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Peter Jackson on The Hobbit and 48 FPS

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Scott Roberts
Peter Jackson on The Hobbit and 48 FPS
on Apr 13, 2011 at 9:57:41 pm

If you haven't read about it yet, Peter Jackson plans on shooting The Hobbit at 48 frames per second. I think it's an interesting idea. And if it's going to be as great as he says it's going to be, I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out. If you're wondering why he's doing this (and also want a brief history lesson on frame rates), this is a note from the (formerly) big man himself, off of his Facebook page:

48 Frames Per Second

Time for an update. Actually, we've been intending to kick off with a video, which is almost done, so look out for that in the next day or two. In the meantime, I thought I'd address the news that has been reported about us shooting THE HOBBIT at 48 frames per second, and explain to you what my thoughts are about this.

We are indeed shooting at the higher frame rate. The key thing to understand is that this process requires both shooting and projecting at 48 fps, rather than the usual 24 fps (films have been shot at 24 frames per second since the late 1920's). So the result looks like normal speed, but the image has hugely enhanced clarity and smoothness. Looking at 24 frames every second may seem ok--and we've all seen thousands of films like this over the last 90 years--but there is often quite a lot of blur in each frame, during fast movements, and if the camera is moving around quickly, the image can judder or "strobe."

Shooting and projecting at 48 fps does a lot to get rid of these issues. It looks much more lifelike, and it is much easier to watch, especially in 3-D. 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. I saw a new movie in the cinema on Sunday and I kept getting distracted by the juddery panning and blurring. We're getting spoilt!

Originally, 24 fps was chosen based on the technical requirements of the early sound era. I suspect it was the minimum speed required to get some audio fidelity out of the first optical sound tracks. They would have settled on the minimum speed because of the cost of the film stock. 35mm film is expensive, and the cost per foot (to buy the negative stock, develop it and print it), has been a fairly significant part of any film budget.

So we have lived with 24 fps for 9 decades--not because it's the best film speed (it's not by any stretch), but because it was the cheapest speed to achieve basic acceptable results back in 1927 or whenever it was adopted.

None of this thinking is new. Doug Trumbull developed and promoted a 60 frames per second process called ShowScan about 30 years ago and that looked great. Unfortunately it was never adopted past theme park use. I imagine the sheer expense of burning through expensive film stock at the higher speed (you are charged per foot of film, which is about 18 frames), and the projection difficulties in cinemas, made it tough to use for "normal" films, despite looking amazing. Actually, if anybody has been on the Star Tours ride at Disneyland, you've experienced the life like quality of 60 frames per second. Our new King Kong attraction at Universal Studios also uses 60 fps.

Now that the world's cinemas are moving towards digital projection, and many films are being shot with digital cameras, increasing the frame rate becomes much easier. Most of the new digital projectors are capable of projecting at 48 fps, with only the digital servers needing some firmware upgrades. We tested both 48 fps and 60 fps. The difference between those speeds is almost impossible to detect, but the increase in quality over 24 fps is significant.

Film purists will criticize the lack of blur and strobing artifacts, but all of our crew--many of whom are film purists--are now converts. You get used to this new look very quickly and it becomes a much more lifelike and comfortable viewing experience. It's similar to the moment when vinyl records were supplanted by digital CDs. There's no doubt in my mind that we're heading towards movies being shot and projected at higher frame rates.

Warner Bros. have been very supportive, and allowed us to start shooting THE HOBBIT at 48 fps, despite there never having been a wide release feature film filmed at this higher frame rate. We are hopeful that there will be enough theaters capable of projecting 48 fps by the time The Hobbit comes out where we can seriously explore that possibility with Warner Bros. However, while it's predicted that there may be over 10,000 screens capable of projecting THE HOBBIT at 48 fps by our release date in Dec, 2012, we don’t yet know what the reality will be. It is a situation we will all be monitoring carefully. I see it as a way of future-proofing THE HOBBIT. Take it from me--if we do release in 48 fps, those are the cinemas you should watch the movie in. It will look terrific!

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Our slate for the films showing 48 fps.

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Jeff Breuer
Re: Peter Jackson on The Hobbit and 48 FPS
on Apr 14, 2011 at 3:47:31 pm

Excellent, thanks for sharing. I've been really excited about this idea since I read John Galt's article in the Cow's Anniversary Magazine.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Peter Jackson on The Hobbit and 48 FPS
on Apr 14, 2011 at 8:10:18 pm

"Paging Douglas "showscan" Trumbull; white courtesy phone, Mr. Douglas Trumbull, white courtesy phone please..."

The man is still ahead of his time.

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Tim Wilson
Re: Peter Jackson on The Hobbit and 48 FPS
on Apr 14, 2011 at 9:04:38 pm

Jeff, thanks for the props to John Galt's article in Creative COW Magazine, "The Truth About 2K, 4K, and The Future of Pixels."

Galt is the Senior Vice President of Advanced Digital Imaging at Panavision. He's smart, opinionated to the point of exasperation for those he vexes, and a great storyteller. He also raises some points that are regularly worth revisiting.

1) Larger number of pixels for DI is one thing. For display, it's nonsense. Little thing called Avatar: shot at 1920. The next 2 Avatars: 1920. Tron: 1920. Most animated features: 1920. All those movies with CineAltas (F-900, F23, F35, etc.), Panavision Genesis, and so many others: 1920. The ARRI Alexa, certainly the most talked-about camera around the COW, now THAT one goes up to 2K.

Not that 4K (and higher) cameras aren't real, or don't produce great images, or aren't being used, or that camera and display resolutions won't go up - but seriously, if you're after the biggest bang in maximum picture quality, then you're looking in the wrong place.

Says Galt, anyway, and Cameron and others, and I think that they make a compelling case.

2) Temporal resolution always trumps spatial resolution.

There's no question that one of the most compelling things we see is that high speed footage coming from Vision Research Phantom cameras. You may not know the name, but you know the look:


In Galt's article, there's a remarkable chart that illustrates John's point, that as fps goes up, frame size goes down. It makes a lot of sense, but is easy to miss because of how good the images are.

I just went to Vision Research's site to check if the resolution table had been updated in the couple of years since our interview with John, and not really: 1000 fps at 1920, 1500 fps at 1280, 2000 frames drops under 800 px. But the pictures look awesome, don't they?

PJ and JC are both right that 3D is much more pleasant at higher frame rates, as you can see 2D is, even with kitties on YouTube. Higher rates are certainly one reason why viewing 3D at home on Blu-ray is so superior to the theatrical experience...although I find that I prefer it most of all when I've scattered popcorn all over the floor at home, and there's somebody next to me texting.

Having said all that, just as there are folks on this very forum who don't even like digital restoration at 24fps, there are going to be people who won't like film at 48 or 60fps, or more. Me, I love it, and can't wait.

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Stephen Smith
Re: Peter Jackson on The Hobbit and 48 FPS
on Apr 15, 2011 at 2:43:23 pm

Tim, I agree. Avatar looked great on the iMax screen.

Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

Check out my Motion Training DVD

Check out my Motion Tutorials

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Mike Cohen
Re: Peter Jackson on The Hobbit and 48 FPS
on Sep 20, 2011 at 9:34:44 pm

Just read that Cameron is planning to shoot Avatar 2,3,4,5,6,7 and 8 in 60fps. As a result of Avatar 1, all films are now being released in 3D. So this means starting in 2013, all films will also be shot in 60fps.

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