Changing Film 48 Frames At A Time

Whenever a new technology begins to emerge in entertainment, a bitter war is fought over its artistic merit. It seems strange, but this has roots going back all the way to sound being introduced to film. Filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin saw it as simply a gimmick, refusing to use it for years. While at the time his reasoning may have seemed valid, today we see how ridiculous that was as sound is an integral part of cinema. Film is a new medium, compared to other forms of art, that is. Due to its relatively young age, film is continuing to progress and evolve. Some may argue that film has stayed largely the same over the last half-century, but considering that CGI and digital filmmaking are somewhat new technologies, we can see that film is continually evolving.

New technology being accused of being a price-raising gimmick is not something of the past, as many respected film critics and filmmakers today see 3D as being just that. And while the debate of 3D still wages, a new technology is going to be introduced that will change the way we see cinema forever, that is, if it isn’t booed off the screen.

Since the 1920s, with the introduction of sound, films have been shot and projected at 24 frames per second. It is this frame rate that gives film the distinct look we all recognize. We may not realize, but this frame rate gives the image a slightly blurred look, something to which we have become accustomed. The introduction of digital changed the look of film, but kept the frame rate. The explosion of 3D added depth to the image, but still, once again, the frame rate stayed constant. All of these developments throughout film history, and yet we have kept the frame rate the same.

It is only now with the possibility of filmmakers shooting in 48 frames per second, that we may see a change in the look of film. James Cameron has been talking about wanting to shoot in a higher frame rate for years, and with his upcoming Avatar 2, he may finally get the chance. However, he will not be the first to implement this new technology, as Peter Jackson is currently shooting The Hobbit at 48 frames per second. Whether or not movie theatres will have upgraded their systems in time for The Hobbit is still up in the air, however, it may be a big enough film to convince theatre owners to pay for the upgrade.

While some are calling this move a gimmick, it seems harder to justify that point than it is with 3D. This is simply a progression in filmmaking, one which is decades overdue. It will change the way film looks, and whether or not that is for the better remains to be seen. Film is a continuously changing format and people do not seem to realize that with ever progressing technology, comes change to the medium.

I have never seen a film projected at 48 frames per second, yet I welcome the change. I am a purist when it comes to film, as I need the image to look as good as it possibly can. This is why I do not mind a change, as shooting at a higher frame-rate will only improve the image. Unlike 3D, this change is not marketable to the average film-goer. It will be up to the filmmakers to want to make this change themselves, and prove that it is a development in film that was long overdue.

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26 Responses to Changing Film 48 Frames At A Time

  1. Raghav says:

    Now here is something I’m excited about. Thanks for the info. Will have to keep my bispecticaled eyes open for this 😎

  2. Robbie says:

    Am I right in saying that IMAX shoots in a higher frame rate in order to achieve greater clarity? I worked on an IMAX flick a while back and got to know the cameraman, it was a few years now but I’m sure he told me that.

    If this is the case then it would help me change my mind with regards to this proposed change.

    • Dusty says:

      @Robbie

      IMAX is shot at 24fps but is shot on 70mm film instead of 35mm. This gives the film the extreme resolution needed to be shown on the huge IMAX screens. However, many IMAX theaters have switched from film to digital projection which totally defeats the purpose of the 70mm film. So now when you see an IMAX film it is usually the exact same resolution as you get in your basic multiplex theater. Some IMAX theaters have kept the original format, make sure you find out before paying for a ticket.

      I don’t think everyone commenting completely understands the 48 fps. Its not just going to make the picture look sharper. These new techniques such as MaxiVision48 also use a stabilizer on the film projector. So now you not only have twice the framerate but a more stable image. Film jitter would be nearly eliminated. This gives the picture a huge quality advantage, up to 400% better from what I’ve heard. With the rise of Blu-Ray its important for theaters to keep up with the quality. The sound and video of Blu-Ray makes me less enthusiastic about seeing a film in the theater and paying 20bucks for tickets and a fortune for concessions.

  3. Kevin says:

    Thank you for writing about this. It is pretty interesting.
    Something that most people don’t know is that films are actually shot at 24 frames a second, but shown at 48 frame per second. That is, each frame is shown twice, with a moment of darkness between the first and second showing. This is done because persistence of vision only last around 1/50 of a second. When you see a film, you see frame 1, then blackness, then frame 1 again then blackness, then frame 2 then blackness, then frame 2 again and so on. Half the time you are looking at a black screen, but you do not notice since persistence of vision hold the light from the previous frame in your eye long enough until the next shot of light appears. The idea of shooting at 48 frames per second is to get away from double showing of each frame to get movement to seem smoother. It has been done before, with 70mm film.

    Anyway, I like your blog.

