Peter Jackson shooting The Hobbit at 48 frames per second

For the past year, James Cameron has been telling anyone who will listen that a lot of the problems of 3D would be worked out with a higher frame rate, rather than the old 24-frames per second standard that causes blurring and strobing when you move the camera too fast, which in turn gets exacerbated by 3D.  Now Peter Jackson has announced that he’s shooting The Hobbit at 48 frames-per-second, and hopes it will be one of the first films projected at the higher rate.  Here’s the word straight from Jackson’s beardy mouth.

Looking at 24 frames every second may seem ok–and we’ve all seen thousands of films like this over the last 90 years–but there is often quite a lot of blur in each frame, during fast movements, and if the camera is moving around quickly, the image can judder or “strobe.”

Shooting and projecting at 48 fps does a lot to get rid of these issues.  It looks much more lifelike, and it is much easier to watch, especially in 3-D.

Originally, 24 fps was chosen based on the technical requirements of the early sound era. I suspect it was the minimum speed required to get some audio fidelity out of the first optical sound tracks. They would have settled on the minimum speed because of the cost of the film stock. 35mm film is expensive, and the cost per foot (to buy the negative stock, develop it and print it), has been a fairly significant part of any film budget.

So we have lived with 24 fps for 9 decades–not because it’s the best film speed (it’s not by any stretch), but because it was the cheapest speed to achieve basic acceptable results back in 1927 or whenever it was adopted.

Now that the world’s cinemas are moving towards digital projection, and many films are being shot with digital cameras, increasing the frame rate becomes much easier.  Most of the new digital projectors are capable of projecting at 48 fps, with only the digital servers needing some firmware upgrades.  We tested both 48 fps and 60 fps.  The difference between those speeds is almost impossible to detect, but the increase in quality over 24 fps is significant.

We are hopeful that there will be enough theaters capable of projecting 48 fps by the time The Hobbit comes out.  However, while it’s predicted that there may be over 10,000 screens capable of projecting THE HOBBIT at 48 fps by our release date in Dec, 2012, we don’t yet know what the reality will be.

3D is stupid, and it’s only more realistic than high-def 2D in the sense that a pop-up book is more realistic than a regular one.  But they’re totally right about the frame rate.  There’s no reason to use an old format that visibly can’t process motion as well as the eye.  Your NTSC TV already projects at 29.97 fps, and motion looks much smoother.  The higher frame rate on digital projectors will look sharper, allowing filmmakers to utilize better 3D, faster camera movements, quicker cuts, and– MOTHER OF GOD WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!?