Friday, December 28, 2012

High Frame Rate Cinema Thoughts

I was able to get to the only theater in Indiana to see The Hobbit in high frame rate 3D, and I liked it!  I had already seen it in standard frame rate 3D and the comparison was interesting.  High frame rate, as it is used at present, is a film shot at 48 frames per second and displayed at 48 frames per second.  Since the 1920's the standard frame rate has been fixed at 24 fps, this has to do with sound recording and playback quality.  24 frames per second is the slowest possible frame rate that allows for acceptable audio at the time, that is, film costs money and filmmakers are either cheap or poor, so the frame rate is as slow as possible while still being watchable.

Douglas Trumbull pioneered HFR technology with film in the 1970's, Showscan [1] [2], which shot and displayed at 60 fps.  The technique runs through film stock at 2.5 times the normal rate and was too expensive to become commercially viable at the time.  With the advent of digital technology the added frames are more manageable and affordable than film.

Visual Aesthetic

I like the added temporal resolution of the HFR technology, meaning we get to see twice as much information while watching the movie. The HFR really shines with slower camera movements and action as the clarity of the scene is incredible. I particularly liked the early scenes introducing us to the Dwarven kingdom of Erebor, the views were stunning.  I had noticed several of the camera pans juddered quite a bit in the 24 fps version, but they looked very clear and detailed at 48 fps.  The faster action scenes were also benefited by the temporal resolution boost, though to a lesser extent which may have to do with exposure time per frame (more on that later).  The fight scenes, especially in Goblin Town, had a lot of cuts and quick edits that seemed to be more pronounced and visible in HFR.  Remember, editing is the Invisible Art, if I'm aware of the cuts, something is calling attention to them.  I think the art of the edit will need to adapt to high frame rate cinema to become invisible again.

Technical Thoughts

Standard frame rate cinema means 24 frames per second, with a standard shutter angle of 180°, means each frame is exposed for 1/48 of a second.  This means that slower motion is captured clearly and sharply in each frame while quicker motion exhibits some motion blur in each frame.  At the slower frame rate of 24 fps, this motion blur helps blend the frames together when projected to smooth the action, but it is really lost information.  This motion blur is a lack of detail and clarity of information.  Christie has a nice page about HFR.

HFR, in the case of The Hobbit, means 48 fps, with a 180° shutter angle that means each frame is exposed for 1/96 of a second (though a digital camera could expose a 360° shutter for 1/48 of a second per frame), this means much less motion blur per frame and more detail and information per frame.  A post in this forum thread talks about The Hobbit being shot with a 270° shutter angle as a compromise to best show 48 fps and 24 fps versions of the movie.

The toss-up here is the greater temporal resolution of the 48 fps and the reduced motion blur of a shorter exposure time per frame leading to the action scenes in The Hobbit being perceived as shuttering (this is different than judder).  A great example of shutter are the fight scenes from Gladiator.  I think this is a trade off, greater temporal resolution for shuttering, though I think that our threshold for perceiving shuttering is something we've learned from watching movies filmed with a 180° shutter for the most part, just like we've been conditioned to expect movies to "look" correct at 24 fps.


All in all I liked the movie and the exploration of new technologies for storytelling.  Staying with 24 fps movies for no other reason than "we've always shot at 24 fps" seems problematic.  Let's explore 3D, let's explore HFR (James Cameron will shoot the Avatar sequels at 60 fps and Trumbull is shooting 120 fps with Showscan Digital), let's explore new cinema.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Using 3D for dual channel storytelling

This article about an ad campaign for Axe body spray (R/C anaglyph glasses recommended) reminded me of using 3D to tell two related but different stories.  In conventional stereoscopic 3D both channels (left and right) are used in concert to display stereoscopic 3D information from the same point of view and point in time, thus granting greater perception of depth and the use of depth as a storytelling language in a single frame of reference (spatially and temporally).

The Axe commercial uses the two channels of stereoscopic 3D as a true dual stream display and bifurcates the story accordingly: in the left eye (red channel) the protagonist decides to court the older woman he meets when moving into a new apartment building - the right eye (cyan channel) shows the protagonist deciding to court the younger woman he also sees when moving into the new apartment building.  The story then forks from there, though it develops along a similar path and timeline, just with a different secondary character.

This type of presentation could also be used to tell a story from different viewpoints, perhaps a hero-cam and anti-hero-cam in an action movie.  These examples generally follow the same temporal storyline and, if the audio remains consistent between scene A and scene B, then the viewer can change their viewing experience with the blink of an eye.

This public service announcement deals with a similar story where the scenario is similar between the two different views, though the difference is critical.  The PSA looks at domestic violence and shows a scene at home where, in one eye, the husband is committing domestic abuse, while the other eye shows a normal evening.

Games, led in the consumer area by Sony have an option for dual view that allows for the PS3 to show different views to two players via 3D technology.  This is an update to the time-tested split screen method of multiplayer gaming on a single display device.  There are two major benefits with "dual view": first, each player gets the full screen to themselves (as perceived when viewed through 3D glasses set to dual view), and, the players are unable to see the screen of their opponent.

