48 fps is here to stay

By now we’re all aware that Peter Jackson’s upcoming Hobbit trilogy is going be shown in theaters in various formats: 2D 24fps, 2D 48fps, and 3D 48fps. Those lucky enough to get an early preview of footage, however, were left with mixed reviews.

For the last century, moviegoers have viewed their favorite films in 24fps (frames per second). So when Jackson decided to go 48fps, even when The Lord of the Rings trilogy was done in 24fps, people were confused. Many complained that it looked “too real”, “soap-opera-ish” or like a “made for TV movie”. Some likened the experience to watching a movie with the 120hz motion enhancer turned on their television. It’s a big risk, critically, on Peter Jackson’s end to pioneer the 48fps cinemascape, but here’s a little reasoning as to why he’s doing it.

For those that feel 3D is just a fad, I’m going to sorely disappoint you. Studios and movie theaters don’t simply spend oodles of cash on implementing a system that’s only going to last a decade (okay so they did in the 50’s, but this is different). Plus, tech giants like Apple, Sony, and Samsung are already investing plenty in R&D on making 3D -sans glasses- a standard for televisions and mobile devices of the future.

The obvious reason why some people groan at 3D is because they get eye strain and headaches from the constant blur, which is a legit gripe to have. Here’s where 48 fps comes in. That perceived blur on screen is caused by fast movement either in frame or by movement of the camera being jarred back and forth too quickly. Shooting in 48 fps relieves a lot of these issues, looking much more life-like and making it much easier to sit down and enjoy 3D.

Here’s what Jackson has to say about it:

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.

So Why Now?

The answer may not be so surprising: money. It was cheapest 90 years ago to shoot in 24fps, but with technology advancing and the age of digital cameras, we’re now capable of doing 48-60 fps without any consideration to financing. Some in the industry are even questioning what’s taken us so long. Doug Trumbell, for example, was advocating for 60fps over thirty years ago with ShowScan, but it never stuck beyond theme parks.

Jackson’s Not Alone

Don’t think 48fps is just a trial hinging on The Hobbit’s commercial success, either. Even if it was shot in slow-motion, people will still go in droves Dec.14 to go see it.

Jackson’s biggest proponent of “the switch” is none other than James Cameron, who’s decided to shoot his next installments of Avatar in 60fps. If the man credited with pushing 3D is fully on board, you’d better believe studios are going to listen.

Transitioning

It’s not going to be painless getting used to the new frame rate, but most of that stress isn’t going to be put on the audience. Everyone from cinematographers to grips to gaffers will need to adjust accordingly; lighting needs to improve, dolly work needs to be flawless, even CGI teams need to make changes, but they will, and we’ll all be the better for it.

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