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'The Hobbit' shooting at 48 frames per second. So what's the big deal?

Yesterday, Peter Jackson posted on Facebook that he was shooting The Hobbit at 48 frames-per-second. Wait, keep reading, it gets interesting, promise, because this could very well mean that at some point soon, movies won’t quite look like, well, movies anymore.

Here’s how Jackson puts it

The key thing to understand is that this process requires both shooting and projecting at 48 fps [i.e. frames per second], rather than the usual 24 fps (films have been shot at 24 frames per second since the late 1920’s). So the result looks like normal speed, but the image has hugely enhanced clarity and smoothness. Looking at 24 frames every second may seem ok – and we’ve all seen thousands of films like this over the last 90 years – but there is often quite a lot of blur in each frame, during fast movements, and if the camera is moving around quickly, the image can judder or “strobe.”

According to Jackson, a higher frame-rate gets “rid of these issues” and makes the image “much more lifelike.” Many film buffs and cinema purists, however, have argued that those “issues” are what make film film – much like a painting carries a different visual quality than a still photograph, the blurring effect of 24 frames-per-second is what gives movies their otherworldly, dream-like quality. Video looks different in part because it has a higher frame rate (30 frames per second) – click here for a terrific and simple visual demonstration of what happens when something is presented at a higher frame rate.

Jackson also notes that filming at 48 frames-per-second makes The Hobbit’s 3-D images much less taxing to watch: “We often sit through two hours worth of footage without getting any eye strain from the 3-D.” Given how much Jackson and James Cameron – who was singing the praises of higher frame-rates a few weeks ago at CinemaCon – have invested in 3-D technology, it makes sense that they want to cut down one of the major complaints people have about 3-D. There is also the question, of course, of how many theaters will be able to project at 48 frames-per-second – while digital projectors likely just need an upgrade, older film projectors won’t be able to. Jackson says he’s “hopeful,” however, that enough theaters will be able to project at the higher frame-rate by the time The Hobbit hits theaters in Dec., 2012.

Ultimately, it boils down to a matter of taste. Jackson compares the change in frame rate to what happened when music moved from vinyl to digital CDs, and indeed, technology has been changing the way feature films look since practically the medium was invented: From black-and-white to color, relatively square to widescreen, celluloid to digital. So, does making things look more real make them look better? Or, put another way, do you prefer paintings, or photographs? What do you think?

Adam on Twitter

Originally posted April 12 2011 — 6:33 PM EDT

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