Friday, April 15, 2011

Interesting news from "The Hobbit"

Director Peter Jackson has released some interesting news about the filming of "The Hobbit", the 'prequel' to J. R. R. Tolkien's "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy.

I thought I'd address the news that has been reported about us shooting THE HOBBIT at 48 frames per second, and explain to you what my thoughts are about this.

We are indeed shooting at the higher frame rate. The key thing to understand is that this process requires both shooting and projecting at 48 fps, 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."

Shooting and projecting at 48 fps does a lot to get rid of these issues. It looks much more lifelike, and it is much easier to watch, especially in 3-D. We've been watching HOBBIT tests and dailies at 48 fps now for several months, and we often sit through two hours worth of footage without getting any eye strain from the 3-D. It looks great, and we've actually become used to it now, to the point that other film experiences look a little primitive. I saw a new movie in the cinema on Sunday and I kept getting distracted by the juddery panning and blurring. We're getting spoilt!

Originally, 24 fps was chosen based on the technical requirements of the early sound era. I suspect it was the minimum speed required to get some audio fidelity out of the first optical sound tracks. They would have settled on the minimum speed because of the cost of the film stock. 35mm film is expensive, and the cost per foot (to buy the negative stock, develop it and print it), has been a fairly significant part of any film budget.

So we have lived with 24 fps for 9 decades--not because it's the best film speed (it's not by any stretch), but because it was the cheapest speed to achieve basic acceptable results back in 1927 or whenever it was adopted.

. . .

Now that the world's cinemas are moving towards digital projection, and many films are being shot with digital cameras, increasing the frame rate becomes much easier. Most of the new digital projectors are capable of projecting at 48 fps, with only the digital servers needing some firmware upgrades. We tested both 48 fps and 60 fps. The difference between those speeds is almost impossible to detect, but the increase in quality over 24 fps is significant.

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.

There's more at the link.

This is something I've been wondering about for years. I've never understood why the relatively ancient standard of 24 frames per second had continued in use for so long. I'm really looking forward to seeing how a doubling of film speed will improve the image. Of course, the logical thing will be to compare The Hobbit movie to Jackson's Lord Of The Rings film trilogy, and see how the image quality of the former improves on that of the latter.

Here's Peter Jackson's first video update on the progress of filming The Hobbit. I presume it was also filmed at 48 frames per second, like the movie itself, but I'm not sure whether that speed was used in transferring it to video for YouTube. It certainly looks pretty good, even in full-screen mode.

The most frustrating thing is that the first half of the new movie (which will be in two parts) won't be released for almost two years! Come on, Mr. Jackson - speed it up! Your fans are waiting!



DaveH said...

Doug Trumbull was doing this back in the 1980's

Wiki for Trumbull:

Wiki for Showscan:

Trumbull home page:

Some amazing stuff and his films deserve to be seen -- Silent Running and Brainstorm are two incredible movies.

Old NFO said...

I just wonder if they will be able to sustain the quality they did on LOTR.

Rev. Paul said...

If the movie looks as good, relatively speaking, as the video does here, then I want to see the movie even more.

Anonymous said...

Peter Jackson has lost a lot of weight since LOTR, and looks healthier than he's ever been. Good on him!