SMPTE held its Symposium on High Frame Rates this month, packing a cinema for a day of papers and talks on this subject. Topics covered a wide gamut, from acquisition through to exhibition. If there was something to take home at the end of the day, it’s that no stage of high frame rate production, distribution, and exhibition is easy.
In capture, strong interest is emerging to shoot at 120 fps, and then process downward to distribution frame rates. No longer is this being discussed by people such as Doug Trumbull, but even Disney discussed its interest in this direction. The challenge, of course, is that there’s so much more data to store and archive. Interesting, Disney is exploring ways to boost frame rate after capturing at 120fps.
The science of high frame rate capture is providing a new channel for government researchers to share work with the entertainment industry. A presentation by Andrew Watson of Ames Research Center centered on high frame rate artifacts, illustrating human sensitivities to color and contrast when higher frame rates are employed.
A special panel of exhibitors topped the day, pointing to the real problems encountered in the field with the pending release of Hobbit. Wendy Aylsworth of Warner Bros followed, whose principal responsibility these days is to overcome the obstacles that will be encountered in the field by the HFR version of Hobbit. Warner is limiting the release of Hobbit to 400 screens in the US, and 500 screens outside of the US. It is doing so to reserve resources for managing the problems that they expect to occur.
Fittingly, Doug Trumbull gave the keynote presentation midday, reviewing his life’s work in HFR, and sharing his vision of how HFR can best be used. We’re familiar with the times when the press used to say that all movies would be 3D, and the press likes to talk about HFR in the same manner. But even Mr. Trumbull doesn’t talk about HFR as the right tool for every story. Like 3D, HFR is just another tool for story telling. Mr. Trumbull, having been the pioneer behind SHOWSCAN in the 80’s, a 60fps HFR film format, talked about HFR as a tool to drive emotion and intensity, as story-telling tools. He envisions changing frame rates during intense moments of a scene to heighten the human sensory response.
If there was a theme to the day, it was that the creative exploration of higher frame rates is only just beginning. It may not be the highly marketable and profitable technology that 3-D offers, but it has the potential to enhance the cinema experience, and there is no shortage of energy to explore and drive this technology into future media experiences.