Filmmakers get a ‘new’ tool used in silent era

Digital allows creative manipulation of frame rates

A few weeks ago I wrote about the flap that followed the Cinemacon preview of footage from “The Hobbit” shown at 48 frames per second. I predicted 60 frames per second will eventually become the default frame rate, but not soon, and that filmmakers will tinker with frame rates for creative effect.

But control of frame rates for creative purposes doesn’t just mean speeding the camera up.

In accepting the Bonner Medal the Academy Science & Technical Awards banquet in February, Jonathan Erland hailed the return of a tool lensers had in silent era, but surrendered when sound came in: The ability to subtly change the frame rate – when shooting, projecting, or both – to change the feeling of a scene.

Erland explains the silent era frame rate was more-or-less 16 frames per second. Shown as intended at the time, says Erland, 16 fps delivers a “lyrical” look different from today’s movies. “It is natural, but it isn’t real,” he says. But in that era, cinematographers would often change the speed at which they cranked the camera “quite deliberately in order to exert a subliminal influence on the viewer.” They’d then send notes to the projectionist about the speed at which the picture should be shown.

That tool was lost when soundtracks began to be placed directly on the film. Sound engineers needed 18 inches of film per second to deliver an acceptable recording. That turned out to be 24 frames per second. Today, with digital projection and sound, the two don’t need to be linked, observes Erland, so cinematographers can reclaim control over frame rate as a creative tool.

If you think Erland a pie-in-the-sky dreamer, take note of “The Artist,” which used frame rate for exactly the kind of subtle effect Erland is talking about. The technique may well have helped it win its Picture, Director and Actor Oscars.

“The Artist” was shot at 22 frames per second, then projected at 24 – sped up by 9 percent. Erland, who long worked in visual effects, notes that to create effects like buildings crumbling in an earthquake, miniatures are shot with a high speed camera and then the footage is projected at a slower rate to make the miniatures appear bigger and heavier. When a picture like “The Artist” slows the camera and projects the film faster, the result is the opposite effect: “You take away weight.”

Erland suspects that the filmmakers really wanted a dancer on the order Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly for the lead in “The Artist.” “The actor they had (Best Actor winner Jean Dujardin), while he is pretty deft, he is not a Gene Kelly or a Fred Astaire,” says Erland. “One way to make a fairly proficient but not brilliant dancer look better than he is, is to speed him up.

“So they slightly undercranked and then projected at normal speed, thus adding deftness and swiftness and lightness to the character. They did this through the whole film.” Indeed, “The Artist” was a lovely confection, and it seems its airy ambiance was helped by its altered frame rate. “The film danced lightly, even when they weren’t dancing. But it operates on you on a subliminal level,” says Erland.

“The Artist” played without a dialogue track, so it avoided problems with making production sound sync up with picture. Erland concedes “what I’m describing will be regarded by some people as a monumental nuisance,” and digital projectors aren’t yet programmed for the kind of frame rate tweaks he’s talking about.

But I think Erland is onto something. Digital cinema was first set up to be a digital version of the 35mm print, standardized in all the same ways. But without the limitations of film prints, d-cinema can be liberating for filmmakers, once they become aware of these new possibilities – and once digital projectors are programmed to support them.


Several readers, as well as reps for Apple, wrote to point our errors in my last column about Apple and Final Cut Pro X’s detractors. Please note these corrections: FCP X has supported multi-camera since version 10.0.3, released in January. It supports the SAN sharing protocol, and has been extensively tested with Apple’s proprietary Xsan. FCP does not have dedicated audio tracks of the kind described by ACE’s Harry Miller III, but its definable “audio” roles can be used in a similar way, and one reader emailed to say roles “allow stems of dialogue, music, effects, to be exported.” I regret the errors and am grateful to our readers, and to Apple, for setting me straight. (Print readers: Much more from readers and more thoughts from me on this can be found in the online version of this column)

More on FCP X:

In my last column, I quoted Harry Miller III, head of the technology committee of the American Cinema Editors. He criticized FCP X for lacking multi-camera support. FCP X was indeed released without multi-camera support but has had it since January. One reader wrote to say: “Although it isn’t perfect, (FCP X’s multicam support) is regarded as one of the best multicam implementations of the industry. I’m not saying this as a fanboy (I have a very divided opinion on the program as of yet), but the multicam feature of FCP X lets you add angles from different formats and even frame rates. It also has an angle editor that lets you alter the multicam-clip after you have made it. This is much more flexible than the other NLE’s.”

