The Science of High Frame Rates, Or: Why 'The Hobbit' Looks Bad At 48 FPS

Hobbit 48fps

The hero of Jean-Luc Godard's Le Petit Soldat declared “The cinema is truth, 24 times per second,” as The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw noted while pondering frame rates and cinematic standards last year. Peter Jackson insists that it’s closer to 48 frames per second, as demonstrated by the groundbreaking new frame rate he utilized for this weekend’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. But do scientific theories about the way our brains perceive images and reality — truth unfolding onscreen, in front of our eyes — support Jackson’s brave new vision for cinema, or undermine it?

There is a great gulf between the cinematic look of 24 fps, the traditional rate at which film images are presented in succession to simulate moving images on a screen, and 48 fps. The latter packs more visual information into each second of film, for better and worse. Jackson and his fellow HFR enthusiasts (including James Cameron and Douglas Trumbull) argue that 48 fps and even higher frame rates result in greater clarity and a closer approximation to real life.  They also contend it reduces motion blur, thus improving the look of 3-D images.

But scientists and researchers in the field of consciousness perception say that the human brain perceives reality at a rate somewhere between 24 fps and 48 fps — 40 conscious moments per second, to be more exact — and exceeding the limit of the brain’s speed of cognition beyond the sweet spot that connotes realism is where Jackson & Co. get into trouble.

Movieline spoke with filmmaker James Kerwin, who lectured on the subject of the science of film perception and consciousness at the University of Arizona’s Center for Consciousness Studies. (His presentation included an analysis of the work of Dr. Stuart Hameroff and British cosmologist/philosopher Roger Penrose, and their quantum theory of consciousness.) According to Kerwin, there really is a simple scientific answer for why The Hobbit’s 48 fps presentation plays so poorly with some viewers — and it's not something we'll get used to over time.

James Kerwin: “Studies seem to show that most humans see about 66 frames per second — that’s how we see reality through our eyes, and our brains. So you would think that 48 frames per second is sufficiently below that — that it would look very different from reality. But what people aren’t taking into account is the fact that although we see 66 frames per second, neuroscientists and consciousness researchers are starting to realize that we’re only consciously aware of 40 moments per second.”

“Dr. Hameroff’s theory has to do with the synchrony of the gamma waves in the brain — it’s called gamma synchrony — the brain wave cycle of 40 hertz. There’s a very strong theory that that is why we perceive 40 moments per second, but regardless of the reason,  most researchers agree we perceive 40 conscious moments per second. In other words: our eyes see more than that but we’re only aware of 40. So if a frame rate hits or exceeds 40 fps, it looks to us like reality. Whereas if it’s significantly below that, like 24 fps or even 30 fps, there’s a separation, there’s a difference — and we know immediately that what we’re watching is not real.”

“You’ve got guys like Cameron and Jackson saying, let’s make it more real because the more realistic, the better; the higher the definition, the more 3-D, the more this, the more that. They’re not taking into account what’s called The Uncanny Valley in psychology. The Uncanny Valley says that, statistically, if you map out a consumer’s reaction to something they’re seeing, if they’re seeing something artificial and it starts to approach something looking real, they begin to inherently psychologically reject it."

"Not every person perceives the Uncanny Valley, however. There are some people that just do not reject things that look too real, although the vast majority of people do experience that phenomenon. So you’re going to get some individuals who see it and go, This looks great! The problem is anecdotes are not evidence. You have to look at the public as a whole, and I think that’s what Jackson and Cameron are not doing."


“There are all sorts of conventions in film that are not found in reality. People talk to each other in ways that they don’t in reality. Things are lit in ways that they’re not lit in reality. The make-up, the hair, the props, everything is fake. If you stand on a film set and you watch the actors performing, you don’t for a second think that it’s real. There are acting conventions that we have chosen to accept."

“One thing a lot of people are saying about The Hobbit in 48 is that the acting is bad — well, the acting’s not bad, they’re simply acting with cinematic conventions but it’s such a high frame rate that the motion looks too real and you can see through the artifice of the acting.”

“It’s psychological: we need suspension of disbelief, and suspension of disbelief comes from the lower frame rate. The lower frame rate allows our brains to say, Okay — I’m not perceiving 40 conscious moments per second anymore; I’m only perceiving 24, or 30, and therefore this is not real and I can accept the artificial conventions of the acting and the lighting and the props. It’s an inherent part of the way our brain perceives things. Twenty-four or 30 frames per second is an inherent part of the cinematic experience. It’s the way we accept cinema. It’s the way we suspend our disbelief.”

