The most definitive opinion piece I’ve read comparing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in these formats: HFR 3D, Standard 3D, and 2D:
So with all of this here’s the “Master Class” that I took away, and that Peter Jackson shared with every filmmaker out there that is willing to study these 3 versions of the same film:
1. Film is just as much about what you DON’T show the audience as with what you DO. Shallow depth of field, motion blur, lack of sharpness, and movement all help to create movie magic. If images are too sharp and you see too much detail…that’s not always a good thing. The Canon 5D MKII showed us that in many ways—it’s large sensor and resulting lack depth of field combined with what was a relatively “soft” image (relative to video cameras) made it what it was when I shot “Reverie.”
2. High frame rates belong on bad TV shows and perhaps sports. 24 fps is here to stay in my opinion—at least for cinema. That is unless this next generation of video game players change the rules on us of course. I can see this working for animation, sports and nature films though. I’d also like to see it used on only certain moves (fast ones) in a film perhaps and not the entirety of a film.
3. 3D combined with HFR is a total non starter for me. It highlights the weaknesses of both techniques exponentially. It’s far too real and it’s almost impossible to hide makeup / sets / VFX etc. In fact just yesterday afternoon a VFX friend of mine said, verbatim: “Motion blur is extremely important to what I do…that’s how I hide all of my mistakes and make VFX/CGI look more real.”
4. This latest technological “advance’ reaffirms one of my key beliefs: We’re far too focused on technology these days we are creating a lot distractions to what can make a film truly powerful. So many of these new technologies threaten the magic of film by making the experience a little too “hyper real” if you will. Having only one of 8 characters in focus during an important soliloquy, or another person crossing frame out of focus and motion blurred can be a good thing to make the audience become more immersed in the film…they don’t need to see EVERYTHING to become “immersed” in my opinion…Something to think about.
5. I can honestly say I had a harder time hearing some of the dialogue in the 3D HFR version than in the 2D…I wonder if this a combination of not being able to focus my eyes on the lips when things were tough to hear in the 3D version, or if I was just being overwhelmed visually and couldn’t refocus my mind on paying attention to the dialogue…I notice this on the scene with Gollum pretty acutely as he was hard to understand at times.
And a few ideas for the future:
1. As we invariable move towards 4K—directors will need to make sure that things looks as “real” on set as possible. I see 4K posing an uphill challenge to all green screen, CGI, and VFX work. It’s damn hard to hide your cheats…I’d like to (selfishly) think that this will lead us to shoot things more practically than with effect shots…but I’m probably just dreamin’
2. With 4K+ as well—any camera move that is too fast, is unforgiving as is any slight focus error—there’s no hiding it. That can also prove limiting for filmmakers as they may have to chose to limit how fast they move the camera and or how fancy their moves are in terms of speed and degree of focusing difficulty. That being said if the film is projected at 2K—this isn’t an issue…Most films shot on the RED Epic at 5K (such as Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) have only been finished in 2K - which is why people aren’t really talking about this that much out there yet. I have seen more than a dozen 4K projections: when the production value of the film is high, the makeup and wardrobe good, excellent lighting, and excellent focus pulling skills with attention to not moving the camera too fast: it looks STUNNING. If you fail to do any of the aforementioned: it can be deadly. Absolutely unforgiving.
3. Filters that soften images, or lenses that are not quite as modern and sharp…will likely find a second life with 4K+ cameras. While you can hide a fake looking set with negative lighting and lack of depth of field…you can’t hide makeup or facial prosthetics with an extremely sharp lens…. so those new Panavision lenses they’re touting may be 4K ready…but one my want to go with the ones that were made 15+ years ago that are more “forgiving” which is a polite way to say they’re not as sharp and less optically perfect.
4. I found another thing that was very interesting: it was clear that the 3D HFR version of the Hobbit was graded in a way that took into account the light loss and color shift we all experience when we wear 3D glasses. A pet peeve of mine is to see 3D films that are graded mostly for the human eye (without the glasses) - and that gets a noticeable color tint and is just “dark” when you put on said glasses. In this case they may have overdone that a little bit. I felt like I was watching 3 different films in terms of grade when I watched the same projection with and without the 3D glasses, and in 2D. The 2D was perfectly graded. The 3D HFR felt blown out at times with the highlights and the colors weren’t as warm.
So if anything—I thank Peter Jackson and all of the crew and cast in New Zealand—for helping me re-affirm many of my opinions for myself on what I like and don’t like as a filmmaker, and for teaching me quite a few things by going to all 3 of these projections in one night. I think it’s fair to remind you of the obvious: these are but one person’s opinions and observations. I have seen a notable difference in opinion already in the twittersphere and web with people in the under 30 age group. Many of them seem to very much like HFR.
All of those that are debating in their minds the frame rate and 3D technologies should read the rest of Vincent Laforet’s article. It’s the most thoughtful and unflamboyant opinion on the matter that cuts to the heart of the audience’s experience with cinema.