48 Frames Per Second

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Dec 162012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, released this weekend to record-shattering numbers, is outstanding. I saw a midnight show as Thursday gave way to Friday, and I just returned from seeing it for a second time. I look forward to seeing it again with family over the holidays, owning it on Blu-Ray, and devouring all of the behind-the-scenes and extended content as I did with the Lord of the Rings films when they came out.

The show we attended opening night was the standard, 24 frames-per-second, non-3D format. I wanted my first experience with the movie to be about the film itself, the story, its characters, and so forth. I didn’t want to risk distraction by a new film format until I had taken the movie in under comfortable and familiar circumstances first. Today, Cody and I saw it at 48fps in 3D. The new frame rate has met with a great deal of contention and I want to share my thoughts on it while they’re still fresh.

The opening shots in Bag End are weird. While some claim that it “takes time” to adjust to the new frame rate, I don’t think that’s what I was reacting to at all. There were plenty of shots where the higher frame rate was noticeable, but these specific early shots were noticeable and felt off. It’s difficult to precisely articulate, and I would dearly love the opportunity to compare the 24 and 48 fps versions shot-for-shot to see if I can identify the cause, but many of these seemingly simple shots feel sped-up, jerky, or otherwise technically marred. As the film went on, these shots occurred less frequently, but continued to be noticeable, which is why I do not believe it to be a simple matter of acclimatization.

On the flip side, some shots were outright stunning because of the higher framerates. Contrary to a great deal of the criticism I’ve seen, I thought all of the CG shots were greatly enhanced by the higher framerates, gaining astounding clarity and visual character. In these shots, I felt more immersed, not less. Cody concurred with this sentiment, so I know I’m not entirely alone in feeling that way.

On the whole, I’d say the movie had a 10/80/10 split of its length where the framerate made it look amazing, was unnoticeable, or was noticeably “off.”

I have some thoughts as to why, though, that are not as simplistic as “it’s a bad way to make movies/doesn’t look as good/majestic/etc.” or “we’re just not used to it yet!” I think there’s more to it than either of these two camps. What we’re seeing strikes me as a new version of the uncanny valley.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the uncanny valley refers to the sudden drop in humanity a facsimile human likeness has as it approaches reality. Cartoon characters are clearly not really human, but we recognize them as human-like; they do not trigger this reaction. As we get more and more real (e.g. The Polar Express), the characters that are quantifiably “more human” seem more alien. They are human-like, but lack the fine distinctions to mark them as truly human, and thus make us uncomfortable. Lord of the Rings‘ Gollum might be the first CG character to truly breach the valley, and there have been many more since. As one might imagine, CG artists got better at bridging the valley as our understanding of it improved and as technology allowed us to better simulate those gaps.

I think the same thing is now happening with framerate. With 24 fps, we’re subject to images blurring across 1/24th of a second — far more than our eyes actually detect. It’s clearly not “real” to the point where we accept it as a convention of the medium. At 1/48th of a second, things have far less time to blur, but there’s still some motion smoothing going on. Our eyes see at effective framerates of ~60fps or higher, which means this 48fps standard approaches the perception level of our eyes, but doesn’t quite match it. Welcome to the uncanny valley.1

On top of that, though, I think there’s also some aspect of virgin technique at play here. Filmmakers are accustomed to working at 24fps. They know how to light a set, move a camera, set up marks for actor movement, and so on at this frame rate. They know how to make 24fps look good. 48fps is a different tool in the toolbox. It doesn’t work like 24fps and expecting it to do so results in shots that will jar viewers.

A lot of this crystallized during a flashback sequence, which I recalled from the 24fps version to feel somewhat ethereal and lethargic, not quite slow-motion but still sluggish enough to feel like some distant memory. In the 48fps version, I expected this scene might look strange–but it didn’t! It actually looked fantastic! Because they shots and motion had to be slowed down, none of the movements felt jerky or stilted, giving the entire sequence a marvelous quality.

