The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is the prequel to the Lord of the Rings movies and tells the story of the character Bilbo Baggins. It will open here on December 13th, and will play in High Frame-Rates (HFR) 3D in selected cinemas here:
The human eye can see individual images if they're flashed 10 to 12 per second. Flash images faster than that and you create an illusion of motion. Early films had low frame-rates, from 16 to 18 frames per second (fps) which make them look so jerky.
Movies today are mostly shot at 24 fps, but not because it conveys the smoothest motion to the human eye. In fact, motion blur and strobing, where the image judders when the camera moves around quickly, are prevalent in movies shot at 24 fps. Some people say that 24 fps was decided upon when sound came into films, because it was the slowest frame-rate (and the cheapest) to allow for syncing with sound.
But like it or not, most of us have come to associate video shot at 24 fps with a cinematic look, and anything shot at higher frame-rates with television or home movies, which are usually shot at 50 or 60 fps.
Peter Jackson, director of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movies, shot The Hobbit at 48 frames per second. He believes that shooting at a higher frame-rate will not only do away with the motion artifacts produced at 24fps, but also result in higher clarity, making the characters look more lifelike:
"Now, in the digital age, there’s no reason whatsoever to stick to 24 fps. We didn’t get it perfect in 1927. Science tells us that the human eye stops seeing individual pictures at about 55 fps. Therefore, shooting at 48 fps gives you much more of an illusion of real life. The reduced motion blur on each frame increases sharpness and gives the movie the look of having been shot in 65mm or IMAX. One of the biggest advantages is the fact that your eye is seeing twice the number of images each second, giving the movie a wonderful immersive quality. It makes the 3D experience much more gentle and hugely reduces eyestrain. Much of what makes 3D viewing uncomfortable for some people is the fact that each eye is processing a lot of strobing, blur and flicker. This all but disappears in HFR 3D."
It's worth noting that the nine cinemas listed above are the only ones in Singapore projecting the movie at its native 48 fps, as it requires a different projector than the ones which can only project at lower frame-rates.
Peter Jackson isn't the only director who wants the industry to move forward to higher frame-rates. James Cameron, director of Avatar and Titanic, has been advocating HFR for quite a while. In early 2011, Cameron demonstrated footage he'd shot at 60 fps, and he believes that the way forward for cinematic quality is not to increase the resolution of the image, i.e. 4K cinema, but to first increase its frame-rates. The rumors are that Avatar 2 will be shot in HFR, but whether it will be is still unconfirmed.
Early screenings of The Hobbit seems to have left some New Zealand moviegoers feeling dizzy and nauseous, apparently because of the higher frame-rates. But others, like X-Men director Bryan Singer, seem to have been won over by HFR, tweeting: "Having some serious frame rate envy. Amazing and involving. Loved it! "
With The Hobbit yet to be released to the mass public, the jury is out on how HFR will pan out. Will watching a movie shot and projected at 48 fps be a more immersive experience than one shot at 24 fps? Or will audiences today simply feel that it reminds them too much of video? Since it seems to be such a subjective experience, the only way to truly find out will be to see it in the theatres for yourself.
P.S. Check out our The Hobbit movie contest; put your Middle-Earth folklore to the test and win merchandise and tickets to the movie premiere!