I guess I thought that I wouldn't enjoy it is the truth, because I thought I'd be competing with myself and I thought it would be interesting to have another director. And Guillermo [del Toro, who was originally signed on to direct, worked on the script for the initial two films and provided voluminous character designs] was there for a while, over a year. And with the delays we had another six months after he left. I was enjoying it a lot more – we were writing the script with Guillermo and developing it throughout this time. And another thing, which I hadn't put my head around, was that there was a lot of charm and humor in 'The Hobbit.' It's a completely different tone. This is not 'Lord of the Rings.' This gives me an opportunity to do something different. I thought it would be a lot of fun. And it was. The first day of shooting I was incredibly happy I was there.
The levels of detail are similar to 'The Lord of the Rings.' The HD cameras you see more so you can see more detail but fortunately the team we have in New Zealand – the WETA Workshop, who design everything – have always wanted to put in a lot of detail. To me, fantasy should be as real as possible. I don't buy into the notion that since it's fantasy it should be unrealistic. The levels of detail are very important. The 65mm films that people used to shoot in was virtually a high definition of the film world, very fine grain film stock. And when we were setting out to do 'Lord of the Rings' we explored doing it in 65mm. The camera equipment was very cumbersome and we were going to have to develop the film in America even though we were making them in New Zealand… But it was something I wanted to do in that time. That big screen epic experience, the more immersive it is, that's the sort of thing I like.
About the divisive reactions to 48fps thus far
I'm fascinated by the reactions. I'm tending to see that anyone under the age of 20 or so doesn't really care and thinks it looks cool and doesn't really understand it. They think the 3D looks really cool. I think 3D at 24 frames is interesting but it's the 48 that allows the 3D to achieve the potential that it can achieve because it's less eyestrain and you have a sharper picture which creates a more dimensional world.
The history of it was that I had seen a couple of high frame rate movies. I remember going to Disneyland and seeing the Star Tours ride, which is a high frame rate film, where you're speeding in the "Star Wars" spaceship. And I had experience with it a few years ago – I directed a "King Kong" attraction for Universal Studios in California, which was a 60-frames-a-second 3D surround film on the tram ride. And I thought, Wow, this is so cool, I wish we could do a feature like this! But the mechanical projectors in the cinemas around the world were locked into 24 frames.
But the advent of digital projects allow for this to happen. The editor we worked with went to a technical convention and he said, "If you're interested in a high frame rate, now is the time, because the projector manufacturers can probably do it and the cameras are going to be able to do it." So we decided to take the plunge. Warner Bros. was very supportive, they just wanted some assurance that the 24 frames version would look absolutely normal, which it does. But once they were happy with that, they were happy, but we had to push that button that said "48 frames." When we started filming there probably wasn't a cinema in the world that could project 48 frames in that format. It was a leap of faith.
But the thing to realize too is that it's not an attempt to change the film industry. It's another choice. The projectors that can run at 48 frames can run at 24 frames. You can shoot a movie in 24 frames and have sequences in 48 frames or 60 frames within the body of the film; you can do all the shutter angle effects, the "Saving Private Ryan" strobing effects. It doesn't necessarily change the way films are going to be made but it's another choice filmmakers can have. For me it gave it more of that reality, that immersive-ness. It makes it feel like you're leaving the cinema seat and becoming a part of the adventure.
I've been watching it for a year watching hours and hours and hours of it. With 3D, your left and right eye are seeing two different pictures. And with 24 frames you're getting strobing and motion blur, your brain is trying to put this stuff together. And the more artifacts in the capture, your brain is struggling to resolve those two images. And 48 frames reduces those artifacts and makes for a smoother picture. As human beings we always have resistance to things that are different. I was a Beatles fan and I remember in the eighties when CDs came out and there was a sound of vinyl that people loved and suddenly CDs were threatening the sound of vinyl. I remember reading something that the Beatles said that they would never have their albums on CD because it was too clear and all the bad notes would be exposed. So you're never going to hear a Beatles tune on CD. There was all this hysteria.
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" opens on December 14th.