“Those high frame rates are great for reality television, and we accept them because we know these things are real. We’re always going to associate high frame rates with something that’s not acted, and our brains are always going to associate low frame rates with something that is not. It’s not a learned behavior; [Some say] you watch it long enough and you won’t associate it with cheap soap operas anymore. That’s nonsense. The science does not say that. It’s not learned behavior. It’s an inherent part of the way our brains see things.”

James Kerwin is currently in development on an adaptation of R.U.R. Find more about him at his website, and head here to read further on Dr. Stuart Hameroff's consciousness studies.

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  • Rebecca H says:

    This article is ridiculous. If you're watching The Hobbit in 3D-HFR and think for one second that it's real, then you DO have psychological issues.
    The clarity of the film was incredible, and I, for one, loved how real it looked. I really do not see how there's a problem with a fantasy film looking too real. Yeah, sure, you could see individual hairs, and so for a split second I marveled at the technology showing that, but, really, it's not a huge deal.

    Why must you bring science into film making like this? "oh the higher frame rate gives people psychological issues and stops them from telling what is real from what is not."

    Someone commented that it's bad for story telling. Well most people have read the book, so what story is there to tell? Also, forget the story telling, 48 FPS is better for watching, which is the point of visual imagery.

    This is, really, just a case of tall poppy syndrome. Jackson makes an awesome movie, and everyone wants to tear him down.

    I watched The Hobbit today and thought it was awesome. I'm sorry I don't comply with your 'scientific experiment about a movie'.

    and one more thing, why would you waste scientists on something trivial like this, when they could be researching serious medical issues.

    • Matt says:

      "This article is ridiculous. If you're watching The Hobbit in 3D-HFR and think for one second that it's real, then you DO have psychological issues. The clarity of the film was incredible, and I, for one, loved how real it looked. I really do not see how there's a problem with a fantasy film looking too real."

      The point here is that when the medium shows too much the reality of what's being filmed, you don't see 'The Hobbit', but a bunch of actors, sets, costumes, makeup, etc. which is not so fun. Cinema is supposed to let you escape into an imaginary world and the 'realness' issue is that the 3D HFR reveals too much the reality, which is that you've got a bunch of actors acting.

      "Yeah, sure, you could see individual hairs, and so for a split second I marveled at the technology showing that, but, really, it's not a huge deal."

      Also, it's not about marveling at the technology. The director's job is to lead the attention of the audience right where he wants it in every moment so as to maximize the emotional connection and story's journey. So the clarity of the picture often takes the eyes away from where the director wants them (and consequently the attention), and I find myself looking around the frame and ignoring what's happening - the important stuff.

      "Why must you bring science into film making like this? "oh the higher frame rate gives people psychological issues and stops them from telling what is real from what is not."

      It's actually Peter Jackson who has brought this into film. He's the one who thinks that 3D and a higher frame rate is what kids need to come back to the cinema - his words exactly. And so, if you're going to 'try' to change cinema - which in my opinion is already a perfected art form - why not discuss it.

      "Someone commented that it's bad for story telling. Well most people have read the book, so what story is there to tell? Also, forget the story telling, 48 FPS is better for watching, which is the point of visual imagery."

      That was me. You really think it's a good idea to "forget the storytelling"? Are you serious? All you'll be left with is YouTube in the cinema. If you're not there to experience the story - through the visual medium of cinema - then what are you there for? Watching better quality pictures that have no connection or point. I think you should rethink your storytelling position, because every director will tell you that story is what it's about.

      "This is, really, just a case of tall poppy syndrome. Jackson makes an awesome movie, and everyone wants to tear him down."

      I don't want to tear him down. If he wants to put his opinions into a public forum then it's fine for everyone else to respond. You thought it was an awesome movie, but admittedly, if you think storytelling can be forgotten about, then I think 'an awesome movie' doesn't mean that much. I'm not sure what is 'awesome' if you're forgetting about story.

      "I watched The Hobbit today and thought it was awesome. I'm sorry I don't comply with your 'scientific experiment about a movie'. and one more thing, why would you waste scientists on something trivial like this, when they could be researching serious medical issues."

      'Scientists', largely, are trivial. It's possible, being that cinema is not too distorted from its essence by gimmicks like 3D and HFRs, that it's a more powerful healing tool than most medicine; when used correctly.

      • Rebecca H says:

        Well I obviously shouldn't have commented on this with my extremely limited knowledge on film. I'll take back what I said, however I dislike the generalization that everyone will not enjoy HFR because I did and the average movie goer usually isn't into the science and technology behind cinema.

        From a normal movie goers POV and someone who hasn't read The Hobbit nor watched/read Lord of The Rings, I think this was a really good movie. Obviously, I can't have an opinion on anything else regarding it.

        • Matt says:

          So sorry to come across heavy; really:) I'm just very passionate - and therefore opinionated - about all the talk of 3D and HFR being the next evolutionary step in cinema. It does disturb me; especially being that Peter Jackson and James Cameron (two people with business investments in the technology behind all this) are the only filmmakers really pushing it.

