What does 48 fps mean exactly?

In Peter Jackson’s own words:

“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.

…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.

…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.”

Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian had this to say:

“In his blog, Jackson says that we have tolerated the sprockety old 24fps speed for far too long, and this is like “the moment when vinyl records were supplanted by digital CDs”. Jackson calls for cinemas worldwide to switch over to 48fps projection speeds to show his Hobbit, which is of course in 3D; he dismisses “purists” unhappy at the consequent textural loss of blur and strobing – comparable, perhaps, to art historians who lament the cleaning of an Old Master canvas, which removes its grainy, characterful darkness.

Are we witnessing that most unreliable phenomenon: the game-changer? Higher frame-rates have been mooted before, but like Imax and 3D, they have been used for theme-park displays: the economics of mass cinema distribution have made them untenable. But now Jackson is pushing hard for 48fps as the new gold standard. Is there no turning back? Will this be the future of cinema? It’s difficult to tell. When Avatar came out, 3D was the coming thing, 2D was yesterdaysville. And yet the business has been relying on DVD sales, downloads and home entertainment. Can Avatar and the new 3D generation play as well on TV and computer screens? Last month there were worrying signs that even on the big screen, 3D hasn’t cured all ills. Ticket sales are down. 3D flops such as Mars Needs Moms haven’t helped. And people are still stubbornly unhappy about the dimming effect created by those hi-tech new specs.

So how do we know when the game changes? When the talkies came in with The Jazz Singer, it changed in a big way. Silents were out. Many thought the same about radio when television came in: and yet radio survived and prospered. As for 48fps, Peter Jackson is almost certainly right when he says it’s a cleaner, truer watch. But will the difficult economics of the movie business permit its widespread introduction? As Al Jolson might have said – we don’t know nothin’ yet.”

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