As a guy who scratches the surface of this medium with humble indy efforts and some industrial video experience I have to watch carefully. If I commit to the wrong camera or format, it can hurt financially. Once I had finished up the latest reading I thought to share some of this with you. As consumers looking at multiple formats to see a well anticipated film in or going out shopping for home entertainment gear you might find some advantage in what I describe here.
Preface-Video tech 101
We all now know and love HD. No not that crappy old DVD 720 line HD, I mean 1080 or a little better. Like Blue ray. Or modern broadcast signals. Some of us have seen or bought into 4k or 4000 lines. Coming fast is Ultra HD another 4k resolution format with better color specs. Fortunately that Blue-ray disc at 1080 plays beautifully on those screen, 4k original content and 4k cable service is still pretty bleak. But even 4k is at 30fps.
Of course cameras have to somehow keep ahead. So Red has the Dragon, a camera that shoots content at 6k. Irony-Red advertises that 6k video is the same resolution as a 19MP still camera, making the Red Dragon a good still camera as well as an amazing and inspiring cinema camera. Why ironic? DSLR cameras upended indy film/TV making when they went dual purpose still and 1080 video.
Most of us understand that video is ordinarily about 30 sorta virtual frames per second. 35mm movies are 24 real film frames per second. If we choose we can do digital video at whatever rate we equip for. The diff between 24 and 30 is subtle. But when you kick it up to 60fps or 120fps the whole look changes. Edges sharpen and motion blur diminishes greatly. Don’t confuse this with shooting at 60fps and playing at 30fps for a poor mans slo motion. I’m talking shot and played at 60fps.
The meat of the matter-
What an amazing time to be in the business. So much is changing so fast it may rival the days introducing sound or color. It’s quite an adjustment process and everyone is involved, most certainly audiences. Right now 60FPS looks too real, kinda artificial. But of course that just means lighting and staging have not adjusted yet. And a quiet foreign language romance calls for a very different look than a SciFi epic on Imax screens. So get ready for a bunch of interesting format experiments for your entertainment dollar. James Cameron, Peter Jackson and others will surely see to that. Old school guys like Tarantino and Chris Nolan will hang on to film and the classic film look as long as they can. So this grand experiment does take us back to the days when audiences had to decide if sound was a great idea, or if color or 1950’s crude 3d was worthwhile.
5k Camera Capable of up to 120fps
…At a recent event here hosted by the Academy, the audience got a preview of some of this work, which will be made available to filmmakers, equipment manufacturers, and researchers this fall. To study how various tech parameters affect a movie, the council commissioned a four-scene script and shot it over and over again. So far they’ve shot 38 versions of the first scene using professional actors, who hit the same marks every time, and motion control rigs to keep the camera angles exactly the same.
At the standard 24 frames per second, the video looked… well, normal. “This is what you’ve experienced your entire life,” said Tim Smith, a psychologist at the University of London, who was onstage with Maltz during the presentation. At 48 fps, the rate Jackson used in The Hobbit, the scene looked more like real life and somehow less cinematic. There was less motion blur: Glass vases on a table in the foreground and the text on a poster in the background stayed more sharply focused as the camera panned to follow the waitress. At 60 fps, a rate James Cameron reportedly considered for his upcoming Avatar sequel, this was even more true. Tiny movements like leaves blowing in the breeze on trees outside the window were sharp enough to be strangely distracting. At 120 fps, even jitter in the camera rig became noticeable.
…”On the one hand there’s tremendous possibility, but the challenge is to maintain the artistry and craftsmanship,” said director Jon Favreau, who’s best known for action movies like Iron Man and comedies like Swingers and Chef. “Once everything is in focus it requires a lot more staging, and a lot more sophistication in visual effects, and more attention to prop work, set design, and costuming.” There will be some growing pains as film makers learn to work with higher frame rates, Favreau says, just as there were with the introduction of sound, and later, color to movies. “There was always a little bit of artistic fall off in the early days, but eventually film makers learned to embrace and run with every new tool that was offered.”
This story is part of a series about how scientists are studying cinema for clues about the nature of perception, and how the science might aid film makers as they pursue their art.
More: For Filmmakers, Higher Frame Rates Pose Opportunities—and Challenges