High-frame-rate cinema has the potential to dramatically improve moviegoing and turn exhibition around by increasing the impact of movies. HFR movies are a new kind of wow, a hyper-real experience that is extremely immersive. It’s a brave new world, ladies and gents, so put on your brave face, buy your ticket and get on the train.
And if you’re feeling discomfort about the super-clear, un-filtered, you-are-there look of 48 frames per second, “don’t worry because that goes away” and when you go back to a normal 24 fps film, “you’ll ask yourself how could I watch movies like this for so long?”
That, in a nutshell, is what the three big guns on today’s High Frame Rate panel at SIGGRAPH — FX and HFR pioneer Douglas Trumbull, ILM’s Dennis Murren and Lightstorm’s Jon Landau — had to say about this new Hollywood technology. True, they waited until the very end of the panel to say it, but at least they stepped up to the plate and explained the deal.
That was the vibe inside Hall K at the L.A. Convention Center…cool. I loved it. But the mood elsewhere, as well all know, has been different.
At last April’s Cinemacon the 48 frame-per-second Hobbit footage was greeted with derision by at least half of the audience. Warner Bros. was so freaked by this that they declined to show 48 fps Hobbit footage at ComicCon last month and yesterday Variety‘s David Cohen reported that when The Hobbit opens in December WB plans to keep the 48 fps venues “fairly small” in “select locations.” It’s therefore no stretch to say things aren’t going especially well for HFR movies right now.
But you’d never know that to judge by comments heard this morning. The 11 panelists — Trumbull, Muren, Landau plus Christie’s Paul Salvini, Park Road’s Phil Oatley, DreamWork’s Lincoln Wallen and Jim Beshears, Digital Doman’s Darin Grant, ReadlD’s Matthew Cowan, Side Effects Doftware’s Luke Moore and Screen Industries’ Research’s John Helliker — were full of optimism, hope and excitement and vision-sharing.
High-frame rates are very cool, and will deliver filmmakers and moviegoers, finally, from the shackles of 20 Century filmmaking technology, etc. And once the public gets a taste of high-frame rates…blast-off! Boom!
Landau screened a Lightstorm-produced 3D instructional short in which James Cameron (who will be shooting Avatar 2 and 3 in 48 or 60 fps) showed and explained the differences between 24 fps, 48 fps and 60 fps. Footage of a medieval banquet and then a sword fight, shot and projected at these frame rates, was shown. Cameron also presented show-mo footage of dancing medieval maidens shot at 120 fps and projected at 60 fps…very cool.
It was pretty damn beautiful, to me. Like I said last spring, 48 fps (or 60 fps) is the only way to go with big-canvas movies that are heavy on action, effects, CG, big explosions and scenery. The Avengers would have been much, much cooler in 48 or 60 fps.
Which is fine in and of itself, but what about the elephant in the room, guys? What about the people out there who are booing, sneering, scared and unsure of HFR cinema? What about the chickenshit posture of Warner Bros. regarding The Hobbit? I asked this at the very end of the panel (SIGGRAPH allowed about ten minutes for questions) and then some guy from the audience got up and said he was “disturbed” by the high-def video look of 48 and 60 fps in Cameron’s demo film. And finally the panelists got into it.
Trumbull’s answer was that high-frame-rate cinema, which he called “hyper cinema” becaise it’s so real and immersive, is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing, and if filmmakers want to shoot a film in 24 fps, fine, and if they don’t, fine. But Peter Jackson is doing a great thing by having shot The Hobbit in 48 fps, he said, and once people get a taste of what 48 fps is, everything’ll be jake. Let’s hope so.
Of course, nobody on the panel even mentioned the very first form of high-frame-rate cinema — Mike Todd‘s 30 frame-per-second Todd A-AO, which debuted in 1955 and was used for two films — Oklahoma! and Around The World in Eighty Days — and was a dead format by 1958 after exhibitors whined about cost and Todd AO was downgraded to a 24 fps process.