera is open and capturing an image. Think of a still photograph camera. The longer the shutter is open, the longer light is reaching the sensor or film. This results in motion blur if the subject and/or the camera move while the shutter is open. Photographers often use the low shutter speed setting to capture and show the movement of their subject. If a photographer wants to freeze the motion, then they would select a high shutter speed. In film or video, a low shutter speed can smooth a low frame rate by allowing the blur of movement (camera or subject) from frame to frame. Transversely, high shutter speed setting causes a choppy or stuttery look. For example, the films Saving private Ryan and Gladiator utilized high shutter speed and 24P for a great saccato feel.

Shutter speed is largely up to the scene-to-scene discretion of the
persons making the film, however, there is an industry rule of thumb for
a shutter speed that offers the most natural results. This is referred to as the “180 degree rule”. Before digital cameras and sensors, the only cameras available were film cameras with physical shutters. These shutters were disks with portions cut out of them like pie graphs. As the disk would spin it would allow light to hit the film for a percentage of time. A 180 degree shutter was a disk that was cut in half, so as it would spin it would let light through exactly half thetime. For something shot in 24p fps the shutter speed for a 180 degree shutter would be 1/48 second. So in short the rule of thumb for natural looking movement in progressive frames is a shutter speed 2x the frame rate.

...A 270 degree shutter is a like a pie with 75% missing, so as it spins it is letting in light for 75% of the time, it will also be spinning at 48 times a second because Jackson is shooting in 48p fps. So, we see that not only is the frame rate 2x higher than the standard 24p fps, the shutter angle will let in light a greater percentage of the time than our 180 degree rule. This will result in a VERY smooth look. It will also be very unlike any movie we are used to seeing. The reason for this decision, as I understand it, is that 3D has been deemed “fatiguing” to watch at lower frame rates. It also requires higher frame rates to look as realistic as possible.

...Jackson explained the shutter angle, “…
shooting at 48 fps with a 270 degree shutter angle. This gives the 48 fps a lovely silky look, and creates a very pleasing look at 24 fps as well. In fact, our DP, Andrew Lesnie, and I prefer the look of 24 fps when it comes from a 48 fps master.”

...If he was shooting for NON 3D only he would
shoot at 24p 1/48th of a second, the industry standard. I believe that
is because we are in a transition from old to new technology and he is
shooting with both in mind; it’s a compromise."

Jason GorberDecember 10, 2012 10:45 AM

Thanks so much, I welcome your comments!

TomDecember 11, 2012 3:45 AM

Ross, Jason is actually wrong. There is no such thing at the present time as 48 fps 4K digital. Every 2K DCP compliant projector on the planet from 2002 onwards must be capable for 2K 48fps. 4k is only 24fps.

TomDecember 11, 2012 3:46 AM

You are correct, 4K 48fps does not exist for digital projection.

Hiroaki JohnsonDecember 11, 2012 9:47 AM

If it's anything like showscan, I think sometimes people's negative reaction is based on what amounts to "uncanny valley". Which is why everyone thinks it looks great when it's showing some mountains, but then some recoil from people (or quasi-people) on the screen. Which is also why plenty of games which can operate well over 60 fps don't have the same negative reaction of looking like a BBC soap or football game.

Jason GorberDecember 11, 2012 4:48 PM

Here's where it gets ugly... :)

I just got off the phone with Christie, to get the nuts and bolts about what's going on here. There's loads of info, much of it conflicting, including loads of discussion about this at the likes of AVS and other usual places.

First of all, the premiere in Wellington was 4K, 3D, HFR. I heard this from Peter Jackson himself. They used twin Christies stacked, providing each eye with a full, native resolution file. It's entirely possible that he was using 4K loosely, but I'll let you be the judge of that. IMAX 3D also uses a stacked method, but my understanding is that they're not doing HFR for that presentation, I can certainly look into that.

He also confirmed that the film was fully rendered at 4K, including all effects shots.