In response to a query from me, Miller wrote he was misunderstood about the current state of FCP X but stood by his basic point: “My point in that discussion was that you can’t release a new software package and call it ready for professional editors if it doesn’t have multicam editing support.”

I also heard from another reader echoing Miller’s criticism and comparing FCP to Shake, the compositing package Apple bought then eventually abandoned: “Final Cut is a very similar story. … If you plan on supporting the pro user then why would you release a version that did not contain features that pro users would generally need, instead promising them in a ‘later release.’ I guess I can just tell my client that I can edit their multi-cam show when I get that version from Apple at some undisclosed point in the future.”

Another reader complained that Apple should not have dropped support for FCP 7 when they brought out version X. Apple told me they have not ended support for version 7 and he had simply been routed to the wrong person. I put Apple in touch with the reader, so hopefully his complaint has been addressed.

Personally, I understand the anger at Apple for dropping features in the first release of FCP X (I’m still irked at them for dropping HyperCard.) but I think that some of that criticism is already moot and it’s unfair to criticize Apple for not offering features in the past when those features are available now.

Consider, also, what would happen if Apple always carried forward its old code and support for legacy users, so as to never give anyone a reason to switch to a competitor. That’s Microsoft’s traditional approach, and for a long time the result was bloated Microsoft apps. Apple’s approach can be infuriating, but I think it’s better in the long run.

This also gets to an issue I’ve often found when using “non-standard” software- that is, software like WordPerfect for Macintosh (which I used to use) or Nisus Writer (which I use now at home) that has a small market share compared with the “standard,” like Microsoft Word (which I use in the newsroom). Most people are used to the standard, and that’s what they compare everything to. Software reviewers tend to see if a word processor works like Word and does what Word does, and if it doesn’t, it gets a poor review. They take “different” to be “bad.” I think some of that is going on here. Busy pros don’t have time to climb a steep learning curve when a new version of their software comes out. I feel that way when Microsoft makes any big changes to Word. But I heard from FCP X users who have made the effort to learn it and would never go back to version 7. That’s how I feel about my favorite software tools, too.

I still think Apple still has a problem, even if th
at problem is only messaging. I also got this email from a reader: “I was at an event in NYC last month sponsored by Mewshop – Mahattan Edit Workshop – which teaches editing workshops, holds seminars, hosts editfest and is basically edit-central for independent filmmakers and editors in NY. There were approx a hundred prof editors and indie filmmakers there for one of their ‘inside the cutting room’ seminars. And as an aside, the moderator Josh Apter asked the crowd how many out there use FCP X. No hands. How many use (Final Cut Pro 7). Whole room raised their hands. And conversations commenced – not about the relative merits – that’s a settled issue in this community – but rather how to jerry rig new computers so we can continue to run 7 or how we can force Avid to be more user friendly because that’s where we’re all going.

“This is a big problem. Apple has to realize that it’s the indie filmmaker who made FCP a hit – and they have now lost that market. We hate them for this. It’s bait and switch – and we’re all gonna switch… to Avid. Catering to the Hollywood editor is not going help them – they have to answer to their base – the indie crowd. And plugs-ins ain’t makin’ it.”

Apple’s position, paradoxically, is that by using a plug-in architecture they are letting third party developers add features only needed by niche markets (such as “Hollywood editors” who are still working with transfers from film or tape) and concentrating Apple’s own efforts on essential features for filmmakers using file-based workflows, which is typical of indie filmmaking.

In this respect Apple is taking a different path with FCP X than it’s taken with its hardware. Apple’s Macs an iDevices are expensive, high-margin devices that are like the BMW of their class – or at least the Audi. But FCP X isn’t the BMW of editing packages. It doesn’t even try to be. It wants to be the Volkswagen, democratizing filmmaking. I understand why indie filmmakers may think Apple is going “Hollywood” but the “Hollywood” people are where the loudest complaints are coming from.

