On Frame Rates

The Hobbit

This past weekend, I finally had a chance to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for the second time and this time, I saw it in the shiny new HFR format. You’ve probably heard, at least in passing, some of the hoopla about this because not only is The Hobbit the first film to be shot and projected this way, but many critics really do not like it.

For those living under a rock, HFR is short for High Frame Rate. Film for my entire life and many years before has been projected at 24 frames per second (FPS). This wasn’t always the case, but suffice it to say that if you’re alive now, chances are you’ve only ever seen 24 FPS projection (except maybe at a museum or something).

Why is this important? Mainly because 24 FPS isn’t really high, and many things in movies work because your brain has to fill in so much information between the frames that many effects –whether practical or digital– only work well because of what isn’t on-screen.

HFR filming and projecting now double that frame rate to 48 FPS, and the result is that, basically, your brain doesn’t have to work as hard, and everything looks much, much, much clearer.

So, what does this mean to me? Quite a bit, as it turns out: I like it. I actually like it quite a bit.

This means I disagree with most of the critics, but from what I’ve read, most are just saying, “It doesn’t look like a movie”, which simply isn’t true. It does look like a movie; it just doesn’t look like movies always have.

There are two noticeable side effects of HFR. The first is that things seem to move faster. This is because your brain isn’t filling in so many gaps like I mentioned above, but honestly, this one goes away quickly. It took me maybe 10 minutes to get used to how things appeared in HFR, but once I was, I felt like I was seeing a movie for the first time.

The other, more significant problem is that because there’s so much more information on-screen and because there are so many effects in this movie, a lot of them are a _lot_ easier to see, and that can sometimes kick you out of the dream, as it were. Some people have complained about being able to see make-up effects and props (hello, rubber swords!) more quickly, but this didn’t bother me as much as the digital effects. Green-screened shots are apparent, and CGI looks… well, not cheap, but certainly easier to spot.

But these quibbles will go away as effects get better, and as more films shoot this way, they’ll have to improve.

I’m not going to lie to you; the technology is new and exciting and not quite there yet, but I, for one, can’t wait until HFR is the norm because all our movies are going to look a hell of a lot better once it is.