          If you liked 'The Hobbit' then definitely check out Lord of the Rings. I thought it was a fantastic trilogy.

          • jb says:

            Wow. I didn't know they had investments in the tech. That's a revolting betrayal of their art form. The Hobbit looked terrible in the first act. The HFR stuff seemed to work a bit in the wide landscape shots, but it was really hard to watch visually. The article above is spot-on. Glad to know there's some empirical basis for that feeling of nausea I had while watching it.

            Interestingly, I just watched Aliens and Cameron says in the commentary that they shot some of the early scenes on the space station in 48 or 56. He didn't say why though.

          • Now that I think about it, it may have something to do with the color palette. In Aliens, those scenes are all cool colors, mostly blues, and it works alright. It also contrasts sharply with the grit of LV-428 which is at 24fps.

            In The Hobbit, the oranges and browns really show up the ugliness of the frame rate. That may be part of why the Gollum sequence stands out as the most interesting and engaging part of the film. In addition to the good acting, and well-chosen angles, and editing, the scene is all blues and greens.

            It would be interesting to know if there's any science on our perception of color and how that changes our feeling of reality or unreality.

          • Erik says:

            The thing is you can make a 48 FPS move into a 24 FPS move with software but you can't make a 24 FPS movie into a 48 FPS move.

            So I hope all movies move to 48 FPS as I like it that way and would bet all the gamer's that are use to playing at 60 FPS would prefer more FPS then less.

            Also To me for people to not want cinema to progress to new standers of 48 FPS would be like if back in the silent move times people would have said cinema is fine the way it is. If like you they thought it was "already a perfected art form" and too add audio would make it feel less like a cinematic experience and wanted it to stay silent, I think that would be crazy, if you don't like it with audio then turn it off.

            Or if people did not like movies to move to color for the same reason. Well then change your settings and make it black and white, but don't hold back the technology for the people that do like the changes and progression.

            That's fine that you have your own opinion, but for you and other to use that and hold back progression when you can still have it the way you like if with use of some software and I cant have it the way I like it with software that's not good.

            If its stuck being made the old way because of yours and other opinion is what I have a problem with.

            TL:DR You can fix 48 fps to your taste but you cant fix 24 fps to mine.

          • Russell says:

            It's not how many frames you see, but it's what is recorded and how. When you move your hand in front of your face, there is a natural blur. 30fps is very close to this, therefore looks much more natural. Something recorded at 60fps means each frame is very static and when played, looks very artificial because of the absent natural blur. So if you film it at 60, and play it at 30, it still is annoying to watch.

    • Kathy says:

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      profit $5017 in a few weeks on the internet. did you see this at

    • John D says:

      Forget the story telling? Did you really just say that? You are not a movie buff if you say that and you have no business commenting on this article in my opinion.

    • Dan Fox says:

      You are so right, Rebecca. 3D HFR is incredible. The increase in detail and the depth of the 3D experience is simply staggering. I saw The Hobbit 3D (non-HFR) on a big IMAX screen in Raleigh, North Carolina twice and in 3D HFR on a much smaller screen in Durham and then again in Wilmington, North Carolina. The movie was so much better, so much more "real", in HFR. If another film is made available in HFR, you can count on my seeing it with great anticipation....This negativity on HFR, found nearly everywhere, must be an example of mass hysteria. It must have gone like this - in the beginning, some critic pans it because it's too real (too good, in other words) and then everyone goes to see it with the mindset that it's going to be terrible, so of course, with that self-fulfilling prophecy, it does seem terrible...Thank you, thank you, Peter Jackson for your bravery in bringing this tremendous new technology to the screen.

      • Don McCracken says:

        Don Fox says:
        "...and then everyone goes to see it with the mindset that it's going to be terrible, so of course, with that self-fulfilling prophecy, it does seem terrible…"

        I am extremely sensitive to motion blur. It makes my eyes hurt. And 24fps surely produces a lot of blur in action shots or when the camera is panning. So I had been looking forward to 48fps for years! So my mindset going in was that it was going to be wonderful. But immediately it was apparent that the reduction in motion blur, which was good but not great, did not outweigh the fact the the whole film look was gone and that it not looked like it was shot on video. So even with the motion blur, I still prefer 24fps because of the look. At 48fps, it was impossible for me to get into the story as I was constantly thinking of how fake everything looked.

