48 Frames Per Second

 Posted by at 20:28  No Responses »
Dec 162012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, released this weekend to record-shattering numbers, is outstanding. I saw a midnight show as Thursday gave way to Friday, and I just returned from seeing it for a second time. I look forward to seeing it again with family over the holidays, owning it on Blu-Ray, and devouring all of the behind-the-scenes and extended content as I did with the Lord of the Rings films when they came out.

The show we attended opening night was the standard, 24 frames-per-second, non-3D format. I wanted my first experience with the movie to be about the film itself, the story, its characters, and so forth. I didn’t want to risk distraction by a new film format until I had taken the movie in under comfortable and familiar circumstances first. Today, Cody and I saw it at 48fps in 3D. The new frame rate has met with a great deal of contention and I want to share my thoughts on it while they’re still fresh.

The opening shots in Bag End are weird. While some claim that it “takes time” to adjust to the new frame rate, I don’t think that’s what I was reacting to at all. There were plenty of shots where the higher frame rate was noticeable, but these specific early shots were noticeable and felt off. It’s difficult to precisely articulate, and I would dearly love the opportunity to compare the 24 and 48 fps versions shot-for-shot to see if I can identify the cause, but many of these seemingly simple shots feel sped-up, jerky, or otherwise technically marred. As the film went on, these shots occurred less frequently, but continued to be noticeable, which is why I do not believe it to be a simple matter of acclimatization.

On the flip side, some shots were outright stunning because of the higher framerates. Contrary to a great deal of the criticism I’ve seen, I thought all of the CG shots were greatly enhanced by the higher framerates, gaining astounding clarity and visual character. In these shots, I felt more immersed, not less. Cody concurred with this sentiment, so I know I’m not entirely alone in feeling that way.

On the whole, I’d say the movie had a 10/80/10 split of its length where the framerate made it look amazing, was unnoticeable, or was noticeably “off.”

I have some thoughts as to why, though, that are not as simplistic as “it’s a bad way to make movies/doesn’t look as good/majestic/etc.” or “we’re just not used to it yet!” I think there’s more to it than either of these two camps. What we’re seeing strikes me as a new version of the uncanny valley.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the uncanny valley refers to the sudden drop in humanity a facsimile human likeness has as it approaches reality. Cartoon characters are clearly not really human, but we recognize them as human-like; they do not trigger this reaction. As we get more and more real (e.g. The Polar Express), the characters that are quantifiably “more human” seem more alien. They are human-like, but lack the fine distinctions to mark them as truly human, and thus make us uncomfortable. Lord of the Rings‘ Gollum might be the first CG character to truly breach the valley, and there have been many more since. As one might imagine, CG artists got better at bridging the valley as our understanding of it improved and as technology allowed us to better simulate those gaps.

I think the same thing is now happening with framerate. With 24 fps, we’re subject to images blurring across 1/24th of a second — far more than our eyes actually detect. It’s clearly not “real” to the point where we accept it as a convention of the medium. At 1/48th of a second, things have far less time to blur, but there’s still some motion smoothing going on. Our eyes see at effective framerates of ~60fps or higher, which means this 48fps standard approaches the perception level of our eyes, but doesn’t quite match it. Welcome to the uncanny valley.1

On top of that, though, I think there’s also some aspect of virgin technique at play here. Filmmakers are accustomed to working at 24fps. They know how to light a set, move a camera, set up marks for actor movement, and so on at this frame rate. They know how to make 24fps look good. 48fps is a different tool in the toolbox. It doesn’t work like 24fps and expecting it to do so results in shots that will jar viewers.

A lot of this crystallized during a flashback sequence, which I recalled from the 24fps version to feel somewhat ethereal and lethargic, not quite slow-motion but still sluggish enough to feel like some distant memory. In the 48fps version, I expected this scene might look strange–but it didn’t! It actually looked fantastic! Because they shots and motion had to be slowed down, none of the movements felt jerky or stilted, giving the entire sequence a marvelous quality.

