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Immersed in Movies: Talking 'The Hobbit,' Higher Frame Rates, and Virtual Production at FMX [Updated]

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood May 10, 2012 at 6:36AM

I'm in Stuttgart, Germany, this week for the FMX conference on animation, VFX, games, and transmedia. Not surprisingly, the emphasis at FMX is on virtual production, the hottest industry topic, thanks to the influence of "Avatar" and the lingering interest in last year's Oscar winner, "Hugo," among others.

But make no mistake: Trumbull is passionate about experimenting with higher frames far beyond what Peter Jackson is doing with "The Hobbit" (at 48 fps) or what James Cameron intends to do with the "Avatar" sequels (at 60 fps) to achieve a mind blowing brand of "Hypercinema" (at 120 fps).

Yet despite the fallout about the hyper real video look of "The Hobbit" after the controversial sneak peek at CinemaCon, Trumbull insisted that Jackson is his new hero and has already been discussing potential solutions with representatives of Weta at FMX. Trumbull's solution is to vary the frame rate depending on the moment and the focus of attention. He explained that higher frame rates not only offer a smoother experience, particularly during thrilling action sequences, but also bring us closer to the action. And you can certainly pull back when needed and use the higher frame rate as a discretionary tool for intensifying the experience. And with certain finishing tools that can be created, you can retain a film-like look, which is what Jackson has already suggested as well.

Feeney, meanwhile, warned against a rush to judgment about "The Hobbit," and to keep in mind that the higher frame rate is a new tool that needs to be experimented with and refined over time to figure out what it can and cannot do. This is unexplored territory, he emphasized, but predicted that we're on the verge of a new kind of cinema in the near future that has all sorts of intriguing holodeck-like possibilities.

Steurer was also cautiously optimistic. He said it's all well and good to push photographic boundaries with new digital cameras (his company manufactures the Alexa) and higher frame rates, but that a balance needs to be struck that's pleasing to filmmaker and audience alike.

So you can bet that I'll be monitoring this topic with much greater interest now that I have a clearer understanding of what's at stake for both the industry and the viewer.

UPDATE: To see Bill Desowitz's panel on FMX click here.

This article is related to: Digital Future, New Media & Technology, James Cameron, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.