The Hobbit: HFR 3D

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The Hobbit: HFR 3D

I'll preface this post by stating that I went to this screening genuinely excited to see the outcome of boldly progressive new filmmaking technique. As we all know by now, The Hobbit was photographed at 48 frames per second and is also being exhibited at that framerate in select theaters. The production's creative intent for this was to create a movie going experience that more closely mimics the way our own eyes perceive motion. This combined with steroscopic projection, particularly large format IMAX, was supposed to create a more thoroughly immersive, more "life-like" viewer expereince. However, the proof is in the pudding and when pondering High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D I've always had this clawing notion that because of the effective exposure time of 48 frames per second, even with a 270 degree shutter as was employed on The Hobbit, by default it will have a motion characteristic similar to PAL video. 

48 fps @ 270 degree shutter = 1/64 second exposure time per frame

or 48 fps @ 180 degree shutter = 1/96 second exposure time per frame

25 fps @ 180 degree shutter = 1/50 second exposure time per frame

or PAL 50p @ 180 degree shutter = 1/100 second exposure time per frame 

Within the first 5 minutes of The Hobbit in HFR 3D, I felt like I was watching a low budget period drama on the BBC. This experience can only be compared to "video" as this is closest point of reference that exists. The slightly increased exposure time of 1/64 second per frame only further enhances this video-like quality of motion. If this effect is supposed to look more life-like by eliminating the characteristic motion blur of 24 frame capture, the quality of motion that we've been conditioned to associate with cinema, then what's the next quality to remove? Selective focus? Because our eyes can focus at will should we capture images where everyting is in focus so the eye can freely wander about the scene as it would? In the quest to create a more life-like viewer experience it seems that what's being sacrificed are the qualities that are traditionally associated with cinema. This is definitely "progressive" but is it "good" or "bad"? This of course is where we get purely subjective. 

In my opinion, HFR 3D as an effect was so distracting that it also drew attention to a multitude of other visual shortcomings like overlit sets, glaring seams in makeup and costume, not to mention instantly recognizable imaging characteristics associated with the RED camera. I'm looking foward to trying The Hobbit again in both 24 frame 3D and 24 frame 2D. I'm curious to see if the 3D is more palatable at the frame rate our eyes and brains have associated cinema with since its inception and by extension, I'm also curious to see if the visual quality of this picture isn't improved overall by a more conventional presentation. An unfortunate side effect of stereoscopic projection is that the overall image gain is increased to compensate for light lost through the passive 3D glasses. This can make highlights look overly bright and more "digital". I felt this was a very recognizable imaging problem with The Hobbit that I feel will be diminished in 2D projection. 

I'm all for progress and pushing the art and craft of motion picture filmmaking into the next stage of its evolution but I must say that for me, HFR 3D cheapens the cinematic experience. I'm a huge believer in the creative potential of stereoscopic 3D and have seen it used to amazing effect such as in Wim Wender's Pina, but in this case, I don't appreciate the fruits of this experiment. I'm deeply curious to see where all of this is going ultimately but I certainly hope that this isn't "the future" of filmmaking. You can tell me all the different ways I'm wrong but it simply won't change the way I reacted to 2 hours and 40 minutes of HFR 3D. 

Update

on 2013-01-07 19:17 by Ben Cain

I HEART MOTION BLUR.

Visting various family members across the Midwest this holiday season, I discovered many brand new TV sets stuck in "TruMotion", "Motion Enhanced", "Motion Scan Plus", or some other flavor of artificial motion blur removal mode. The unfortunate fact is that all new TV sets have this functionality and all ship with it ON by default. For the average consumer, identifying why their TV "looks funny" and then locating the correct option deep within an unnavigable menu tree is overly difficult if not impossible. Some TV's I've noticed don't even have the option to remove this oversampling, motion blur eliminating, completely unecessary feature that oddly enough is used to market with "bigger=better" numbers like a newly announced 480Hz display. This set effectively displays 480 images per second. And this is good? Regardless, it's quickly becoming the way in which the average viewer will consume media and visual entertainment. For me, this a horrendous trend that needs to go away but one that shows of that. If anything this functionality will find it's way into all display devices and eventually will not even be an on or off option. Soon movies will just not look the movies that we've all been watching our entire lives. Progressive yes, but not for the better in my opinion.