In total, I’m not sold on 48fps yet, but neither would I consider myself a detractor thereof. I think it has great potential for providing films with a greater semblance of life than they have had before, but I think filmmakers need to be careful in its use and adapt their style of shooting (and editing! shots have to be cut more slowly so as to not feel abrupt!) to account for it. In many places throughout THAUJ, they don’t quite manage it, which makes it pull the viewer out of the film. In many other places, they nail it and offer a greater level of immersion than we’ve before had.

I’m curious to see where this leads.

  1. This is a very rough simplification of a much more complex process — both on the film and on the occular side of things. If you’re curious about this, I suggest Googling “frame rate human eye” or reading the wikipedia article on Frame Rate for more information. []
Aug 072012

In 1987, a bunch of sci-fi authors were polled for their views on who the world of 2012 would look. How does the “time capsule” of these projections match up? Not bad, with some unsurprising inaccuracies. Go have a look–the second link has all of the predictions in full, while the first link looks at pieces of a few and analyzes their accuracy.

It should come as no secret or surprise that I love Cracked’s lists that focus on correcting cultural misperceptions or raising awareness of things most people don’t know. 5 ways you odn’t realize movies are controlling your brain is of particular interest to me as a writer, because it deals with how fiction alters our perceptions in subtle ways. Here’s the bullet-point rundown, but you should read the article to get the full explanation.

  1. No, you can’t separate fact from fiction.
  2. Stories were invented to control you.
  3. The writer of a story always has an agenda.
  4. You were raised–and educated–by pop culture.
  5. Everything in your brain is a story.

Saw a link on Facebook to “the most terrifying video you’ll ever see”, which dealt with explaining why inaction on global warming is very bad thing to do in a way meant to be inarguable. Rather than examining the question “is global warming occurring?”, he instead looks at the consequences of action or inaction in the extreme cases of “global warming definitely isn’t occurring at all” and “global warming is occurring and will result in catastrophe.”

In two of the four cases, nothing happens and everyone is fine. In one of four (acting to combat global warming, it’s for nothing), we’re a worse off due to mass expenditure for no apparent gain.1 And in the final scenario, humanity suffers a complete and total global catastrophe. His conclusion is that the consequences of the catastrophe being more dire than the consequences of acting in error, it only makes sense to act, even if it’s in error.

While I applaud the guy for presenting the argument in a way most people don’t generally think about it, and agree with his ultimate conclusions, I have some misgivings about the method in general. It’s basically using the same ploy that Pascal’s Wager uses to justify religious belief.

That said, he is correct to point out that we don’t get to choose whether or not global warming is happening; it either is or is not. We do get to choose how to act.

Seven-foot long minifig-scale Serenity model is a Lego masterpiece.

The Best Of The Internet’s Reaction To The Mars Rover Landing has a bunch of fun meme images around Curiosity’s successful landing.

It seems inescapable, though, that scientific accomplishment will be met with asshattery. I saw an image meme going around on Facebook with the text “Congratulations on wasting $100 billion dollars landing a remote controlled buggy on Mars. Not sure how this is supposed to help us poor people here on Earth but great job.”

The amount of wrong in that statement borders on physical pain. First, NASA’s entire annual budget is ~$18 billion, which represents less than 0.5% of the annual federal budget. What’s more, Curiosity’s total project cost is estimated at ~$2.5 billion, which spans its entire construction history and launch. Not only is that less than 15% of NASA’s annual budget, it’s less than 3% of the quoted number in the meme!

Second, I posted a Cracked article few days back about the “god(damned) particle” and ridiculous things people believe about it. I highlighted a particular passage from point #6, and I’m going to re-post it for emphasis.

When people ask, “What’s the point in understanding everything?” they’ve just disqualified themselves from using questions and should disappear in a puff of paradox. But they don’t understand and just continue existing, which are also their only two strategies for life. These are the apes who sat in the back of the cave, scratching themselves while ooking about how bashing rocks together was a total waste of time. Except back then they had a better excuse for their sloping foreheads and scratching themselves in public.

So outraged was I by seeing this2, I immediately posted a distilled version of this section of the post, with an ultimatum that demanded anyone who agreed with the sentiment unfriend me. As I said there, I do not have time for people that small-minded.