        • Dan Fox says:

          You and others are saying The Hobbit looked too "fake" in HFR...I just don't understand that. In my mind - at this point - traditional film looks faked (which is fine with me because I truly love movies anyway - especially the classics - especially Hitchcock). (I saw King Kong and The Island of Lost Souls on the big screen on Friday and that was so great!!) The Hobbit in HFR looks real - like the movie is really happening, my gosh, right in front of you and that makes you a part of it and besides the film having more "wow factor", there can be more emotional connection because of that "you are there" experience..And to me, the sets of The Hobbit - seen in HFR - don't look anymore "fake" than in non-HFR...As has been said before, The Hobbit isn't real anyway and of course the sets are just that - sets..You are just seeing the movie in more detail than you ever could before. You like high definition, don't you, versus standard definition because of the tremendous increase in detail? That's what you have here with HFR - a tremendous improvement in the perception of detail. The second time I saw The Hobbit on the big screen IMAX in Raleigh in non-HFR - after having seen it once (in Durham) in HFR - I could hardly stand the blurriness - that I had not noticed during my first viewlng at the IMAX - in fact, that first time at the IMAX I had been very impressed with the experience. Now, I am spoiled and I can't go back to non-HFR if HFR is available for a film - even if I have to drive 30 minutes to get to a theater showing the movie in HFR...I am hooked!

          • Matt says:

            Just to be clear: HFR is images per second. It's not increased resolution. Yes, it improves very slightly, fast motion blur, but not enough to justify all the unintended additional effects. It was meant as a solution to the increased perception of motion blur in 3D movies... that's it.

            And the whole 'fake' versus 'real' argument needs to be understood clearly. What people are saying is that because HFR is closer to 'real' the 'fake' is more obvious - in my case, nearly impossible to overlook (it could be the bad direction and bad CGI, it's hard to distinguish between all that's wrong with The Hobbit).

            The film in HFR looks 'fake' specifically because HFR creates more 'real' images. And what are we really looking at when we view The Hobbit is a bunch of actors in make-up and costumes on fake sets (some not even existing outside a computer) pretending to be something they're not.

            What people are saying is that the increased 'real' factor exposes the 'fake' production. And that's besides the weird motion artifacts that exist - for which I've not yet heard a reason for - the funky fast walking phenomenon.

            It's nice that some like it, but it's not an advancement in cinema. It's an inconsequential diversion.

          • Dan Fox says:

            You could have fooled me about The Hobbit's HFR not resulting in increased resolution. Maybe it's not consistent with the "science" but my perception cried out dramatically increased resolution.

      • Russell says:

        No way Dan Fox, I was pumped to go in and see this in HFR, heard no bad reviews at all. As soon as it started I thought it looked terrible and couldn't settle and just thought it looked to cheap and nasty. I came online to find out if others thought this and found this article, it made a lot of sense regarding the uncanny valley which I was familiar with. Next time read the fucking article. Some people can accept the extra frames as normal, but most cant. So quit being a jerk and click the fuck off.

        • Dan Fox says:

          Sorry you're having a bad day, Russell. Glad the Uncanny Valley theory didn't affect me.

          • Dan Fox says:

            By the way, Russell, I looked back at my original post. I apologize for the "mass hysteria" comment. That was much too strong. I was just reacting to the bullying that Rebecca H. was receiving from some of the other posters. And I guess I was discounting anyone who did not perceive the improvements that I felt HFR had brought to The Hobbit. I should have accepted up front that the perception of other folks had just as much validity as my own perception.

          • Russell says:

            I actually was having a bad day. Sorry Dan, the comment really annoyed me for some reason. It was me being the jerk.
            But yes it is kind of scary that Jackson and James Cameron want to go nuts with frame rates up to 60+ I really wanted to like HFR but it just looks terrible and cheap to me.

          • Dan Fox says:

            One more thing and I will shut up for a while...I can understand the panic and dismay that some of you - the ones who disliked the HFR presentation - are having about HFR because you are afraid that eventually all movies (or most) will be presented in HFR, and you will end up not enjoying movies again - which would be dreadful because movies are so important to you - as they are to me...I have a similar panic and dismay situation with the shaky camera/queasy cam/rapid cut juvenile fad. If a movie has shaky cam, I will immediately walk out (if I am by myself anyway). And if I read a review about a movie that indicates it has shaky cam (like the last "Star Trek'), I definitely will not go to see it.