In total, I’m not sold on 48fps yet, but neither would I consider myself a detractor thereof. I think it has great potential for providing films with a greater semblance of life than they have had before, but I think filmmakers need to be careful in its use and adapt their style of shooting (and editing! shots have to be cut more slowly so as to not feel abrupt!) to account for it. In many places throughout THAUJ, they don’t quite manage it, which makes it pull the viewer out of the film. In many other places, they nail it and offer a greater level of immersion than we’ve before had.

I’m curious to see where this leads.

  1. This is a very rough simplification of a much more complex process — both on the film and on the occular side of things. If you’re curious about this, I suggest Googling “frame rate human eye” or reading the wikipedia article on Frame Rate for more information. []

Bait and Switch

 Posted by at 13:40  No Responses »
Apr 082009

The new Star Trek movie due out in May had its premiere in Sydney, Australia…or at least, that was the plan. In point of fact, the first audience to see the film was in Austin, Texas. Fans showed up to see a screening of The Wrath of Kahn, many of whom had never seen this movie in the theater before. They would also be seeing ten minutes of the new film following the screening. The new film’s writers were on-hand as special guests.

About two minutes into the Kahn screening, the film appeared to break. While the house lights came up and the new Trek writers chatted with the audience, a man in a trench coat and hat carrying a metal box walked onto the stage. All eyes turned to this man. Just as he moved to take off his hat, someone called out “Oh my god!” and another cried “Holy –!”

Leonard Nimoy had shown up. In the metal box, he revealed, was the complete set of reels to the new Star Trek film. To read/see more, check out this entry at TrekMovie.

I love it when stuff like this happens.

Continue reading »

Writing Professionally

 Posted by at 10:20  No Responses »
Apr 072009

The first career path to which I gave serious consideration was authoring fiction.  The driving motivation behind this idea — telling stories — drives a disproportionate number of my hobbies: independent film-making, movie/TV-watching  and game-playing (on the receiving end of told stories, in this case), role-playing games.  Every other career I entertained the notion of pursuing held storytelling as a key component: acting, directing, visual effects for film, and now game development.  Within the last year, I decided that having a “day job” by no means precluded professional writing.  Author John Scalzi, internet-famous for his Whatever blog, cemented this decision by restating my own conclusion in as many words.  This led to my involvement in NaNoWriMo 2008, which I completed within the designated timeframe.  Though the resultant short novel is not something I feel is worth publishing (contrary to prior statements I’ve made about it), the simple fact that I wrote it armed me with the confidence that I can write a novel.

Pursuant to my goal to be a professional writer, I decided yesterday that I would take another page from Scalzi’s playbook and try to write a blog entry every day from now on.  My morning routine includes perusing a number of websites (a task made much simpler thanks to Google Reader and the wonder of RSS), which often have several interesting stories worth pointing out.  My hope is that readership here will grow beyond the small circle of friends that now read it and that it can become a community unto itself.

What do I mean by professional writer?  I don’t mean quitting my day job.  Scalzi (yeah, you’re going to see him name-dropped quite often) makes the observation that unless you can guarantee annual income from writing that’s 30% above what you make at your current day job, your financial situation will be worse if you quit your job to focus on writing.  The only reason to quit your job for writing is that if holding the job impedes the income you could otherwise make from writing.  

Professional writer, in this sense, is synonymous with Stephen King’s definition of a talented writer: if you wrote something and someone paid you for it, you’re talented.  It doesn’t matter if the writing was technical, analytical, editorial, or fictional — if you wrote something and got paid, you fit the definition.  Take it as a forgone conclusion that my ideal world would have me waking up at noon to eat breakfast and surf the internet for an hour, writing fiction for the next five, eating dinner with Cody, and then spending the evening on entertainment, all while making much more than I make now.  It’s not an unrealistic fantasy, but it’s not one that will come without time and effort.  