  1. Though I would argue that any efforts we would make toward combating global warming, even if the worst doesn’t befall us, would be smart actions in general. []
  2. The person who prompted it to come up in my feed was actually just commenting on it, not sharing it or agreeing with it. []

Bait and Switch

 Posted by at 13:40  No Responses »
Apr 082009

The new Star Trek movie due out in May had its premiere in Sydney, Australia…or at least, that was the plan. In point of fact, the first audience to see the film was in Austin, Texas. Fans showed up to see a screening of The Wrath of Kahn, many of whom had never seen this movie in the theater before. They would also be seeing ten minutes of the new film following the screening. The new film’s writers were on-hand as special guests.

About two minutes into the Kahn screening, the film appeared to break. While the house lights came up and the new Trek writers chatted with the audience, a man in a trench coat and hat carrying a metal box walked onto the stage. All eyes turned to this man. Just as he moved to take off his hat, someone called out “Oh my god!” and another cried “Holy –!”

Leonard Nimoy had shown up. In the metal box, he revealed, was the complete set of reels to the new Star Trek film. To read/see more, check out this entry at TrekMovie.

I love it when stuff like this happens.

Continue reading »

Feb 032009

Saturday was Cody’s birthday. Our plan for the evening was dinner at La Campania, one of the ritziest restaurants in Waltham. It comes highly recommended from my company’s president, known for his refined palette. Before heading over, we had a mini-present-opening, where Cody opened the presents she received from her family while I folded laundry (very exciting, I know). I then took the opportunity to present her with the birthday/anniversary/Valentine’s Day gift I got her: a pair of small, gold-and-aquamarine earrings. She loved them. They match both her eyes and a blue turtleneck that she has, which I had in mind when I bought them.

We headed out to dinner after that, dressing up a bit. Those that know me will know that I do not dress up lightly. I had made reservations a month ago, so there was no wait when we arrived and were seated. Their wine list was bigger than their menu and most of the offerings were by-the-bottle, which ranged from $30 to hundreds of dollars. We selected the Riesling off of their by-the-glass list (La Vis was the name), which was quite tasty. I have had Riesling before, but Cody had not and she enjoyed it.

We knew we were in for a treat when the bread arrived. Their bread is layered with prosciutto! They also serve, instead of butter, a dish of real olive oil — it was even slightly green! — with olives in it. It was excellent! We decided to be decadent and order a foie gras appetizer. We had both heard about foie gras — mainly from Top Chef — but never had it. When it arrived, we realized that we had been seriously missing out! It literally melted in our mouths. One of the most amazing things ever.

For dinner, I ordered Veal Saltimbocca with mushrooms over creamed spinach. Cody ordered lobster risotto. My dish was exceptional and despite its portion size (which was much, much larger than I expected), I managed to eat almost all of it. However, the real star of the evening was Cody’s lobster. It was unbelievable! Cooked to perfection, with just the right combination of flavors. I was quite envious.

For dessert, we finished with a hot chocolate soufflé a la mode. Imagine the best brownie you’ve ever eaten, served with ice cream, and that’s about where it was.

After dinner, we went home and watched movies. We first watched 21, the Kevin Spacey movie about the MIT students who counted cards in Las Vegas. It was quite good! After that, we spent an hour trying to decide what to watch next and we settled on The Matrix, since neither of us had seen it in a while and we had been talking about it. We had both forgotten how deep the first movie is. The sequels were pale imitations, but the first one has some real philosophical meat to it.

Sunday was Cody’s and my third anniversary. We got up around 2pm (while not late for me, it was quite late for her; we’re both worried she might be coming down with something) and made breakfast — actual breakfast. Coconut-and-macadamia-flavored pancakes, bacon, and eggs. While eating, we started watching the final episodes of Deep Space Nine. At about 5:30, we took a break — just before the final episode! — and went shopping for dinner. We had decided, because of how amazing the lobster risotto was at La Campania last night, that we were going to try and make scallops risotto, using the large bag of frozen scallops we had in the freezer. We found a recipe online and took off for the grocery store.

