NAB speakers frame lensing debate

A sense of real change in the air at confab

“The great thing about this year’s NAB is there’s finally something to get excited about,” one tech publicist told me during this week’s Vegas confab.

Certainly there’s a sense of real change in the air, especially after Monday’s 3D television pitch by James Cameron and Vince Pace. Along with growing acceptance of 4K, Sony’s new F65 camera showing off 14 stops of dynamic range, new TVs and digital cameras that display a wider range of colors than before, there’s some real momentum behind improvements in sound and picture that have been on technologists’ wish list for years — in some cases, decades.

But this year’s biggest leap forward seems to be in the move to higher frame rates. Cameron has been evangelizing the idea for years, and Doug Trumbull, who pioneered the idea with Showscan in the 1980s, presented an updated concept, Showscan Digital, at the Digital Cinema Summit on Sunday. Then Peter Jackson confirmed rumors that he’s shooting ‘The Hobbit’ at 48 frames per second, in addition to 3D.

While some people still love the 24 frames-per-second look, the shift to higher frame rates doesn’t need to incite a debate like that surrounding 3D. What’s more likely is that that filmmakers and all manner of content creators will now choose their preferred frame rate based on the look they want to achieve, much as they now choose a color palette and filters.

In introducing Showscan Digital, Trumbull proposed shooting at 120 frames per second, and using that data to create whatever frame rate the filmmakers might choose. This is a new option, because the 24-fps standard was never an aesthetic choice; it was technical one.

The 24-fps standard emerged to accomodate optical sound tracks. At the Digital Cinema Summit, cinematographer David Stump startled the aud by showing how in the silent era, there was no standard frame rate. Frame rates could even vary from reel to reel. According to a tech manual of the time, it was part of the projectionist’s job to watch the screen and adjust the projector to keep the picture looking good. Now, instead of being locked in, filmmakers will be able to choose.

Hans Hoffman, head of media fundamentals and production technology for the European Broadcasting Union, told Variety, “You see the biggest critics saying, ‘Well you limit my artistic expression by going up in the frame rates.’?I think this goes away over time.”

Hoffman, who is also the engineering VP for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, presented on psychophysics and science of frame rate at the Summit. He said he expects higher frame rates to catch on in broadcasting.

“You can show much more detail for the consumer in the home,” Hoffman said. “You create a much more immersive experience, you get the people involved. It has a kind of three-dimensional impact.”

Hoffman is somewhat skeptical about higher frame rates for movie dramas, where people like the 24-fps look.

“Are higher frame rates the next big thing?” he asked from the podium at the Digital Cinema Summit? “Probably not.”

But Hoffman also said in experiments, people who watched high-frame-rate movies long enough to get used to them didn’t want to go back to 24 fps. “I believe there’s huge potential in the market,” he said.

Bits & Bytes

DSC Labs has introduced the Dashwood 3D Chart for fast stereo camera alignment. … 3D Visual Systems and its subsidiary Meduza Systems have unveiled the Meduza Camera System, a pro digital camera system designed for stereoscopic 3D shooting. … Technicolor has launced a new scalable, cloud-based service, Technicolor Media Storage Service, that allows productions or companies to get more storage online quickly and relinquish it when done. … Stewart Filmscreen has upped Joaquin Rivera to VP of sales. … Production and post company Starlight Studios has expanded to Toronto. Topper for the new office is Kris Wood. … Sarofsky Corp. worked with executive producer Veena Sud to create the main title sequence for AMC skein “The Killing.” … Splice Here has added editor Matt Silver. … Moving Picture Co. did the train-destruction vfx for “Source Code.” … Gotham has a new editorial shop, Hooligan, based at 119 Fifth Ave. in the Flatiron District. Founders are Eric Carlson, Barney Miller, Kane Platt and Rosemary Quigley. Hooligan is an artist-run coalition servicing film, TV, commercials, musicvideos and new media.