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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Future of Higher Frame Rates May Include James Cameron Shooting 'Avatar 2' in 60 fps

Hobbit posterPeter Jackson’s first installment of The Hobbit crushed every other movie out there this weekend, hauling in an impressive $84 million in its first days of release. Yes, that’s a lot of money – but the film has become something of a lightning rod for movie lovers who’ve taken to debating the merits of Jackson’s decision to shoot the film at the significantly higher-than-average speed of 48 frames per second.
The detractors complain that the increased frame rate ruins the work of set designers and makeup technicians by making the artificial nature of their work more obvious.

 They also complain that it makes majestic films like The Hobbit look a lot like soap operas or porn (minus the porn). It reminds us a bit of the first days of HDTV, which was also visually jarring when it debuted.

As the controversy rages on (and on…), it appears as though 48 fps is just the beginning. Joe Letteri, who’s the visual effects supervisor for Jackson’s film, has now pointed out that James Cameron is considering going with 60 fps for Avatar 2. Cue arguing… now.

Letteri gets a bit technical about it in a recent chat, stating that 60 fps is “closer to where persistence of vision almost disappears. In fact, these discussions came out of when we noticed the effect of that in Avatar. And we were brainstorming with Jim on how to fix it — well, this is inherent in the photography and the only thing you can do is go shorter shutter, but that introduces strobing, or you can go higher frame rate. We started experimenting with higher frame rate [from a standpoint of] how do we solve the problem? It looks like something happening live.”

Twenty-four fps adherents (the standard of film for years) will decry that the whole “it looks like something happening live” thing is the problem – and they’re right. The Hobbit in 48 fps certainly does look strange at some points. However, as with any new technology, there’s bound to be a learning curve – one that will force set designers and makeup artists and FX technicians to step up their game to take advantage of the potential benefits. When they catch up, this could potentially be a good thing for the industry.

Those benefits of the technology take the form of allowing filmmakers to create a new level of immediacy in their work if this pans out. If films reach a point where watching one is like watching something happen outside your window, it could allow directors to engage their audiences in different ways than they can currently.

Of course, the cynic in me just assumes this is a ploy to force theaters to once again upgrade their equipment to keep up with technology – something that’s ultimately passed on to the consumer in the form of increased prices. Plus, think how easy it will be to justify a Hobbit remake in a few years: “Yeah, we did that, but the 48 fps technology was in its infancy then – we can do it so much better now!”

What do you guys think? Did you enjoy The Hobbit in 48 fps or was the standard 24 fps version just fine with you? Would you be willing to pay extra to see more films in this fledgling format? Where do you stand on 60 fps? Let us know what you think below.
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