  4. Josh says:

    I’m all for the frame rate change, as long as it’s cinematically called for. 3D, on the other hand,requires a biological uniformity that the entirety of film audiences are not equipped with. I can’t wait for the “opti-grab” effect of the fad.

  5. Liam says:

    While what Kevin says is true about film already being “shown” in 48fps, this does not mean that current cinema film projectors are capable of showing a film shot in 48fps “in” 48fps. The film would need to travel through the projector at twice the speed that it does now, with the shutter running at the same speed that it currently does. I’ve been out of the projectionist game for a few years now, so I’m not aware of the 48fps film technology out there, but with many cinema chains struggling to get admissions as it is, I can’t imagine too many installing brand new projectors to show one film.

    If any cinemas within a 2 hour drive of me decide to do this, I will be there πŸ™‚

  6. Shane says:

    but keep in mind, higher frames rates don’t mean better image, handycams shoot at 50 frames a second and I saw a feature “Bad Behaviour” which was shot at 30fps even down-converted to 24 it looked crap, like an amateur could have shot it.

  7. Sfel says:

    @Kevin: Well, actually, its not persistance of vision. It’s flicker fusion or the phi phenomenon. Persistence of vision in cinema is a theory which has been declared false ages ago, but somehow it won’t die.
    I can’t see how this would make a real movie (compared to a 3D spectacle) any better. In 3D the frame rate could possibly fix the strobing/jitter/stutter/flicker of the image, but beyond that… meh. The motion would get the Venezuelan soap opera look of video. Wanting the image to look as good as it possibly can does not necessarily mean one is a purist. It could mean one is a technocrat.

    Could some please explain why seems to 3D strobe constantly? It has to be a perception thing, where it has something to do with the brain and the eyes, and not a technical, i.e. focus or framrate, problem, right?

  8. Zak says:

    I’m sure all you are pros, but in my experience higher frame rates are better… but look like crap because we’re only used to seeing soap operas and indie films at higher frame rates. To us it may look bad, but it’s because it is what we are used to. Younger generations will think it’s crazy that we used to watch movies at 24fps, just you watch.

  9. Pingback: Hit List: April 28, 2011 | IMDb: All the Latest

  10. Kevin says:

    @Sfel, Thanks for clarifying.

    I remember reading about a process called something -vision that was 70mm film, shot at 48, or even 60 frames a second and shown at that rate. This stops such things as wagon wheels appearing to move backwards when they are actually moving forward. Evidently there was a plan to film the dream sequences of the movie Dreamscape in this process, and the rest in regular 35mm, but it proved too difficult and expensive.

  11. Chris says:

    While Liam is correct that a “normal” projector cannot automatically run a film through at 48 fps, the technology to modify projectors to do so has been around for a few years. (As promoted by “Maxivision”). Although that technology was advertised as relatively inexpensive, with no 48 fps movies, it was pointless. The real impetus seems to have been the spread of digital projectors and the use of digital cameras. I understand that shooting and projecting at 48 fps digitally doesn’t require a mechanical modification of the equipment for the most part, just a firmware upgrade. Making the switch has just become a lot easier with the rise of digital. (As a side note, Roger Ebert has been a vocal Maxivision supporter for years, and several years ago decried the spread of digital projection, which he viewed as a costly upgrade with no added benefit to the film-goer, while a 48 fps film-based technology languished. I wrote to him arguing that switching to digital will make switching to higher frame rates much easier. He didn’t respond.)

  12. GundarkHunter says:

    There is all this talk about equipment upgrades in order to show movies at 48fps. If a cinema has upgraded to digital 3D, it will probably be as simple as a firmware upgrade, since the alternation of images in a single projector currently used for 3D occurs at 144Hz (24fps, each frame shown 3 times to reduce flicker, alternating between left and right eyes). In fact, the projector may actually be able to operate at a lower frame rate because of the inherently reduced flicker.

  13. John Keefer says:

    As someone who shoots on crap digital I welcome any change in the aesthetic.
    As someone who fears for the death of cinema, I hope this may save the theater going experience.
    As someone who knows cinema will never die I hate CGI (until it proves itself by changing the narrative as sound did rather than serving as digital versions of established effects, i.e. make-up, opticals, matte paintings, etc.)
    I also made a new type of fan fiction film. It’s entitled Margo Lane and is available at 51deep.com (which is our funnyordie page) If you’d like I would love for you to watch it. If not I understand. In any event here’s to the future and I hope that all who’s eyes fall upon this message find themselves in good health and well being because they deserve it.

    Love,
    Keefer

  14. Abby says:

    Digital projectors in cinemas already project at a higher frame rate than that to do 3-D (I believe it’s three times each per eye per frame- 144fps), so 48 in 2-D is no problem at all. 48fps in 3-D might need some tweaking (the data rate would be higher), but the refresh rate is there.