Cooking was a fun adventure and we each had plenty to do. The recipe works well for two people, as there seems to be two people’s worth of work to do at all times. We managed to set off the smoke detector at one point, due to the steam/smoke/whatever generated by the scallops cooking in olive oil, but that just added to the adventure. Then the moment of truth came…and it was spectacular! Our version was, perhaps, even better than La Campania’s, because we ourselves had made it. We were giggling with how delicious it was. We accompanied the meal with some Three Blind Moose and finished watching Deep Space Nine. We then watched the final Star Trek movie, Nemesis. Cody has now seen all of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and all 10 Star Trek movies. I don’t want to subject her to the horrors of Voyager or Enterprise, so she’s as Trekked up as she’ll ever be!

After that, it was pretty much time for bed. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend.


 Posted by at 16:55  No Responses »
Jan 092009

It’s been a while, so it seemed high-time to talk about some of the things I’m working on.

Novel: Gold (tentative title)
This past November, I participated in and “won” NaNoWriMo by completing a 50,000 word manuscript.  It’s the story of a young woman that wakes up in a strange, burning office with an unfamiliar voice in her head urging her to jump out of the window…to save her life.  Once I completed it, I sent it to a number of people for a first review.  I haven’t touched it since, taking the advice of Stephen King to let the first draft sit in a drawer for a while before returning to it.  My parents have recently finished reading it and are going to be sending me their feedback this weekend.  I’m still waiting to hear Cody and a few others’ thoughts as well.  Once I have the combined feedback of everyone, I’ll set to work writing the second draft.  My hope is to publish it sometime this summer.

Film: Wec: The Sequel
Wec 2 has been in stasis for a while, superceded by work, more immediate hobbies and diversions (Xbox games, Fallout 3, novel-writing, etc.).  However, I do still plan to finish it.  It’s hard to bring myself to work on it specifically because it’s a film that deals with an entirely different era of my life.  I’m not that guy anymore, and so the movie’s personal relevance to me is greatly diminished.  However, with Ron’s help, I still think the movie itself is salvagable and will actually be interesting.  I recently showed Wec: The Movie to a co-worker of mine in preparation for a new project (see below), and I realized (again) how inane that first movie is.  I want the second one, as silly as it is, to actually be enjoyable for more than the sheer lunacy value.  I think it can be.

Film: Untitled Star Wars Fanfilm
I’ve played with the idea of doing a Star Wars fanfilm many times in the past.  A few weeks ago, an image formed in my head that caused inspiration to strike: an X-wing, floating “hidden” behind an asteroid, and then maneuvering like a real spacefighter (a la BSG).  This prompted the idea of creating a film based on a some X-wing pilots, in the vein of BSG.  It would play with established SW conventions (i.e. X-wings would actually maneuver like space fighters) and make a more “hard” sci-fi version of Star Wars.  

Co-worker and fellow SW fan Steve was intrigued by the idea when I told him about it and with a bit of convincing I’ve gotten him pretty enthused about the project.  We recently asked Ron to help us with the writing, and the last week has had us working through the first draft of the treatment he wrote up for us.  He’s now busily working on the second draft that Steve and I will use to write the first draft of the script.  Once we’ve done that, it’ll go back to Ron for a dialog polish (George, why didn’t you do this?) and we’ll start material pre-production (set building, costumes, etc.).  So far, the film will star Steve, Cody, and myself, along with a cameo by Steve’s wife and children.  

Other Novels
I have several other novel ideas that have been banging around in my head, begging to be written.

  • A mostly-hard science fiction novel dealing with the rammifications of space warfare after the advent of practical defense shields.
  • A science fiction novel dealing with the setting that I’ve had in my head forever, first implemented in any practical form as the UEDF Illustrious Defender e-mail RPG.
  • A sword-and-sorcery fantasy novel wherein a character joins a guild of assassins and uncovers a plot that led to her father’s murder.

There are more, but those three are the most fully-formed.

RPG: Vampire
At some point in the near future, I also plan to resume my Vampire game.  I’m not totally sure when this will happen, though it is likely to take place on Saturday evenings.  The timing is up in the air right now because many of the players are currently in unstable situations (as it pertains to regularly meeting on IRC, that is).

So, that’s about it from my neck of the woods.  Going to be a busy year!