Psychology of Frames Per Second

by Rachel Alison on August 8, 2012 · 3 comments

Floating around Twitter today, I saw this article by Slashfilm getting mentioned a bit. It discusses how Peter Jackson’s production of The Hobbit was shot at 48 frames per second rather than the industry standard (for most major motion films, anyway,) 24fps.

YouTube Preview Image

The piece goes on to say that only a handful of major cities will be screening it at this higher frame rate for a variety of reasons. One problem is the capability of projectors in most theaters, but the more interesting thing is Warner Bros’ reaction to an early screening.

Slashfilm says – “The first public presentation of footage, at CinemaCon this past spring, didn’t go so well, with audiences finding that the increased detail seen in the HFR footage made the film look cheap, rather than more impressive.”

It’s rather interesting how we, the moviegoers, get conditioned to certain settings through sheer repetition. In an earlier blog post about Treasure Island, I talked about how jarring certain effects can be if the audience isn’t used to seeing those effects utilized in that film genre. If you use action-y transitions, shaky cam, etc. like it’s a Guy Ritchie joint, but it’s actually a costumed period-piece, the spectators watching at home may get kind of confused, even if it’s just subconsciously.

We have become used to films looking a certain way, and even though the uninitiated may not realize it, part of what we associate with looking like a “real film” versus some student project is the frame rate. In the late 1920′s, 24fps became the standard for 35mm film. Decades later, 60i (30 frames from 60 interlaced fields) became the standard for American television and thus a psychological expectation was born. When home camcorders became a thing, they tended to shoot at this rate as well. (Even now, if you’re looking to buy a video camera, most consumer grade digital cameras shoot 30p or 60i. Some also now offer 60p. But few cameras on the low end of cost offer 24p.)

So now Peter Jackson is shooting his next tent-pole series on a higher frame rate that audiences subconsciously associate with shoddy, low-end video. (James Cameron has talked about possibly doing his Avatar sequels at 48fps as well, though I don’t believe shooting has started on those yet.) Seems to be kind of a big risk, but given the enormous built-in audience The Hobbit will have, perhaps it’s just the production to get audiences started on accepting higher frame rates.

Mr. Jackson only has ~90 years of conditioning to destroy. Gotta be easier than fighting Smaug, right?

Previous post:

Next post: