Sunday, April 20, 2008

Cinema is lies told at 24fps

Over at Variety is an interview with James Cameron. You can check it out HERE. I have always had kind of mixed feelings about Cameron. Having never met him, all I have to go by is his body of work, behind the scenes footage of him at work and interviews.

He has always seemed like an egotistical self important elitist to me. Ahh but there is always the adage that one must separate the artist from the art. And I DO try to do that.

I really thought that the Abyss (the abuse, according to the crew on that shoot) was a very entertaining but flawed film. For me, his best work was:

Terminator 2. I watched part of the filming of this as I lived a few blocks from one of the locations (the scene where the semi-truck crashes into the flood control channel). The film is not perfect by any means (the desert scene slows the pacing needlessly, Edward Furlong could not act in the film to save his life).

But I still love the film.

So why am I linking to this article about Cameron? Because I think he says some things here that I seriously agree with. And while the majority of the article is about 3D (and having only 1 good eye, 3D is meaningless to me), he does point out a few things that I do agree with.

One of those things is that Godard had it backwards. I always thought that cinema was a contrivance meant to fool us into thinking it was reality. Otherwise, if it WAS truth, we would not need to exercise a willing suspension of disbelief. Because Godard was held in high esteem in many of the art circles, his statement of "Cinema is truth told at 24fps" tended to be unassailable.

24p - Please die.

The other thing that Cameron mentions is that 24 FPS needs to go away. That this is a framerate that has seen it's day and now needs to be replaced. Douglas Trumbull did research into determining the best framerate for the human eye and settled on 60FPS:

A 16 fps rate was the first speed established as the minimum required to sustain the illusion of continuous presence of a motionless image presented through a sequence of stills. The 24 fps rate was adopted later to improve the fidelity of optical sound tracks. The perception of an uninterrupted flow of motion, free from stroboscopic effects, requires a still higher frame rate. Through experiments conducted at Future General Corporation, the joint Trumbull/Paramount Pictures research division, Douglas Trumbull determined that the effective maximum frame rate should be 60.

Today, in the indie film world, 24fps tends to be upheld as the holy grail of film look. This combined with narrow depth of field, cinematic lighting and cinema style camera handling are all being pursued to make video look like film.

Now, if you are going to be distributing on film, 24p makes sense to me. But if the final delivery medium is video, then I think it is not necessary. The visual cadence of 24 fps provides a level of psychological deception since this cadence is what we have become accustomed to watching films for the last 70 years or so.

Guess what? HD and it's higher end bretheren are here to stay. Film is going to go the way of the dinosaurs. It's time to acclimate to what video is. It's time to embrace the superior look of 60 FPS. It's time to let go of the past.

I have posted about this in the past and been vilified for it. Stephan Sargent posted about it a few weeks ago HERE and was vilified for it. Mark my words, those of you in the 24p camp will come around eventually. I long for the day when 24p is used only to provide a retro look.


Shane Ross said...

I will have to completely disagree with everything you say on this topic. I would HATE to see a feature film shot at 60i...HATE IT. I went to Circuit City where I saw a "balanced and enhanced" HDTV that was playing TRANSFORMERS...and reinterpreting the 24fps into 60fps. It looks WRONG. TOO smooth...TOO real. I don't want TOO real when I watch a film. That is the "soap opera" looks like it was shot on video. Absolutely wrong for feature film.

24fps is puts us viewers into a sort of trance when we watch is specifically un-real...TOO real is distracting to the viewers.

Trumbell did that stuff back in the mid 80's...hmmm..20 years ago. Didn't seem to catch on. Besides the economics of shooting film at 60fs vs 24fps (more than doubling your film stock and distribution budget), people didn't like it. I remember this when I was in High was talked about, but people didn't like it. "Too much like DAYS OF OUR LIVES."

James Cameron is nearly alone in his quest for 60fps...if that is what he is wanting. And 24fps will not die, too many of us like it and like the look of it.

I am going to have to respectfully (at least I hope I was respectful) disagree with you on this.

B-Scene Films said...

Well, Shane, I am a realist. I understand that the psychology of 24f is ingrained in us all. I don't expect to wake up tomorrow to a 60f world.

I saw a Showscan demo around 85 or so and I thought it was stunning. It left a great impression on me. I understood at that time that it would not catch on.

After all, why should it? As you pointed out, more than double the film stock - plus all of the infrastructure changes to support it. And what is the payback?

But it still left an impression on me over 20 years later. I like Cameron's dream but I suspect his motivation is more attuned to a more effective 3D experience.

And, at the end of the day, that may be a more practical dream. But, hey, I never claimed to be practical.

Anonymous said...

Man, I'm sooo with you. 24 fps sucks! 60 fps looks incredible realistic and WAY better then the stuttering cinema-pictures.

Anonymous said...

"The visual cadence of 24 fps provides a level of psychological deception since this cadence is what we have become accustomed to watching films for the last 70 years or so."

I don't know anyone who's been watching films that long.

Anonymous said...

60 fps is *waayhaay* more fluid and smooth. All this utter undefinable nonsense dream-state bs is a bunch of religious crap.

Take some footage with a consumer level camera at 60i, convert to 60p, and you'll see how nice and smooth things can be.

I expect many non believers to come up with crap like "but footage is taken at 30p really and converted to 60i". It's amazing how so many people do not understand how interlacing works, and the fact that 60i consists of 60 fields per second, each field being shot at a different 1/60 of a second interval.

Arguments about all this can last forever. I have yet to see one single 24fps pusher change their mind. It's completely useless talking about it.
Noone will ever go, "hey darn, I didn't realize this, wauw, it *IS* nicer to see 60fps after all - I really didn't expect it".
Nope sirrie. The zealots will endlessly hang on to their stupid and obsolete religion. Good luck with your blurry videos, awful.

Peter said...

Please let's not get confused between frame rates - 24p converted to 60p WILL look like crap! same for 30 frames interlaced (60i). What Cameron and Trumbull are talking about are images NATIVELY captured and presented at a true 60 fps progressive. If you were to do a 'blind' test screening, I would venture that most ordinary people (not already separated into one camp or the other) would prefer the look of the 60p footage.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of transformers on HDTV, I was watching it not too long ago. the slow pan scenes were just spectacular and extremely smooth. but when the action started, it pulled me right out of the moment and I sort of found myself in a stunned state. 60 FPS needs to become a reality.

Anonymous said...

I HATE the look of 60fps. It screams soap opera. 24fps IS the film. 60 fps just looks cheap and TOO realistic.

But kudos to you for voicing your opinion on such a seemingly backwards point of view. That takes guts.