    • CountMackula says:

      I agree with the poster above and would like to add that while I have not see the hobbit and so did not see the 48fps, I will say that I believe people have perhaps different "refresh rate" capabilities in the eyes. I see a lot of details that others seem to be completely oblivious of and when I point it out some can tell some can not. Particularly though, sideways pans that stutter/blur, they hurt my eyes to watch and those quick cam "fight scenes" hurt too because they whip the camera quickly but it isn't detailed so the motion blur hurts. I dont play any games really any more but in my early 20's I had friends who would always buy top of the line computer video cards and for me, they always said 60 frames a second was the "sweet spot", but to me that was the minimal acceptable and 100 fps was where it was at. More than 100 fps would seem smoother to me but very small amounts, however, below 100 fps was noticeable to me and I have been slightly disappointed that we have "120 hz" TVs but no content capability there. I think, you put 4k, OLED together and film at 120 fps and it'll be amazing. Also, the life you are filming happens in real time but if you are filming at 24 fps there is a recorded blur and thats there. It would be way better to film at high frame rates and then use computers to blend down to lower framerates later or drop frames for clarity. The people who dont notice will be fine either way but thise who are sensitive will also be happy. win/win

  • Nelson says:

    This is the best article/discussion I've read on this subject so far. And Rebecca, not trying to come down on you or anything cuz you were very receptive further along in the conversation and being cool and everything, but just before I read matts reply to you I was about to lay it down. Luckily matt saved me some time. It's so weird too because I've almost been obssessed with this topic ever since I saw the film, trying to see what other people think about it, and I find myself literally praying that what I'll find is mostly negative comments about the appearence of the filmin in hfr. Furthermore, everytime I read a comment praising hfr, I literally find myself squirming in my seat with anxiety, because I, along with other informed filmed enthuists, realize that this is a detrimental topic that has the potential to ruin cinema for all time. This simply cannot happen. For the good of the world, and I am not attempting to be dramatic, this CANNOT HAPPEN! And social pressure, on the web especially, is the main tool that we have to shut this thing down for good.

  • Bruce says:

    I don't know if I buy everything this article says. I really enjoyed the HFR 3D. I don't think for a minute that it will be the future of all cinema, but it made for a very different movie going experience. It felt like I was actually with the characters. Almost like a strange crossbreed between a stage play, amusement park ride, and a nature walk. I know that's not what "traditional" cinema is supposed to feel like, but like I said it was a very different movie going experience. In no way did I feel it detracted from the story, nor did the acting/props/special effects seem fake to me. In fact Gollum was incredible. (However "The Hobbit" did suffer from too much CGI, especially when it came to the Orcs, but they looked no better in 24fps). I saw it first in HFR 3D and then again in 24fps 2D thinking I'd enjoy it just as much in 24fps and I was amazed at how little detail was in the 24fps version.

    Again, I'm not saying that 48fps is better than 24fps. I just enjoyed it in this case, and my brain didn't reject it. (It did take me about 10 minutes to get used to it, and I did get a little motion sick during the final fight in the trees, but I blame that on P.J. swinging the camera around for 15 minutes...)

  • Russell says:

    When I saw the 48fps version a couple weeks ago. I hated it, I couldn't get into the characters or the story, I felt really let down. However last night I saw it again in 24fps 3D and loved it. I could actually relax an take in the movie and feel the emotions. But I could tell in the fast moving shots the lack of natural blur from shooting in the 48fps hfr. I also really hope this doesn't take off and everyone starts to do it.

  • Dead says:

    Great, informative article. It's a shame many of these commenters have completely missed the point. Did any of you fools actually read the whole thing? ANECDOTES ARE NOT EVIDENCE. It's right there in the article. No one cares if you "buy" it. No one cares if you, personally, enjoy 48fps. The science FACT of the matter is that most people don't react positively to very high frame rates. It has to do with how our brains work. There are some people whose brains don't find this to be a problem. If you are such a person, then you are the exception.

    • Bruce says:

      I did read the whole article. And the "science" isn't bad, it's the conclusions Kerwin makes that are bad. For instance he goes on about "suspension of disbelief" but apparently doesn't grasp what the meaning the term is. Watching a play involves just as much suspension of disbelief as a movie, yet a play is viewed in our brain at "40 moments per second". Our brains don't reject it.

      He also has an apparent lack of knowledge regarding media. He states: "Those high frame rates are great for reality television, and we accept them because we know these things are real." However, the two most common standards for HD broadcasting in the US is 720p at 59.94fps or 1080i at 29.97fps. If a station is broadcasting in 29.97fps (essentially 30fps) then it doesn't matter if it was filmed at a higher frame rate, we will still see our "reality" TV show in 30fps. So his examples aren't really accurate.

      He claims "anecdotes are not evidence" but then draws conclusions based on (sometimes uninformed) personal opinions. For instance 24fps/30fps are not an "inherent part of the cinematic experience" as he states. 24fps was decided during the 1920s in an effort to standardize SOUND recording on film. 30fps (29.97) was always a part of NTSC broadcasting, aka Television, aka cheap Soap Operas and ANYTHING shown on TV in the U.S. until HD came about.

      So my reason for not "buy"ing the article wasn't really based on my own positive experience with HFR. It was based on the article. Cheers.

