Recently Peter Jackson and James Cameron have come out supporting a new film technology: shooting movies at 48 frames per second instead of the traditional 24 frames per second of film. For people in the film industry that sentence has a lot of meaning and implications, but for most other people it is just gibberish. Since this is such a big deal and will be discussed heavily in the upcoming year we here at the UTG Film department have decided to try and help clear up some of the confusion and explain what everyone is talking about.
To know why this change is such a big deal, you need to know where we started. I’m not going to get super technical with you, because it’s really not all that important in this day and age with the movement almost over to digital filmmaking to know how they worked, but I do feel it’s good to know your roots in regards to why. When movies were first being made there was no “end all” frame rate, rather, people hand cranked the film through the camera. If you watch old silent films from the early 20th century, you can see that sometimes the speeds are quicker, and then slower, and this is due to whoever the cinematographer was cranked at different speeds. You can check out the example below, but you can see how it looks jumpier and more erratic because it’s very hard to hand crank at the same pace.
Once films started to grow from being some sideshow act to a more accepted art form, filmmakers started to experiment and create new types of cameras, and thus have more control over the quality of the picture. One of the many advancements made within the film world was using mechanics to feed the film at a standard rate through the camera. Some people tried different speeds (creators of movie making the Lumiere brothers argued that 16 fps was the way to go), but it wouldn’t be until the introduction of sound into film that the decided frame rate of 24fps would be made standard within movie making. Again, you probably ask me, “why the hell would they choose such an arbitrary number if they could control it?? Why haven’t I been watching 48fps since I was born??” Well back then audio syncing to film was MUCH more difficult than it is today, and due to a variety of factors 24fps was the ideal and most cost effective speed for producing films that have both quality video and audio. Some people argue whether or not that sound was the catalyst to a defined frame rate, but generally it’s accepted within the film community as the reason. My Oscar winning film teacher told me this was the case, and since he won his Oscar for sound, I’m going to take his word for it (biased but whatever, go home haters).
After that decision was made to standardize 24fps as the film standard (TV has a some different frame rates due to broadcasting requirements and country choices, but frankly I don’t feel like getting into that, this is an article about movies), filmmakers have been satisfied with the aesthetic of films. There is definitely a different “feel” to a film than television, and that is large in part to the frame rate, colorization, and techniques that are used in movies. But this aesthetic is an old practice. I’m not trying to be some 20-something kid who’s trying to vouch for a change to everything you love about movies. I’m not that guy. I hate 90% of 3D movies, I still buy records, and the idea of buying a new pair of black jeans gives me anxiety attacks. But with this switch to digital movie making almost fully complete, the filmmaking community has a choice to make whether or not an upgrade to a higher frame rate is what we want.
So what are the pros and cons of switching to 48 fps? From a filmmaking standpoint not much. The technology just means shooting with a different kind of camera. That is not a very big deal, cameras are always changing as technology advances. This switch does not even effect modern theaters due to their digital projectors, it just means downloading new computery stuff and installing it. No new hardware is necessary. The only thing that will change is how it will look. It really becomes an artistic choice.
At 48fps movies look even more realistic. Remember when they switched TV over to HD and all the sudden reality shows looked more cold and real than TV used to look? That was the switch from film to digital. Now think of how much more real that looked and that is how much more real movies will look in 48fps compared to how they look now. Everything becomes sharper and clearer and distinctly different than the current norm. Another thing 48fps does is reduce the amount of flicker in 3D movies, which will make it a more pleasant viewing experience. No more feeling sick or getting headaches from watching a 3D movie.
There are some technical drawbacks to the 48fps switch, though. The main issue with this new technology is our televisions. Our TV’s are not made to display 48fps. With most people just now upgrading to a blu-ray player over a dvd play it seems almost unreasonable to expect the public to accept another new tech. Sure, people will buy them, but will it be enough people to warrant making them? What would most likely happen is a down converted film transfer to blu-ray and dvd, so the only place you could ever really experience the movie how it was intended is at the theater.
The next portion is something a little different. Justin Proper and Tyler Osborne sat down with each other to talk about this transition. It’s a known fact within the Under The Gun family that Tyler and Justin argue a ton because they’re pretty sure there was a family feud between their clans in a previous life, so they decided, why not argue it out for the good of the film community. It actually turned out relatively civil, which is genuinely disappointing.
Justin Prōper So what do you think of all this 48fps stuff?
Tyler Osborne It’s really hard to say one way or the other since I haven’t seen how they use it, but I think it could be a good thing for filmmaking granted it’s done right
Justin Prōper They said the same thing about 3D and look what happened.
Tyler Osborne I don’t disagree. There are a lot of 3D movies that are terrible, should not be in 3D, and honestly are just bad movies in general. But I think the thing with new technology is that there has to be bad movies so that filmmakers can see what works and what doesn’t. Hugo and Prometheus I think used 3D really well, in regards to creating an atmosphere rather than cheap thrills. But again for every Prometheus there’s five Clash of the Titans.
Justin Prōper Fair enough, Hugo ruled. I just don’t like the photorealism. I like movies to be artistic and visually interesting. You go to the movies to escape reality, I don’t want it to look like my life. If I wanted to see real people do stuff I’d go to a play or the mall or something.
Tyler Osborne But again, with the new frame rate it does allow for filmmakers to do new things creatively. While there will always be new movies, lots of the ideas expressed in films are generally rehashed but told in different ways. With new frame rates it allows for a new ways to enhance storytelling so that it feels new and unique. My question is, what if films never gained sound? Sure, it could be done, but it would have gotten old. People didn’t like talkies when they first came out, but once Hollywood and filmmakers embraced, they became more accepted and less jarring to audiences. Would you equate 48fps to the introduction of sound?
Justin Prōper Not even close. People said the 48fps made them very much more aware they were watching actors on a set. I don’t want something that will take me out of the experience.
Tyler Osborne Is that from recent reports about The Hobbit?
Justin Prōper Yes, from what people saw of the trailer.
Tyler Osborne I can agree there is a certain part of me that is worried about how I’m going to feel watching it. And again, I think it’s going to be highly scrutinized. But in my humble opinion, if anyone were to introduce something like this to the film community, it’s Peter Jackson. I don’t think he would have gone for it if he didn’t have everything behind it. And to be fair to him / the movie, you can’t judge a completely new artform from what, 10 minutes? I think you need to be truely immersed from the beginning to end to get the best sense of it.
Justin Prōper I certainly agree about Jackson. If it was just James Cameron like with 3D I’d be a lot more concerned.
Tyler Osborne But despite the obvious flaws in the storytelling of Avatar, the 3D was pretty maginficent you have to admit.
Justin Prōper I thought it was used best in Hugo. Those visuals exploded my brain.
Tyler Osborne Exactly, they were fantastic. but again, it took a few years for them to get to that point, and be used correctly. I think the 48fps will be really good, very different, but once it’s utilized in the hobbitt more people will start to use it and figure out all the best ways. to use it to enhance the art, not change it.
Justin Prōper I still think every movie ever made should look like Fight Club.
Tyler Osborne If every movie looked like Fight Club, everything would look the same, making it boring. Fincher wouldn’t be Fincher without other filmmakers.
Justin Prōper I meant every movie should have a shirtless Brad Pitt circa ’95.
The conversation ended because Tyler didn’t know how to respond.
What do you think? Is this switch to 48FPS a necessary transition to keep the medium alive and progressing? Or is it going to make it something new that you do not want to be a part of? Let’s talk about it in the comments section.