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‘The Hobbit’ At 48 fps: Pulling Us Out Of Our Comfort Zone
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Mr. BabyMan   |  @   |  
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Peter Jackson on 'The Hobbit' set

I have seen the future, and it plays at 48 frames per second. It may not currently be without notable flaws, but technological revolutions seldom begin as such.

This week I saw a Digital IMAX projection of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in HFR. HFR (High Frame Rate) is a marketing term for digital video projected at 48 fps (frames per second), exactly twice the current film frame rate standard of 24 fps.

As some have accurately criticized, to the unaccustomed eye this has the tendency of making the film look like a 70’s BBC TV drama or an old soap opera (that’s because rather than using film, pre-HDTV era soap operas were acquired using economically efficient video cameras which captured at a rate of 60 interlaced fields per second, or the equivalent of 30 frames per second).

During scenes populated mostly by CGI characters I often felt I was watching a cutscene from a fantasy videogame. The high frame rate also appears to reveal more potential imperfections, particularly in scenes involving actors. At times Ian Holm’s (older Bilbo Baggins) face looked so waxy and dull I thought his makeup was applied by morticians. Makeup artists are going to have to be more stringent than ever in the HFR world. In fact, I’d say the majority of criticism attributed to the “eerie” look of this new process is an indication that all filmmaking disciplines will need to reinvent themselves to meet the challenge of the medium.

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