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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 3D HFR

Published on December 18, 2012 by in Soundtrack

To begin, I’m a fan of the whole Hobbit/Lord of the Rings series. Read all the books.¬†Originally the first cinematic series of the Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson are nothing short of spectacular. Now comes The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 3D HFR. More excitement, more Middle Earth fun and some bumps along the way.

Being that this blog is primarily about music, let’s get the score out of the way first. It’s great. I love the music. I especially love the thematic elements that came from Lord of the Rings. Certain melodies for characters and the ring wind their back into The Hobbit. Brought a smile to my face when the ring came on the screen and the theme came with it. Smart tie in. I can’t complain about the score, it’s brilliant.

I do have a few things to state about the whole HFR debate. First off, I’m known as a musician/composer, but I did attend and graduate from a University with a degree in Film Production. Thus I am aware of the technical ideas behind creating a film.

Having seen The Hobbit in HFR specifically due to the debate I had read of online, I got to see exactly what people were talking about. My initial reaction was sheer amazement. There are some elements to HFR that are awesome. 1. It makes 3D tolerable. I can’t stand most 3D and this is the first 3D movie where I didn’t get a headache. 2. Some scenes/shots are absolutely stunning. In these two respects, HFR works great.

There are several ways in which HFR breaks down and hinders the experience. 1. It can make elements of the costumes, make-up, and props look incredibly fake. 2. High or intense action sequences involving a lot of motion looks terrible. 3. Some scenes/shots look blown out in a bad way. It’s these three things I wish to tackle.

When elements like the costumes, make-up and props look fake, it detracts from movie going experience. With the enormous budget that Peter Jackson likely had at his disposal, I’m surprised they didn’t take huge extra measures to prevent a poor translation of some of the costumes. When it comes to make-up, I’ve heard that make-up artists have to up their game with their craft. When you can see the make-up it doesn’t bode well. From what I understand it requires air-brushing make-up on. In several cases, it appears they did not do this. Props that don’t translate can only be fixed by better craftsmanship. Or rather be built to be real, rather than a mock-up of a prop.

Intense action sequences or scenes with lots of movement tend to look bizarre to me in HFR. My belief on why this happens is due to the frame rate. At the standard 24 frame rate of film, it’s the point at which images stop flickering and start producing fluid movement. It’s at a rate where movement is somewhat magical in nature and also works well for how we perceive real life movement. At 48 frames the magic disappears. Movement is no longer magical and almost takes on a bit of a jerky value.

How can this be fixed? Firstly, I believe there is a problem with number of frames. This is akin to the same issue in music. At what point of sampling is audio or in this case video, better? The answer is not 48 frames. I think the problem lies in the fact that the magic of motion disappears, but it’s not enough frames to actually smooth out the movement in a high definition way. Much like music, I think the answer is to actually increase the frame rate to 96 or maybe even 192 frames a second. At that point I believe motion will regain it’s magical quality and also retain incredible detail. Hopefully this is only a stepping stone and future directors going for HFR will actually make the jump to 96 or 192 frames a second.

My final critique of HFR is lighting. I get the feeling that this movie was missing something about the lighting in several scenes. Most common issue I noticed: blown out or rather over lit with too much light. The end result is an image that reveals it’s flaws and problems. Most often this occurred with actors and their skin tone. Many times parts of their skin essentially disappeared to white and looked incredibly fake.

Lighting issues harken back to the era of black and white where it took enormous amounts of light to get great depth of field and focus. With today’s technology, I believe this is no longer the case. However, things slip and mistakes happen. Problem is, on a super budget pic like The Hobbit, this shouldn’t happen. The only explanation I can think of is having to consider downsampling the image to look ok on standard 2D film.

It’s the same issue we have with music. Record it at as high a sample rate as possible to improve the quality of the resulting low res versions. I would have to postulate the same holds true for visual images as well. Which is what baffles me about why so many parts to The Hobbit were over lit and blown out in it’s native format. It makes zero sense.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. I didn’t mind the length, though I do question if there is way too much side story going on – especially when the plan is to expand it to 3 movies. My push is to request that Peter Jackson, and other directors like James Cameron, et al, who are exploring HFR, please skip 48 frames a second and go directly to at least 96 frames a second – bring the magic back to the movement of the human form. Also, pay better attention to your lighting. Please don’t blow out the image as it renders a high budget film to look like a low budget video project. That’s not a desired effect. Finally, improve the quality of the prop builds, costumes and make-up application. Keep that magic quality to the production. You’re getting paid well enough to do so, so don’t short change the movie goer. Otherwise you’ll likely find that we’ll stop going to theaters to see high budget versions of things that look like they belong on TV.

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