Those complaining about 'Hobbit' may actually be irked by pic's look rather than the tech

In “The Croods,” the upcoming pic from DreamWorks Animation, the eponymous caveman family’s response to anything new — literally — is for the dad to shout, “Form your kill circle!” and for the group to grab big rocks, form a ring and get ready to bash the new thing before them, whatever it is, to death.

They remind me of some of reactions to “The Hobbit” and 48 frames per second 3D.

Early reactions to high frame rate 3D among press and pros I’ve spoken to are mixed. Some liked it or mostly liked it. (I mostly liked it.) Some liked it only when there was a lot of motion in the frame, and some didn’t like it at all.

Among the negative reactions, I’m hearing some misinformation and stuff that’s just bizarre. Two people have asked me if it made me sick. There’s no reason HFR should make anyone sick, though the vertiginous virtual camera moves of some of “The Hobbit’s” action sequences could do that, I suppose. (I dislike extreme virtual camera moves the way some people dislike 3D.)

There’s going to be a lot of talk about “The Hobbit” HFR 3D, and people are groping for language to describe it. So I’d like to try to provide a framework for that conversation.

I had the chance to talk about the format with Peter Jackson before and after seeing the movie. He told me he likes HFR because “it’s an immersive experience, and ultimately the cinema that I enjoy pulls you out of your seat and hauls you into the adventure and into the drama, the emotion of what’s happening on the screen.”

As we talked about the possibility of changing frame rates as a creative tool, he said a filmmaker could choose to use HFR for hyper-real dream sequences, then go back to 24 fps for the rest of the movie.

“But personally I like a film that’s entirely a dream scene,” Jackson said, “so 48 frames has been good for me all the way through ‘The Hobbit.’ Because ‘The Hobbit’ is an adventure, it’s a fantasy, you’re going into another world, and I just want people to experience that world, I want people to go into something that feels real to them. … For me it’s more hyper-real and more tangible at 48 frames a second.”

I think “hyper-real” is a key concept for talking about “The Hobbit” HFR. The entire look of “The Hobbit” has that hyper-real dream-scene feel, like an illustration brought to life. Much of it is deep focus, so backgrounds are sharp. The movie was shot with 5K RED Epic cameras, and though it was finished and shown at 2K, some of that sharpness seems to have survived. The extra clarity of HFR just adds to that.

Some complain that the hyper-real look feels artificial; night scenes and interiors in particular feel to some like lit sets. More than one journo has compared those moments with being on onstage with the actors in a stage play. It’s not a bad analogy. On the one hand, the HFR is delivering the sense of presence and immediacy Jackson wants. On the other, some people aren’t getting immersed in it.

With the clarity of HFR, the CG animated trolls, goblins, wargs and orcs all look spectacular, about as real as such fantasy creatures can look. That’s a huge plus for “The Hobbit.” HFR also eliminates strobing when the camera or action is moving fast, which happens quite often. Another plus.

The bottom line, I think, is that some of what people are reacting to in “The Hobbit” is the look of the picture, not something inherent in the HFR. Other directors will use it differently. And don’t forget: It’s new, and everyone — including Jackson himself — is still learning how to use it.

So I encourage everyone to keep an open mind. “The Hobbit” isn’t the be-all and end-all of HFR. In time, it’ll become a refined and accepted tool, and other directors will use it differently. And in the meantime, let’s put down the rocks, get out of the killing circle and give this new thing a chance.

BITS & BYTES:

Cinedigm has hired Dan Sherlock as president of software. Sherlock was prexy of Baseline. … Look Effects has hired Janet Muswell as director of development. Muswell’s vfx credits include “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Snakes on a Plane” and “The Muppets.” … Curtis Fritsch has joined AlphaDogs post as assistant audio mixer.

Sony Colorworks did the color grading for Universal’s “The Man with the Iron Fists.” … Company 3 and EFilm worked together to create a post pipeline for “Skyfall,” the first James Bond pic to be shot digitally. The companies have dubbed their joint location in London “EC3.” … Cinesite created the first-ever CG creature in a Bond pic: the Komodo dragon. …

RodeoFX contributed 50 shots to “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2.” … Moving Picture Co. provided 110 shots in native 3D for Fox’s “Life of Pi.” House of Moves provided performance capture for the cinematics in “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” … Stock 3D models are now available online from RenderLife. … Animal Logic won the Australian Trade Commission’s Australia Network Arts and Entertainment Exporter of the Year honors.

The Hollywood Post Alliance has set its 2013 Tech Retreat for Feb. 18-22 at the Hyatt Regency in Indian Wells, Calif. …

The International 3D Society has formed its first Canadian chapter in Vancouver. … The American Society of Cinematographers is accepting entries for its annual TV awards.

Lipsync Post in London has installed a Blackmagic Videohub 288 routing switcher to connect its post-production equipment and has purchased an Avid C 24 control surface and Pro Tools HDX to expand audio services for film and television. …

Caribbean Cinemas has tapped Barco as exclusive d-cinema supplier and systems integrator to convert its circuit to digital, starting with installations in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. … Syufy is installing Barco digital projectors in its drive-in theaters in California, Arizona and Nevada. … Barco is involved in several research projects in Europe. In a recent tech demonstration, it streamed a standard 4K movie to a cinema over a high-bandwidth connection. It has also been conducting tests on image quality for laser-driven projection. … Kino Arena, Bulgaria’s largest exhibitor, has pacted to make RealD its exclusive 3D provider. … China Film Group has ordered some 800 Barco d-cinema projectors.

The Foundry has launched Nuke 7.0. … MTI Film has released its Cortex software-based dailies solution for file-based workflows. … Xytech has added a video network management and control extension to its MediaPulse Fusion integration platform. HBO Studios in New York has recently installed the MediaPulse platform… Cinegy has launched version 9.3 of Multiviewer. … Assimilate has shipped version 7 of Scratch. … Boris FX has announced Boris Continuum Complete 8 FxPlug, which adds more than 200 vfx filters to Final Cut Pro and Apple Motion 5.

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