Mantra Fail: High Frame Rate (e.g., 48 fps instead of 24 fps in movies) supposedly ‘only for action shots’: non-action shots ‘look fake’, revealing so much detail that props don’t look real: NOT!

That’s what every single expert who criticised Jackson’s first HFR movie told me.

But it turns out to be utterly wrong.

The criticism of fake-looking visuals did in fact turn out to be spot on.

But it turned out the ‘experts’ (yep, every darned one of them) had got the CAUSE of this ‘too much detail to seem real’ problem completely wrong.

It wasn’t anything to do with high frame rate at all.

Instead, this problem turned out to be caused by the fact that Jackson used RED’s 6K sensor on his cameras.

That’s right, not 4K, but 6K.

It turns out that all that old fuss about ‘quality loss due to downconverting’ (or for that matter upconverting) of resolution only applies if the upconverting or downconverting is done badly, using under-optimised technology.

Everything nowadays turns this on its head.

Nowadays, upconverting or downconverting often IMPROVES the quality (if the upconverting of downconverting is being done to deliberately ‘tune’ the output video format to the specific display technology (such as a digital cinema projector) being used, because ‘sensitivity to output format’ is now the ultimate determinant of picture quality.

So the downconverted 6K to 4K video that Jackson used in his last but one film was actually (strange as it may seem) in an important sense ‘HIGHER res’ than anyone had ever seen in a film before (including when making a comparison with other 4K films).

Add to this the fact that the film in question was screened (in critic’s previews) in both 2D and 3D as well as in 24 fps and in 48 fps and so the ‘poor befuddled critics’ really didn’t have a baseline to compare it with!

So as soon as they began to notice this ‘so much detail that it made things look fake’ problem, they attributed the cause of it to 48 fps (those cinematography experts that said this had seen other 4K content, they just hadn’t seen this particular combination of ‘this type of content’ (i.e., non-action shots) in 48 fps plus 3D plus the fact that this film was in 4K plus the fact that it had been downconverted from 6K RED so that it could be distributed to play on 4K projectors.

So they slagged it off big time and blamed ‘using 48 fps for non-action shots’!

But the ‘excessive detail noticeability’ turned out to have had nothing to do with 48 fps.

It turn out that 48 fps doesn’t just ‘smooth out action shots or fast panning camera moves’: it also massively reduces eyestrain on all shots.

However, there is a problem using 4K (or downconverted 6K) because it does indeed make things look too detailed to allow you to ‘suspend disbelief’ if anything in shot is in any way unrealistic, but not unrealistic enough to be noticeably fake in 2K (or even in 4K that hasn’t been downconverted from RED 6K).

Jackson’s fix?

Put a soft lens (‘Pro-Mist’) filter on and also soften the colours a bit.

The new film used exactly the same 6K to 4K and 48 fps frame rate technology but reduced the sharpness and softened the colours and hey presto, it received virtually no slagging off about excessive, fake looking detail.

I’m pretty sure that the future of 4K film-making is probably going to involve some digital technology which allows you to (easily and intuitively) apply ‘digital softening’ selectively to part of the moving image in post-production (so you can get the benefit of 4K realism where the image conveys it, but not where any shortcomings of the props and setting undermine it).

But no, Jackson (and fellow 48 fps devotee James Cameron) are not going to stop using 48 fps or 6K RED cameras.

By the way Steve, get this:

It turns out that 48 fps 4K doesn’t work on HDMI 1.x and instead needs HDMI 2.0.

Hearing will be music to the TV manufacturers ears!

They can tell us our TVs need replacing to play HFR content.

They will be desperate for this, because 3D turned out to be a damp squib.

So your TV can play 4K and you don’t need an upgrade to play it?

HFR is coming, so you’ll need to upgrade anyway.