      • James Kerwin says:

        Watching a play is an entirely different experience from watching a film. To argue that they involve the same type of suspension of disbelief doesn't warrant a response.

        You are under a misconception about 1080i 29.97 broadcasts. Many programs broadcast in 1080i at 29.97fps actually have 59.94 fields per second (sports events, the news, most soap operas, game shows), so you are witnessing about 60 sequential images at half-resolution each, and the motion is similar to that of HFR films. This is why so many people call HFR the "soap opera look."

        Lucas and Sony spent gobs of money at the turn of the century to figure out how to shoot digital video at 24p, because the majority of people agreed it looked the best. The BBC subsequently switched to lower frame/field rates for their dramas as soon as the technology became available, again because audiences felt it looked better.

        What you, and the other advocates of HFR, simply are ignoring (due to personal bias) is that fact that there's mounds of empirical evidence that audiences prefer frame rates around 24, and always have. It may have been a serendipitous accident of history that 24 was settled on to begin with, but time after time, when directors start experimenting with higher fps, the majority of audience members turn away. There are always some (like yourself) who like it, but the majority do not.

        As for your ad hominem attacks against me and insults about my knowledge: my policy isn't to respond to anonymous internet bullying, so you're welcome to insult away; it won't provoke a response.

      • ldtowers says:


  • Anthony Holland says:

    Though this is a great article the conclusion seems to jump the gun because while James Kerwin's science is solid he is assuming that the cinematic conventions he describes are constant whereas they may well adapt. I think a comparison with LIVE THEATRE is germane because there is no higher frame-rate than that. I concede that they did not have to contend with close-ups or low shutter angles, but there is certainly no frame-rate cue telling the brain the experience is not real. Yet suspension of disbelief is complete. You can easily see the set is a set but when the medium is used well you don't want to sacrifice the intimacy or comfort for anything.

    It sounds like HFR is effectively a new medium, presenting exciting possiblities including a demand for more or different discipline and possibly the re-introduction of some of the older theatrical considerations and acting styles. But let me see the thing before I say more...

  • Anthony Holland says:

    Interestingly, the science i.e the theory, may not be solid (such is the process - a well explained and plausible theory may still be wrong).

    Rob Allison, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at York University in Toronto, who specializes in human perceptual responses and stereoscopic vision says " I've seen silly things on the Internet about how we think at 40 frames per second. But there is no perception limit."

    • Matt says:

      " perception limit." Really?

      Look up temporal resolution and perceptual speed limits in vision. You'll find there are certainly limits. What's this:

      Flicker rates of lights and tv screens reach a threshold where we no longer 'perceive' the flicker, although it is happening. That would be a perceptual limit, no?

      Odd that someone like me - with no qualification in academic science - can so easily show the absurdity in the comments of an 'associate professor of computer science and engineering at York University specializing in human perceptual responses and stereoscopic vision'!

      • eagleon says:

        There's a big different between perceiving 40 moments per second and 'seeing' 40 frames per second. In real life, there are no frames. Our brain has adapted to that, it would be ridiculous to automatically assume it works like a camera - and it doesn't.

        What happens is that the retina and optic nerve are continually stimulated by light. Doesn't matter if it's beyond or behind the flicker limit you're talking about. The retina can perceive (send information about) a -single photon-, the limit is there because there are filters in place to avoid sending too much information to the rest of the brain. The optic nerve sends signals into the brain, which parses it in a massively parallel way, finding important chunks of information about what's being sent. The neurons involved don't work constantly, but there are around 140 million of them in the primary visual cortex acting together in sophisticated ways to interpret what's going on, what's important to send on or what needs to be discarded, and probably most importantly, what to pay closer attention to next. So things like movement of concrete, easily discernible shapes get picked out right away, while you have to deliberately move your attention to things less interesting in order to even notice them.

        If that was too much information for you, just know that any time someone is talking about a 'frames per second' limit for the brain, they're generalizing what's going on drastically, if they know what they're talking about at all. Higher FPS will -always- provide more information to the viewer.

        I think what's happening here with The Hobbit, daytime TV, etc, is that there actually isn't enough - you start seeing unexpected detail, your brain starts looking for even more and wakes up a bit more than regular movies, and you get irritated when it isn't found. I suspect we'll jump to something much higher when we start making full-immersion movies. In the mean time, bigger isn't better - telling a great story isn't always about providing every little detail. Filmmakers, tread carefully.

        • ldtowers says:

          YOU ARE WRONG. Our memories are not high frame rate 3d. Much of what we see is processed by the visual cortex, 3D and high frame rates are useful for survival but the information is quickly tossed out when we make a memory. Lower frame rates and 2d let us effectively bypass the processing of the visual cortex and directly target the mind memory.