    The love some think they have of 24fps is totally ludditic (is that a word?!). That frame rate was chosen because it was as low as they could get away with. It’s literally the worst they could do. Change is long overdue. Shoot on twos if you want your movie to look like 24fps and leave the rest of us alone.

  15. JimVincent says:

    Movies should be 24fps. Plain and simple. I don’t want to watch movies that look like they were shot on video. The slower framerate separates the film from reality, which is what you want when you’re trying to escape.

  16. Ethan says:

    Nonsense. Digital cinema is nothing but a gouging technique. 4K the “next big thing” in digital cinema, is only “almost” as good as 35mm resolution. 99% of digital movies shown in theatres now are 2K or one quarter as good as almost 35mm. 3D has yet to be used in any kind of narrative method, and most people’s eyes won’t notice a difference in frame rate. Digital is WORSE than film, nobody noticed. If you think frame rates will be some huge new development like sound or color(arguably useless to a narrative itself) then you have been successfully marketed to. Congratulations.

    • Cinema is not a medium which will stand still, even if you so badly want it to. Silent, black and white films can tell great stories, however film has moved forward since then. These technologies are new, and have not been perfected or used to their potential. 3D has been used to great effect in several films, like Coraline and Avatar, and I believe we will see smart, talented filmmakers continue to use it to great effect. Changing the frame rate is something which will make cinema look better, just like shooting on 35mm makes film look better. And to say sound and colour do not benefit film or storytelling just shows your lack of understanding of film in general.

  17. bob poppo says:

    I’m against the change, not because it upsets my view of aesthetics, but because unlike sound and color, it will be woefully misused and pushed by idiotic studio executives with no concern for narrative use, just like 3D is now. People keep citing Avatar as an example of 3D done right, but look at all the terrible examples of 3D that have come out since then. The same thing will happen with any new exhibition related technology. Sound is a basic human sense. Color, again, it’s how we all see the world. But don’t argue that we “see” the world in the hackneyed jitter-filled, cross-eye-inducing 3D in movie theaters.

    We may see the world in 60fps, but we dream in 24.

    • Your final line made me not want to reply since I liked it so much but I do have problems with previous things you said. 3D is being misused, but colour and sound were as well when those technologies were first introduced. I think that in years to come we will see filmmakers use it properly, and the same will be for shooting at 48 frames per second. Of course filmmakers will continue to misuse it, as they do colour and sound! Think about it this way, when was the last time you saw a film that used colour to its utmost potential, or even sound? It is very rare, and that is what will happen with 3D. It is sad, but that is just the way cinema works.

  18. Richard Kilroy says:

    I ran a revival print of ‘Oklahoma’ in the original TOD-AO format which was 70mm film running at 30 frames per second. That slight bump in the frame rate was astounding. (it didn’t hurt that nearly any 70mm presentation is eye-popping to start with) Much like Douglas Trumbull’s ShowScan – this higher frame rate can make a scene of wind blowing through curtains seem like you can feel the breeze.

    24 Frames Per Second was the industry standard primarily as a cost-cutting move. That frame rate was established as the least amount of film needed per second to maintain persistence of vision. (the human eye can’t detect a flicker) 23 fps and the flicker started. Anything above 24 was seen as a waste of film stock, therefore, an unnecessary expense.

    • That sounds incredible, when I saw ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on 70mm I was blown away. Most people do not realize that the reason film is shot at 24 fps is because it was cheaper and just became the standard for that reason. Of course we have become use to it now, but I find it ridiculous that people are so against any change.

  19. Ben says:

    Movie theaters are losing their audience to Blu-Ray/HDTV. If they do not upgrade to the better image of 48/60 frames per second, the walk-in theater might go the way of the drive-in. Going, going, all but gone. It’s time to upgrade from the 24 fps projector, or “The Last Picture Show” will probably be the future of most cinemas in the USA.

    • chris says:

      Although more people are staying home to watch Blu-ray or HD, I don’t think theaters will go the way of the drive-in. One, people are always looking to get out of the house, even if it’s only once a month. Two, the drive-in was undone because people could rent movies and be as obnoxioius as they were at the drive-in at home.

  20. Chris says:

    Some of the aesthetic fears seem unfounded to me. Even if 48 fps became standard, if a filmmaker for aestheitc reasons, wanted his film to be “old-fashioned” 24 fps, he could still certainly do so. As has been discussed, projectors already flash 48 images per second on the screen, they just show each image twice.

    Furthermore, I’m not sure 48 fps can be used as a marketing pull in the same way as 3-D. It may be a better image, but I’m not sure there’s widespread understanding of frame rates among the movie-going populace. They may be able to recognize a better image when they see it, but I don’t think it’ll be a draw before they experience it.

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