THE MOVE TO HFR (HIGH FRAME RATE)
This December, an attempt to revolutionize film exhibition will be made by Peter Jackson and co. with their film “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. The film will be the first of it’s kind, available in a format called HFR 3D.
But what is HFR, and why make the move to this format? What is the effect on the film budget by utilizing this method?
HFR stands for High Frame Rate, a somewhat arbitrary name that refers to any frame rate higher than 24 frames per second, which has long been the industry standard for film capture and exhibition. In this case, The Hobbit was captured in 48 frames per second, and the HFR 3D version of the film will allow you to see those extra frames in action.
Shooting at higher frame rates is nothing new. Even most prosumer and many consumer grade cameras can shoot at speeds of 24, 30, or 60fps (if not more), but higher frame rates have never been utilized as an exhibition standard for a major motion picture. The purpose of a higher frame rate is to help reduce the “judder” or “strobing” effect. At 24 fps on a large screen, an object moving quickly across the screen, or a whip pan by the camera can be jarring, because the objects move large distances between each frame. HFR aims to fix this problem by doubling the number of times you see that object in one second, thereby filling in some of the gaps of motion between frames. Is also reduces motion blur, because each image has a shorter exposure time.
This idea has been utilized for some time now for sports videos, which often shoot at 60 frames per second because of the fast-paced nature of sports. In 3D cinema, this should help with the strain some viewers experience during high action scenes with lots of movement.
But why 48? Why not use even more frames? While shooting at even higher frame rates is possible, and probable for exhibition someday in the future (assuming HFR is received well), 48 seems to be an good transition for now. By shooting at 48fps, a film can easily be converted to the old standard of 24fps by skipping every other frame. This allows studios to release their movies in both formats, appeasing those who oppose the HFR look (some say it looks “too real”, or has a soap opera look to it).
Higher frame rates also yield bigger file sizes and can require different technologies for acquisition and projection, meaning greater budget expense. In visual effects, doubling the number of frames can double the amount of work: A shot of Gollum talking to Bilbo now requires camera tracking, rotoscoping, etc. for twice as many frames! The impact on a film budget can be significant. Large movie files take more time across the workflow to handle with more man hours to execute the same scene work. VFX expense for double the amount frames can essentially multiply the costs upward driving up the movie budget and requirement for production film finance.
In addition to “An Unexpected Journey”, HFR 3D will be used for the next two Hobbit films, and James Cameron also plans to use the new format for his upcoming Avatar sequels. “The Hobbit” will be released in 2D, 3D, IMAX, and IMAX 3D at 24fps, and HFR 3D at select theaters December 14th.