  • Anthony Holland says:

    Wow Matt, I never thought of that! Come on... at least try to understand what is being said.

    • Matt says:

      I do, at least, understand what they're saying. I'm just not buying into the idea that it's the next evolutionary step (like sound and color). The current high frame rate thing, put upon us by Peter Jackson and James Cameron, was for smoothing out the 3D flicker on pans and fast subject motion. Like most things in our modern society, we come up with solutions with greater side effects than the original problem. I certainly don't buy that 3D is an evolution in cinema and therefore the whole HFR thing can go as well. One of the most powerful discussions on this issue came from an ILM FXs guy (don't know where the clip is right now - if it's important to anyone, I'll find it) who spoke about cinematic storytelling being about what is left out; not how much you can include. And it did seem to correspond with my experiences around 3D and the HFR. Cinematic storytelling is about controlling the audiences attention to go where you want it and on only those things. It's about leaving things out, taking the literal and making it unreal -- a trip to another world -- and ultimately this is an emotional trip. I truly feel (after many years studying screenwriting and film from a director's point of view) that cinema is an emotional medium, ultimately. All these 'advances' in the technology, for, in Peter's words, 'bringing kids back into the cinema', are gimmicks -- and that's got to be evidenced by the incredible rate at which film experiences are becoming superficial. When the attention goes to the CG, the HFR, the 3D and the reality of how amazing it all looks, by consequence the emotional connection will suffer. Like the ILM guy, I agree that 24 FPS is quite possibly the exact point at which we sink into a deepened state of consciousness and go with the fantasy of cinema and the emotional ride; it's not real... fine, not that's over with, let's sink into the journey. I don't like the emphasis on these things and I know Peter and James have serious investments in these technologies, so I'm just not going to let them define what I should think the future is, because they're going to be biased. And their movies are getting worse. (Their technology is getting more advanced, but the films are getting worse.) Some of the best movies I've ever seen are old black and white pictures. And some, like Blade Runner are done with practical and photographic effects. What happened at WETA? The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was so beautiful. Such an incredible balance of practical, models and CG done so well. It was beautiful. The CG in The Hobbit looked really bad. Before the Hobbit I was taking the stance that WETA was finally some competition for ILM and then The Hobbit comes out. Wow, I'm backing off that opinion now because it looked pretty bad. People outside of the industry can talk a lot about what they like or don't, but it's possible that without the trained eye of someone who works with this stuff every day, their opinion might not be so accurate. Sure, they think 3D and HFR and the Hobbit looks great, but they won't see the difference between many technologies that the filmmakers do. It's a topic that's very important to me because I'm dedicating my life and work to cinema and don't want to see the medium change because people who can't really spot the difference buy the hype that what Peter and James are doing is the future, just because they say so.

      • Stephen says:

        Matt wrote: "One of the most powerful discussions on this issue came from an ILM FXs guy (don't know where the clip is right now - if it's important to anyone, I'll find it) who spoke about cinematic storytelling being about what is left out..."

        Would this:

        be the ILM FX guy you were referring to? (The link is to a 2010 interview with Stu Maschwitz which deals with the 24fps vs 48 fps issue in the fashion that you alluded to.)

      • Dan Fox says:

        Matt - I, too, am a classic film lover - especially black and white films. But, I loved The Hobbit in HFR. The incredible detail and depth pulled me into the film experience - it did not distract me from it. I did have a strong emotional connection to this film - more so when I saw it in HFR versus non-HFR. I felt more like I was experiencing/living the film with the characters when seeing it in HFR.

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    I consider Lord of the Rings to be among the finest cinematic achievements in motion picture history. As for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the closest approximation is The Phantom Menace. I liked The Phantom Menace back in May 1999 and I still do (in defense of... ). But I now know exactly how those who disliked or hated Episode One felt on that fateful evening 12.5 years ago. I feel your pain, for now it is my pain as well."

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  • MaryAnn says:

    All I can say is that to me seeing The Hobbit in 48 frames per second was incredible. I felt like I could walk right into the movie, and be there, and share it with the characters. After this, all movies in regular frame speeds will be second best. It was particularly obvious in 3D. For the first time, 3D became seamless and not full of artifacts and glitches that seriously took away from the viewing experience.

    • Dan Fox says:

      I totally agree with your enlightened viewpoint.

      • Matt says:

        Did you really use 'enlightened'?

        Well, if 'regular frame speeds' are now second best, I hope 'The Hobbit' has repeat viewing value, because you've written off the entire history of cinematic triumphs as second best.

        I guess you've always got Avatar II, Avatar III, Avatar IV, The Hobbit II and The Hobbit III to look forward to.

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  • HM... says:

    I gess these people have had no experience with videogames where 30 fps is not good enough but playable, 60 fps is the standard, also, the frame rate of most monitors... Yeah.

