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SMPTE Conference day 1; “Less like film – more like nature”

December 23, 2012

The 2012 SMPTE opened on Monday 22 October 20 with its pre-conference symposium on ‘high frame rates for digital cinema’.   Saying that higher frame rates is a ‘good thing’ is, at first sight, like extolling the virtues of apple pie – of course it’s a benefit.   It can become even more beneficial for 3D, where motion artefacts can be even more annoying than for 2D.  But the critical questions could be how much improvement do they bring, and what is the trade off of higher frame rates compared to static picture detail.    

The speakers, and the material they showed, said that a lot of homework has been done on these matters.  James Cameron’s study (a seriously long video) showed that higher frame rates open up new options for 3D movie production grammar – essentially allowing panning across the scene, or lateral movement.  Since movie production began movie makers have been restricted by motion judder to use tracking shots.   With electronic cameras, and with some digital cinemas allowing higher frame rates, we may be entering a new age and a new vocabulary for film making.  Futhermore, if you shoot with a high rate, it is always possible to do temporal down-sampling for 24 Hz use.

Another advantage of shooting at higher frame rates is the resulting elegance of slow motion.  

Taken just on the evidence of the presenters, it seems that higher frames rates -  48, 60, and 120 frames/second - are  one of digital technology’s great gift to the movie industry.

Your blogger however believes it may not be that easy a sale.  Higher frame rates do, as James Cameron says, take us closer to realism.  But is that what the creative community and the public wants?  There is a legacy 100 years of ‘film look’ to overcome.  The old low frame rates give movies a sense of detachment from the real world.  In television, many creative’s like ‘interlace scanning’ because they see it as ‘real television’ – television they are used to looking at – not because it is high quality.  Will the movie industry also cling to its familiarity with 24ps, because they think its very sense of ‘unrealness’ is an advantage in the world of creating dreams?

What do you think?


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