Apple supplied the following links for anyone who wants more information:

For a 30-day free trial of FCP X: http://www.apple.com/finalcutpro/trial/

The Final Cut Pro X Transition White Paper includes information about the new features in Final Cut Pro X to help editors transition from previous versions of Final Cut Pro: http://images.apple.com/finalcutpro/docs/Final_Cut_Pro_X_for_Final_Cut_Pro_7_Editors.pdf

FCP X full feature list: http://www.apple.com/finalcutpro/all-features/

The irony for me is that these conversations and emails have only convinced me I was right about the larger point of the column, that Apple and FCP X fans on the one side, and its detractors on the other, might as well be living in different universes.

Bits & Bytes: London’s Lipsync has appointed Andrew Boswell commercial director. He will work on finding more projects for equity investment and attracting more post-production to Lipsync. Lipsync is moving into international co-production. … Veteran sound re-recording mixer Gary C. Bourgeois has returned to Todd-AO. where he was on staff from 1985 to 2001. Bourgeois often works in romantic comedies. His credits include the “Charlie’s Angels” pics, “Pleasantville” and the recent “50/50” and “The Raven.” He is an Emmy Award winner for the National Geographic special “Gorillas.” … Universal has appointed Larry Birstock general manager of Universal Studios Digital Services, its on-lot post-production group. Birstock oversees operations, administration and sales. Birstock has held executive positions at Post Logic, Technicolor and Deluxe. …

The Hollywood Post Alliance is accepting entries for its Judges Award for Creativity and Innovation in Post-Production through June 22. … Moviola is offering classes in its Assistant Editor Program throughout the summer, including several classes on the use of Avid systems. … Fusion-io has kicked off its Project ioFX Video Contest. Filmmakers are invited to submit 60-second trailers incorporating assets from the Fusion ioFX Facebook page. Judges will include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and thesp Danny Trejo. Contest ends July 23. …

Pixomondo has aquired With A Twist vfx in Detroit, which has been remonickered Pixomondo DTW. Facility is the 13th in the Pixomondo global network. … SIM Digital, formerly SIM Video, has acquired Master Key Post. Master Key co-owner, Elan Dassani joins SIM as VP of Bling Finishing Services. Also joining SIM is colorist Chris Jacobson, who becomes VP of creative services. SIM’s new finishing division will be in Hollywood. … Level 256, which specializes in vfx for laffers, contributed more than 60 shots to “The Dictator.”

BitAnimate has inked a five-picture deal with Rainstorm Entertainment to convert Rainstorm’s movies from 2D to 3D. … Qube Cinema will be demonstrating high-frame-rate 3D at CineEurope in Barcelona. … HNA Vigor Film Investment will install RealD in up to 500 of its cinema screens in China. …

Canon nas named Band Pro Film & Digital a premier retailer of their Cinema EOS line. Band Pro is in talks with Canon about offering repair and service for Cinema EOS gear out of its Burbank service center…

The Advanced Television Systems Committee has approved the Non-Real-Time (NRT) Content Delivery standard for digital TV. The standard, dubbed A/103, allows broadcasters to deliver file-based content, including programs, clips and emergency alerts, for viewing later. It can also be used for commercial apps such as digital signage. A/103 can be used for mobile as well as fixed receivers. … Autostereo (glasses-free) 3D TV maker Alioscopy has adopted Intel’s Core i7 “Ivy Bridge” processors for its displays. …

TV Record of Brazil will use a Grass Valley HD production system for coverage of the Olympic Games in London. … Grass Valley has also picked up some business in Russia: TV Center in Moscow has upgraded to high-definition using a Grass Velley Karrera Video Production Center, and Moscow-based Technostyle Technologies has added a mobile truck outfitted with Grass Valley gear …

Cinedeck has upgraded its software for the RX and EX to version 3.5, which includes more native codecs, DNxHD 444 codec support, and 3D visualization tools. … proDAD has shipped version 4 of its Hieroglyph title, teaser and trailer animation solution. …