  • James says:

    It's not the 48fps that made it look bad, it was the fact that it was shot on digital instead of film.

    • Matt says:

      I thought the 48fps contributed to the unfortunate look of 'The Hobbit'. Add a digital negative and a whole host of other bad choices... Anyway, maybe the follow ups will redeem some portion of what's wrong with this picture.

      I wonder James, what made you comment on such an old story out of the blue like that?

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  • Nils4 says:

    Nice article. I just find bad quality a nice immersive filter that helps the illusion of seeing something out of this world, that's why most gory things on Internet looks and feels 10 times worse then what it does in reality, for me at least. It's mostly because we tell ourselfs unconsciously that we are now watching a movie. I watched The Hobbit in 1080p and I noticed makeup and other things, and that actually killed the illusion. If this has some kind of a future they really need to adapt to these things.

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  • Tyler says:

    Unfortunately I did not get the chance to see The Hobbit in theaters but I was able to watch it at home in 24 fps with frame interpolation creating a smooth motion effect at 60 Hz. Personally I absolutely hate 24 fps. It is so juddery that any time the camera pans I nearly get sick. It was bad enough at home before the latest televisions with frame interpolation and Smooth Video Project on my computer, but at the theater it is downright nauseating. I applaud Jackson and Cameron for pushing the higher frame rate. I think it is long overdue. In fact I'd be much happier if they'd film in 60 fps so consumer televisions wouldn't have to deal with frame interpolation which can/does create artifacts. Perhaps I'm not one who experiences the "uncanny valley" beyond 40 fps, I'm not sure how you'd test for that, but I certainly do not reject things becoming closer to reality even when gaming in a true 60 fps environment without the use of frame interpolation.

    As far as storytelling, I was under the impression that movies were supposed to let us leave reality behind for a bit and take us on a journey involving our senses of sight and hearing. To do this well I would think that we wound't want to be taken out of the moment by juddering shots as the camera pans across what might be a beautiful landscape. But I can't tell because it feels as if I'm about to undergo an epileptic seizure from the screen flickering at an appalling 24 fps. I personally think that as a society we are so used to this judder that we think it is what movies are supposed to be like. It is completely natural for us as humans to resist change of nearly any sort. For myself however, I welcome the fluidity and the "so real it looks fake" quality of higher frame rates. I think 48 fps is a good start to leaving behind the archaic film of old and delving in to the even more realistic stories that can be told at higher frame rates.

    • Matt says:

      Are you serious?

      > Unfortunately I did not get the chance to see The Hobbit in theaters but...

      > I absolutely hate 24 fps... any time the camera pans I nearly get sick... at the theater it is downright nauseating... it feels as if I'm about to undergo an epileptic seizure... at an appalling 24 fps... the archaic film of old...

      So, let's get this right, you've never seen anything other than 24fps in cinemas, but are WAY behind the new technology - which you've not experienced - because, well, I can only guess it's the hype...

      Strange to have such a strong and definitive opinion about something you seem to know almost nothing about - even experientially. Not a good argument for the higher frame rate!


      • Tyler says:

        All I am saying is that I fully support filming at higher frame rates because of the smoothness in cinematography that comes out of it. Not only in theaters either, but especially when viewing at home which is where I watch 90% of my movies. 60 frames per second would be more easily translated by today's 120hz televisions/home theater projectors than 48fps.

        >So, let's get this right, you've never seen anything other than 24fps in cinemas, but are WAY behind the new technology - which you've not experienced...

        No I have not experienced anything higher than 24fps at the cinema, but I have experienced enough films there (as in a movie or two nearly every month) to know that I absolutely do not like 24fps. I have experienced filming at 60fps with a GoPro HD Hero and the smoothness that is presented at playback is unbelievable! If that frame rate were achieved by Hollywood movies I have no doubt that the results would be spectacular!

        • Matt says:

          Yes, I understand the 'more is better' mentality; I just don't think it's always so. I prefer to see films the way the director shot and intended; without a TV attempting to add information to the image that's not there in the original. (Having said that, I don't have a TV anyway.)

          The only people pushing higher frame rates right now are Peter Jackson and James Cameron, and I don't care so much for the work they're doing at this time.

          The problem I see with the 'more is better' mentality - in this case - is that we're losing something beautiful for a lack of understanding as to the fine details of the medium and how it interacts with the brain.

          But I'm no expert. Just my opinion. Cinema is becoming more like TV all the time, in content and form. It used to be distinguished from TV for many reasons, that are gradually disappearing. That makes me sad:(

          But that problem is hitting on many levels, not just the technology. Probably the bigger problem is the way the studios (or rather their marketing departments) decide which films are going to be made and distributed.

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