The Hobbit — An Unexpected Frame Rate. (Updated)

I saw the Hobbit the other day and I was really curious and open minded about this whole 48fps filming technique Peter Jackson is pushing. There is tons written both supporting and criticizing the effect but you need to see it and judge for yourself if this is something you are going to like and want to see more or less of. My point of this post is not to go on about the pros and cons of shooting HFR (High Frame Rate) because there’s so much already written and most importantly it is subjective. On a side note, you can bet all the money that HFR is the new hollywood acronym and marketing buzz that is going to be pushed. What most lay people don’t know is their smart phones and camcorders already shoot at a faster frame now.

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Anyhow, I wanted to note something that I find very interesting about the decision to shoot an unexpected 48 frames-per-second. Jackson’s idea behind this is to create a more immersive experience by recording twice as many frames and capturing twice the detail, eliminate the standard motion blur that comes along with 24fps shooting. Ironically though, and in my opinion, it utterly failed at accomplishing a more immersive experience because the result in my opinion looked an awful lot like something we’ve been trying to get away from for the past 25 years. And this is the crux of my post. Let me explain…The Hobbit reminded me of those times watching an old PBS low budget documentary that had dramatic reenactments. Remember the effect when these docu-dramas shot on video cameras and how “video” looking they were because they didn’t have the budget to shoot 35mm film? They were limited to budget and camera technology of the time, it wasn’t the aesthetic they were after.

And this is the interesting part… all through the late 80’s,90’s, 2000’s video cameras were limited to 2/3 inch sensors which made it very difficult to create a shallow depth of field. They also had a high interlaced time base that recorded 60 frames per second. Only later did 30 and 24P come to these cameras yet they still had 2/3″ sensors that created deep depth of field. People using the technology did everything they could to disguise these limitations. Whole micro industries opened up around 35mm adapters that helped create shallower depth of fields. The red rock micro, the lettuce, the P&S technique, etc. To minimize the high frame rates, there were countless products and post effects that were labeled “film-look” in an attempt to desperately capture that elusive, mysterious 24 fps film look. But no one really succeeded and everything plodded along status quo; Video was a poor cousin to film and it remained that way for decades.

Finally, after decades, the RED camera company comes out and flips the entire industry on it’s ear. Fast forward three years and the flood gates are wide open with all major and minor manufacturers offering 35mm cinema cameras that rival and exceed the capabilities of film emulsion. We got the sony contingent of F3, F5, F35, F55, the Alexa, the Epic, the canon C300, C500. Even every half capable DSLR’s like the 5D Mark 2,3 have come closer to the “film look” than any other video camera before it. Super 35mm digital cinema cameras are so ubiquitous in the market place now that it’s hard to keep track of them all.

It has been a long road to get to the point where digital has supplanted film acquisition in most cases. So what happens when we finally get what we wanted so bad? We get Peter jackson telling us that for a more immersive experience, we need a deeper depth of field and faster frame rates…whoa! You mean, just like the video cameras of old offered us at the beginning of our journey 25 years ago?! It’s like someone telling you to hurry up and get  somewhere only to tell you to turn around again an go back from which you came.

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Vintage 1990 Sony Betacam 3CCD, 2/3″ sensor at 59.98i

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