All in all, dual stream viewing could be pretty interesting.  Imagine an entire movie filmed in a dual stream point of view style, Hero-Cam and Villain-Cam; when you arrive at the cinema, you can choose (or randomly receive) glasses that are filtered for double left or double right so you see the entire movie from one of two points of view.  Interesting....

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The first installment of Peter Jackson’s TheHobbit: An Unexpected Journey is being captured in ways that push the state of the art in cinema technology to new limits in resolution, frame rate, and 3D.

Resolution: The Hobbit is being shot in RED Epic cameras at a resolution of 5K, this is a little more than five times the resolution of high definition and can reveal incredible detail in the sets, costumes, makeup, and overall scene. Films have been shot at this digital resolution before, but to see the finished movie at this resolution (4K actually), you’ll need to find a cinema that is screening it at 4K resolution.

High Frame Rate: The movies have been showing at a rate of 24 frames per second since the advent of sound motion pictures in the mid to late 1920’s. Before sound pictures, the frame rate was usually between 16 and 18 frames per second. An experiment in the 1970’s called Showscan shot film at an unprecedented 60 frames per second, but didn't catch on due to the increased costs of going through film 2.5 times faster than normal. Additionally special cameras and projectors were needed to work in Showscan.

Digital camera technology recently allowed more frame rates and the RED Epic allowed The Hobbit to be shot at 48 frames per second, double the current cinema standard of 24 fps. Tests and advanced screenings have elicited mixed reviews since this faster frame rate has a markedly different visual aesthetic. You’ll have to see for yourself and decide if HFR cinema is something that you can watch and enjoy. On the technical side, the 48 fps process doubles the temporal resolution of the movie; action sequences and quick motion on screen is rendered with more detail.

The closest (to me) cinema screening The Hobbit in HFR is the Hamilton 16 IMAX near Noblesville, just north of Indianapolis at exit 210 off of I-69.

3D: In addition to shooting The Hobbit at 5K resolution and at 48 frames per second, they also shot in stereoscopic 3D. The production crew studied what 3D has to offer and how to use 3D as a visual tool to bring out meaning and nuance in the finished movie (much the same way color, sound, and lighting have developed meaning in the story). The production video diary #4 looks at the use of 3D in The Hobbit:

All in all, if you want to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey the way that the production is intended to be seen, make plans to trek up to the Hamilton 16 IMAX to see the HFR 3D presentation.

This post was edited down into a portion of an article about The Hobbit posted at IU.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Encoding audio for Digital Cinema Packages

This is here to remind me to explore this issue further.  Here's the issue in a nutshell: DCPs expect audio in certain configurations: 2.0, 5.1, 7.1, 9-16 channel.

  • 2.0 = Left, Right
  • 5.1 = Left, Right, Center, LFE (subwoofer), Left Surround, Right Surround
  • 7.1 = Left, Right, Center, LFE (subwoofer), Left Surround, Right Surround, Left Center, Right Center
  • 9-16 Channel adds channel 9 through channel 16 to the 7.1 matrix

Notice anything missing?  There's no option for encoding just monaural sound (center channel).  It seems that the best option at the moment is to fake out the audio system by creating and encoding silent audio tracks in the unused channels of a 5.1 matrix for proper center audio sound:

  1. Left = silent track
  2. Right = silent track
  3. Center = monaural audio essence
  4. LFE = silent track
  5. Left Surround = silent track
  6. Right Surround = silent track

I just worry that this is not a proper workaround for the problem of the missing monaural only encoding.  There are some interesting forum threads on this issue that seem to accept that the silent track, while not great, is a viable workaround.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Busy Cinematic Weekend

So last weekend Meagan and I saw six movies from Friday evening through to Sunday evening.  That's a lot of cinema!

Friday evening we saw Dennis James play the pipe organ to Faust at the IU Auditorium.  For this screening he was joined by Mark Goldstein on the Buchla Lightning Wands.  James also played the theremin to portray certain scenes in the film.

Saturday afternoon we saw Bride of Frankenstein and Freaks at the IU Cinema.  This was the first time I had seen either of these films and they didn't disappoint.  I was struck by how similar Young Frankenstein was to Bride of Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein really paid homage to Bride.  Freaks was definitely an interesting story and the first exploitation film that I've seen and critically thought about.  All in all, a great double feature.

Saturday evening we saw The Gamers: Dorkness Rising and Beverly Lane at the IU Cinema.  I hosted the program and facilitated curtain talks with the filmmakers for each feature.  We brought in Ben Dobyns from Washington state via videoconferencing for an informative round of questions from the audience.  After screening Beverly Lane, the audience talked with Dave Ross and received an insiders view of the production process in work.

