Frames of Mind – a reflection on HFR cinema

Going down the hobbit hole is a much smoother experience. (Photo by Jeff Hitchcock. CC BY 2.0)

Going down the hobbit hole is a much smoother experience. (Photo by Jeff Hitchcock. CC BY 2.0)

In case you were wondering, the actual frame rate of the mind seems to max out at approximately 60 frames per second. This is why those theme park rides with the moving seats look so smooth and real (apart from the often awful CGI), and why Peter Jackson doubled the cinematic standard of 24fps when shooting The Hobbit trilogy. It is an entirely different aesthetic and can be very jarring for audiences, but it is more realistic, sharper, clearer, smoother, and more comfortable to watch (for an in-depth analysis of the technical aspects of HFR cinema, see my earlier post).

In fact, while I didn’t suffer from any discomfort watching the HFR 3D version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Bros.’ fancy new acronym for High Frame Rate cinema), I know others who had problems watching the opening actions scenes at 24fps. This was one of the issues with the distribution of Jackson’s latest film. Warner Bros., fearing the new format would be rejected, distributed the HFR version in a limited release, only in 3D, meaning those who struggle with or dislike 3D are stuck with a 24fps version of the film. Motion blur would have to be added in post for the motion to render correctly, and indeed some have claimed it was so blurry they were unable to see what was happening. The clarity and smoothness of motion is reduced twice-fold in the 24fps version, predominantly during action scenes with fast camera movements. This is the major advantage of watching the trilogy in HFR, and 3D eye strain is somewhat reduced, so I would recommend those who may not always appreciate 3D to give it a chance, purely to see it in HFR.

English: Effect of different shutter speeds on...

In cinematography, the ratio between the shutter speed and frame rate must remain constant to achieve a reasonable amount of motion blur; the 180º rule. (Photo by Nevit Dilmen CC BY-SA 3.0)

Overall, HFR’s reception has been mostly positive. Even those who dislike it don’t detest it. Rather it’s more likely they find it difficult to adjust to an entirely different quality of motion when we’ve had virtually a century of 24fps cinema. During the first few minutes, I thought it looked somewhat cheap, and certainly not cinematic. However, in later scenes, even when the effect was more pronounced, I found I adjusted quickly and genuinely enjoyed the experience. Within a few years, films at 24fps will undoubtedly appear dated, in the same way many older films shot in full frame, and at lower frame rates (or even hand cranked) are just so recognisably of another era.

The Hobbit aside, what interests me most is the creative potential of HFR cinema. Many films play with frame rates, shutter speeds, and various in-camera effects. Common techniques include shooting at high frame rates and slowing the footage down for smooth slow motion, shooting at slightly lower frame rates and projecting at the standard to heighten the apparent speed and intensity of action, and increasing shutter speed to eliminate more motion blur than necessary to create a staccato effect – a technique famously implemented in Saving Private Ryan. Setting 48fps or higher as standard for shooting and projection increases artists’ options further. Many of the options are highly lateral, such as using 24fps footage for flashbacks, but the creativity of filmmakers will undoubtedly result in more innovative uses of this ever-expanding, multifarious approach to cinematography.

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One thought on “Frames of Mind – a reflection on HFR cinema

  1. Pingback: The Hobbit: A Journey into HFR… | Off the record, on the QT and very Hush-Hush

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