For us regular folks, what we're getting is a 2K source DCP for 3D HFR content. The image is scaled to the native 4K resolution of the projector, and (in the case of Christie) double flashed - ie., projecting the same image twice, resulting in an (upconverted) 96hz per eye signal.

So, yes, my comments above, while factual, are slightly misleading. When I state that the film is "projected with 4K resolution", it is, but it's doing so from a 2K source.

My understanding from Christie is that this still is a server issue as opposed to projector, so it's a matter of which bottleneck to blame.

Nonetheless, this feeds directly into many of my previous claims - the difference in resolution is subtle at best, especially given such vagaries as the behaviour of lightpanels, be they DLP or SXRD. The jump to HFR, however, does result in an image that's substantially different than the usual presentation, one that's sure to divide.

Thanks for keeping me on my toes, and for the close reading.

Hiroaki JohnsonDecember 11, 2012 5:31 PM

If it's anything like showscan, I think sometimes people's negative
reaction is based on what amounts to "uncanny valley". Which is why
everyone thinks it looks great when it's showing some mountains, but
then some recoil from people (or quasi-people) on the screen. Which is
also why plenty of games which can operate well over 60 fps don't have
the same negative reaction of looking like a BBC soap or football game.

Geir FriestadDecember 12, 2012 12:24 PM

While it may perhaps be technically possible to push 4k frames at 48 fps on some systems, it is outside the DCI spec (which you may read here: http://www.dcimovies.com/speci... ). As is 4k 3D. The DCI spec is obviously not cast in stone - it's updated as needed - but so far, DCI compliant 4k is restricted to 24 fps, 2D.

I'm not familiar with the Christie projectors mentioned above, but I work with Sony 4k projectors every day, and 3D on SXRD systems is technically limited to 2k. The light engine is simply not fast enough to support double flashing, so on these systems the 4K chip is used to show two simultanous 2k images, which are then projected on top of each other by a special RealD split lens. On Sony systems, then, 4k 3D is simply not possible. At least for now.

I guess I should also mention that I screened the HFR version of The Hobbit earlier this week, and can testify that it's definitely 2k.

Jason GorberDecember 12, 2012 1:35 PM

Confirmed that the Christie's are doing both internal upconversion to 4K from the 2K source, and double flashing each eye.

Apparently, the Christie's are also spec'd to allow 48 (or even 60) 2D at 4K native.

Thanks for your note - again, the clarification from all is appreciated, it's nice to be able to be more specific here in this column. I assure you that terms like "4K" are being thrown around with abandon (look at the new "4K" TVs and projectors Sony's selling for home, that don't deliver full 4K res) and you'll see this is a problematic realm indeed.

The focus above was obviously on the HFR aspect (and we can soon ask what constitutes "high"), but these are important clarifications.

Jason GorberDecember 17, 2012 5:31 PM

In case you're missing it over here, Jim Tudor's got an alternate POV on the whole HFR shebang here: http://twitchfilm.com/2012/12/... - now that more of you have seen it, I welcome any additional comments you wish to share.

Bradley Bruce Paisley December 17, 2012 5:35 PM

It is important to note this comment from the opposing site, listed above:

"Bradley Bruce Paisley

"Stupid people don't like HFR because it has more detail than their simian minds can handle. Only smart people like HFR because they can appreciate and absorb the extra detail. Dumb people want the old fuzzy movies so they can get the general idea of what is going on and see the explosions and shiney things but they do not want to think more than that. Smart people want to drink in all of the detail and nuance of the stunning micro elements and feel every visual mnemonic trigger. Dumb people are not even bothering to Google "mnemonic" right now because they can't even pronounce it.

Those of you who are now nay-saying intelligence and artistic elevation should go to HFR movies with their smarter friends but just stretch a woman's stocking over your head and watch the same movie as your friends at the same time. Then you can both enjoy the same movie at the same time. A Special Note To Dumb People: you must first remove the woman from the stocking before you stretch it over your head"