Sunday evening I stayed home with the boys and watched Last Man Standing (after the boys were in bed) and Meg went out to see One for the Money at a friend's house.  I was really looking forward to seeing Last Man Standing as it is the latest remake of the classic samurai film, Yojimbo, by Akira Kurosawa.  Yojimbo was initially remade by Sergio Leone as A Fistfull of Dollars.  I love that the story went from a samurai in feudal Japan to a cowboy in the wild west to a gangster during Prohibition.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Blu-ray 3D of "Creature from the Black Lagoon"

The 3D Film Archive has a really good assessment of the 3D Blu-ray re-release of "Creature from the Black Lagoon". It highlights some of the challenges of repackaging a stereo movie and some of the odd decisions that can be made.  I wonder of the technicians working on this didn't have any 3D background since some of the mistakes in the transfer are really easy to avoid.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cost of a DCP

Creating a DCP of the indie feature, Beverly Lane.
Just posting this here as a reminder and for those of you interested.  The cost of having a post-house create a DCP.

  • DV Film - $40 per minute or $3600 for a 90 minute feature
  • SV2 Studios - They have an À la carte style of pricing, about $1200 for a 90 minute feature
  • Indie DCP - They don't list a price schedule
  • Dolby Labs - I've not found a price schedule, but word on the street is between $3000 and $5000 for a 90 minute feature
  • Deluxe - They also create DCPs, but no price schedule to be found

Interesting blog post comparing DCP and film prints.  It's from 2008 and somewhat dated with regard to number of digital screens, but the gist of it is still good.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Stereoscopic 3D Spectrum: Veritas et Fabula

This week at the Indiana University Cinema has been very exciting as they are hosting Werner Herzog for lectures, discussions, and screenings of his films.  I had the privilege of having lunch with Mr. Herzog today and we chatted about creating digital cinema packages (DCPs) and the use of stereoscopic 3D.  I had read articles about Herzog's views on 3D in the cinema and talking to him allowed me to explore this further.

On the set of "Dead Christmas" with
a beamsplitter stereo camera rig.
My thoughts here are informed my his words as I think he has clarified into actual words some of my thinking on 3D production.  I think we can consider a spectrum of the use of 3D (one of many spectra to consider) that specifically addresses Herzog's use of 3D in his only 3D movie, Cave of Forgotten Dreams.  Mr. Herzog has also mentioned that he, at present, only likes the use of 3D in one other movie, Pina by Wim Wenders.  These two titles have something in common regarding the use of 3D in that the filmmakers wanted to use the 3D to better capture the events unfolding in front of the stereo camera rig.

In the case of Cave, Herzog felt that the use of 3D would help the audience to better understand the shape of the cave walls that also played a role 35,000 years ago when the people who painted on the walls used their shape to inform and enhance their paintings.  In the case of Pina, the choreography of the dancers and their interaction with the sets and locations are documented with the improved spatial understanding that stereoscopic 3D brings to the filmmaker's toolbox.  For the stereo veritas films the stereographer is tasked with calculating and capturing "realistic" stereoscopic 3D that represents the view of the world as if you were there in place of the camera rig.

I believe that our spectrum here deals with the desire and application of truth (veritas) versus story (fabula).  I should note that these are not mutually exclusive and that the story (fabula) I refer to here is not the overall narrative of the film itself, but the application of stereoscopic 3D in such a way as to support storytelling choices by the director.

Stereo Veritas < - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - + - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - > Stereo Fabula
Cave of Forgotten Dreams                    TRON: Legacy              Avatar
Pina                                                     Prometheus                                   Hugo

You'll notice some films are falling toward the middle of this spectrum.  These are films that were shot in stereoscopic 3D and are technically good, but seem to lack a sense of 3D awareness.  TRON: Legacy was a wonderfully shot movie that used such conservative interaxial separation that the stereoscopic depth is almost nonexistent, the whole movie seems to be at 1% parallax or less, you can almost watch the 3D version without glasses.  Prometheus on the other hand had several scenes that were very nicely deep with parallax above 2% or so, but it was inconsistent, as if the stereographer and director did not develop a depth script.

With very few exceptions, Avatar, Hugo, and Coraline all were aware of stereoscopic 3D as a narrative tool and made choices that reinforced the director's vision for the use of depth as well as positive parallax (screen space) and negative parallax (theater space).  I need to watch Avatar more closely to really comment on it, but the depth was definitely present and used to give audiences a sense of the wonders of Pandora.

Hugo made extensive use of moving the plane of interest from positive parallax to negative parallax and back again.  Scorsese and Demetri Portelli brought the characters out to you when they needed to be close (in both friendly and confrontational ways) and pushed them back when distance was called for.

Selick (Director), Kozachik (DP), and their stereographers Brian Gardner and Nicholas Ilyin made brilliant use of the fact that the strength of the 3D effect can and should be planned and managed in Coraline.  Akin to the use of black and white and color in The Wizard of Oz to denote a movement into a new and interesting location, Coraline makes use of shallow 3D at the beginning when Coraline is in the boring real world and changes to deep 3D (along with better weather and more saturated colors) when she first visits the other world.

My thoughts on Stereo Veritas versus Stereo Fabula are that this wonderful tool of stereoscopic 3D should serve the wishes and designs of the filmmakers.  3D is another tool like color and sound that a storyteller uses to enthrall an audience.  If some thought is put into that use and a skilled crew (experienced 3D camera operators and stereographers are a must) on hand to produce the story, some wonderful tales can be told.