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The Hobbit – Higher Frame Rates and 3D

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the-hobbit-behind-the-scenes-29As you probably know, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is pushing a new format of 48 Frames Per Second (FPS). We are all used to seeing films in 24 FPS so the transition to 48 FPS has been a little jarring for some.

Like anything new there is always a transitional period, yet some are calling the change similar to that of going from silent movies to sound or black and white to colour.

Jonathan Tustain of 3D Focus (I met him last week. A top bloke) kindly shared with me an interview he had with Gareth Daley.

Gareth was the 3D Camera Supervisor on The Hobbit. Gareth has worked with Peter Jackson before on District 9 where he was the RED Camera Supervisor in New Zealand. After meeting 3ality Technica representatives in LA, he became involved in a test shoot for Peter Jackson using prototype RED EPIC cameras on 3ality Technica rigs.

“In typical Peter Jackson fashion, we were given about a week to prep and he really put the stuff through its paces. He never just stuffed a camera on a tripod in a stage and rolled with it. We did a World War 2 scene with lots of fighting going on as well as some Hobbit scenes too. We really tested the camera and gear and from there I got invited back to do The Hobbit to supervise the 3D rigs and workflow.”

Gareth  has just spent the last two years on the three Hobbit films, with some final filming for the third film due to be completed next year. He spoke about how his job had changed using 48FPS.

“There is some misquotes out there (hair). The colour difference was due to the mirror on the 3D rig. There is no mirror technology that can give the two eyes exactly the same exposure and colour spectrum so it was the mirror creating the colour change. We made sure that every single monitor on set was rigorously configured on set so Peter Jackson could go to any monitor and know he was looking at the same thing. “

“48 frames certainly did provide a lot more detail for the make-up artists and set designers and that was a difficulty for them. For me – having two cameras in permanent perfect sync at double the frame rate as normal was the biggest challenge but RED were fantastic. Early on, when we decided in pre-production it was going to go 48 frames, we worked very closely with them. They were providing us with the firmware changes for the cameras, sometimes on an daily basis.”

Did they design any of the shots specifically for 48FPS?

“No. The beauty of those cameras is that we are actually able to do 96 and even higher than that as well which was halving the speed even further. We used 96 and other “off speed 48″ frame rates. Because there was such a ceiling above 48 on the EPIC, it was essentially shooting film; there was nothing different about it. It was a very natural filmmaking process.

There is talk of even going up to 120fps. Who knows where it will stop but projection technology is only just catching up in terms of the flexibility of what they can project at. Also, the human eyes can perceive up to 60fps but I know Peter Jackson has recently said it is 55fps.

In terms of sound, 48 is a multiple of 24, so technology wise, with other peripherals coming into production, that was a reason to go 48 but I think in the future – it won’t stop at 48. However, you are talking double the frame rate we have seen the last 80 years so it’s a huge step.”

As he has seen lots and lots of The Hobbit Gareth shared his thoughts on the look of the Higher Frame Rates.

“Personally, after spending many hours watching rushes every week, I love it. It’s the right ingredient to make 3D work because you do lose all that flicker. It makes the 3D a lot more comfortable to watch.

When I go to a 3D movie, I have to take the 3D glasses off after a while but I found when watching the rushes I was always leaving my glasses on because it was so easy to watch and that seems to be across the board.

It’s like you are watching something that is happening right now. The difficulty people have is people go to see a film and expect to see something historic and happened in the past. The immersion of 48fps is you feel like it is happening there and then. It is like you really are watching the story unfold and then on top of that, you are getting double the texture in the visual effects, which are just absolutely stunning. You are watching the screen in astonishment at how detailed something looks.

I think Peter was brave in challenging that tradition – it doesn’t have to be like that.”

Shooting in 48FPS was similar to 24FPS.

“It was basically the same, just double the render time. You had 5K files, then you had the 3D which is double and then 48 is doubling it again so. The data in post across the board was huge, not to mention the amount of footage shot.”

3D has increased cinema ticket prices, but should 48FPS cost us more to watch it?

“Personally, having seen it, I would pay more. Right now, you pay to see a 3D movie but you are not told whether it is post converted 3D or shot in parallel unlike a true 3D movie. For the latter I would pay more happily knowing that somebody has taken the time to make that a proper 3D movie where as the other two ways techniques are short cut ways to get more sales. However, you can’t cheat 48 frames per second and there are technology changes required to project at 48. Having seen the results, I would pay a small premium to see 48.”

The premiere of The Hobbit in 48FPS 3D received mixed feedback, but Gareth explains why that could be.

“For 3D, I think it is fantastic. It greatly reduces the artefacts that people found uncomfortable with 3D viewing. As for HFR itself, we’ve had 80 years of watching 24fps so the results are not surprising. If enough people were interviewed after every 24FPS movie shown I’m sure they’d find some people feeling nauseous, but there isn’t something to blame there, or a story :).

I’ve been fortunate to watch hours of 48fps a week for two years during the rushes for The Hobbit and I personally love it. We can’t stick at 24fps forever can we? Surely? That would be like saying a horse and cart will suffice. Or that PAL is the benchmark resolution.”

Be sure to check out 3D Focus as there are lots of great pieces about the new technolgy.

What are your thoughts on films being shot with higher frame rates?