Sometimes, to get what you want, you have to elect to do things you otherwise might not choose to do.  To that end, I stopped procrastinating last night and bought myself a copy of Writer’s Market 2009.  This book is the ultimate go-to resource for writers, listing every publishing outlet for every topic available.  I plan to find a small outlet that publishes articles I might be able to write about with some intelligence, and submitting.  Without some incredible luck, it won’t be fiction.  I would be more than happy, however, to be paid for writing movie reviews, technical reviews, game reviews, or any other number of topics on which I tend to pontificate anyway.

As with every other industry, you first need to get your foot in the door.  Prove that you’re publishable in a small way before you can hope to hit big.


 Posted by at 16:55  No Responses »
Jan 092009

It’s been a while, so it seemed high-time to talk about some of the things I’m working on.

Novel: Gold (tentative title)
This past November, I participated in and “won” NaNoWriMo by completing a 50,000 word manuscript.  It’s the story of a young woman that wakes up in a strange, burning office with an unfamiliar voice in her head urging her to jump out of the window…to save her life.  Once I completed it, I sent it to a number of people for a first review.  I haven’t touched it since, taking the advice of Stephen King to let the first draft sit in a drawer for a while before returning to it.  My parents have recently finished reading it and are going to be sending me their feedback this weekend.  I’m still waiting to hear Cody and a few others’ thoughts as well.  Once I have the combined feedback of everyone, I’ll set to work writing the second draft.  My hope is to publish it sometime this summer.

Film: Wec: The Sequel
Wec 2 has been in stasis for a while, superceded by work, more immediate hobbies and diversions (Xbox games, Fallout 3, novel-writing, etc.).  However, I do still plan to finish it.  It’s hard to bring myself to work on it specifically because it’s a film that deals with an entirely different era of my life.  I’m not that guy anymore, and so the movie’s personal relevance to me is greatly diminished.  However, with Ron’s help, I still think the movie itself is salvagable and will actually be interesting.  I recently showed Wec: The Movie to a co-worker of mine in preparation for a new project (see below), and I realized (again) how inane that first movie is.  I want the second one, as silly as it is, to actually be enjoyable for more than the sheer lunacy value.  I think it can be.

Film: Untitled Star Wars Fanfilm
I’ve played with the idea of doing a Star Wars fanfilm many times in the past.  A few weeks ago, an image formed in my head that caused inspiration to strike: an X-wing, floating “hidden” behind an asteroid, and then maneuvering like a real spacefighter (a la BSG).  This prompted the idea of creating a film based on a some X-wing pilots, in the vein of BSG.  It would play with established SW conventions (i.e. X-wings would actually maneuver like space fighters) and make a more “hard” sci-fi version of Star Wars.  

Co-worker and fellow SW fan Steve was intrigued by the idea when I told him about it and with a bit of convincing I’ve gotten him pretty enthused about the project.  We recently asked Ron to help us with the writing, and the last week has had us working through the first draft of the treatment he wrote up for us.  He’s now busily working on the second draft that Steve and I will use to write the first draft of the script.  Once we’ve done that, it’ll go back to Ron for a dialog polish (George, why didn’t you do this?) and we’ll start material pre-production (set building, costumes, etc.).  So far, the film will star Steve, Cody, and myself, along with a cameo by Steve’s wife and children.  

Other Novels
I have several other novel ideas that have been banging around in my head, begging to be written.

  • A mostly-hard science fiction novel dealing with the rammifications of space warfare after the advent of practical defense shields.
  • A science fiction novel dealing with the setting that I’ve had in my head forever, first implemented in any practical form as the UEDF Illustrious Defender e-mail RPG.
  • A sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel wherein a character joins a guild of assassins and uncovers a plot that led to her father’s murder.

There are more, but those three are the most fully-formed.

RPG: Vampire
At some point in the near future, I also plan to resume my Vampire game.  I’m not totally sure when this will happen, though it is likely to take place on Saturday evenings.  The timing is up in the air right now because many of the players are currently in unstable situations (as it pertains to regularly meeting on IRC, that is).

So, that’s about it from my neck of the woods.  Going to be a busy year!