Friday, April 18, 2008

3-D Animation and 48 Frames Per Second

James Cameron* is high on the wonders of visual stereo.

Several days back, I was reading director James Cameron's interview with Daily Variety about the many advantages of filming movies in 3-D, and how much he thinks creating cinema in three dimensions will end up being What Every Filmmaker Does. Then I came to this:

I'm hearing that there are already calls to increase the frame rate to at least 30 fps for digital 3-D because certain camera moves, especially pans, look jumpy in 3-D. I saw that in the Imax 3-D "Beowulf." You've been an advocate for both 3-D and higher frame rates. Have you seen the problem and do you have any thoughts on it?

For three-fourths of a century of 2-D cinema, we have grown accustomed to the strobing effect produced by the 24 frame per second display rate. When we see the same thing in 3-D, it stands out more, not because it is intrinsically worse, but because all other things have gotten better. Suddenly the image looks so real it's like you're standing there in the room with the characters, but when the camera pans, there is this strange motion artifact. It's like you never saw it before, when in fact it's been hiding in plain sight the whole time. Some people call it judder, others strobing. I call it annoying. It's also easily fixed, because the stereo renaissance is enabled by digital cinema, and digital cinema supplies the answer to the strobing problem.

The DLP chip in our current generation of digital projectors can currently run up to 144 frames per second, and they are still being improved. The maximum data rate currently supports stereo at 24 frames per second or 2-D at 48 frames per second. So right now, today, we could be shooting 2-D movies at 48 frames and running them at that speed. This alone would make 2-D movies look astonishingly clear and sharp, at very little extra cost, with equipment that's already installed or being installed.

Increasing the data-handling capacity of the projectors and servers is not a big deal, if there is demand. I've run tests on 48 frame per second stereo and it is stunning. The cameras can do it, the projectors can (with a small modification) do it. So why aren't we doing it, as an industry?

Because people have been asking the wrong question for years. They have been so focused on resolution, and counting pixels and lines, that they have forgotten about frame rate. Perceived resolution = pixels x replacement rate. A 2K image at 48 frames per second looks as sharp as a 4K image at 24 frames per second ... with one fundamental difference: the 4K/24 image will judder miserably during a panning shot, and the 2K/48 won't. Higher pixel counts only preserve motion artifacts like strobing with greater fidelity. They don't solve them at all.

If every single digital theater was perceived by the audience as being equivalent to Imax or Showscan in image quality, which is readily achievable with off-the-shelf technology now, running at higher frame rates, then isn't that the same kind of marketing hook as 3-D itself? Something you can't get at home. An aspect of the film that you can't pirate.

When I read that, the first thing into my mind was: Oh, hey. Fine for live-action, just crank up the camera speed, shoot at 48 fps, no problemo. But what the hell happens to animation?

Visions of Frank, Ollie and the other Nine Old Men animating Sleeping Beauty (and the rest of the Disney hand-drawn canon) at 48 frames per second of celluloid dancing in my fevered brain, I drove to DreamWorks and sat down with an experienced CG renderer. And I asked him the 48 fps question: How would rendering 48 frames per second instead of 24 impact his job? How would it affect equipment? Here's a truncated version of what he said:

Forty-eight frames? Right eye, left eye? Oh yeah, that would mean quite a bit more work for a renderer and the render farm. I'd estimate that the work load for a renderer would increase 50-60% ...

And certainly more work for an animator, yes?

So what happens if, one day in the not-far-off future, Mr. Cameron's dream of the 48 frame-per-second 3-D or 2-D movie becomes standard across the exhibition world? I'm thinking it could well happen, since the capacity is there. And if audiences like it, and big-name directors demand it, then viola. 48 fps is the norm.

Methinks it will create an interesting challenge for animation ... and animated visual effects.

* Actually, that isn't J. Cameron up top there. It's somebody else who sort of looks like J. Cameron. But I thought it was a funny visual.


Anonymous said...

great...that would mean more work.

Anonymous said...

Well, to be technical, just because the film is being PLAYED at 48 or even 60 Frames Per Second wouldn't mean it needed to be animated at that rate. Drawing "on the ones" simply becomes "one the twos" and "on the twos" becomes "on the fours" and so on. The animation would be the same, and camera pans would be much less jittery.

3D guys are screwed, however. There's no getting around the fact that at 48 FPS, they're suddenly rendering twice as many frames.

Steve Hulett said...

Well, to be technical, just because the film is being PLAYED at 48 or even 60 Frames Per Second wouldn't mean it needed to be animated at that rate.

Possiby true. Animation can be on ones ... twos ...fours.

But that wouldn't hold of viz effx. Coupled with live action, if it isn't 1/1, there's a problem.

I think.

jeremiah said...

my friend has a hdtv that can upscale the frame rate of movies to 60fps. the tv has a feature that can switch between the frame rates, and also has a split screen feature for side by side comparison.

generally i didn't like it because although movies looked more fluid, it made the quality feel cheap. i think this is due to the fact that when you watch a movie at the theater at 24 fps, your brain thinks it is higher quality than watching tv programs at 30 fps.

so when i watched a james bond movie at the higher frame rate, it just felt like a daytime soap, or a sitcom.

when i watched ratatouille on the tv, the animation felt really quick, and the camera moves became more apparent. also, the animation felt really soft, and the poses just didnt have the impact they had when watching it at the regular frame rate.

in summation, i think we should stick with what we have now. btw, ratatouille on blueray looks freaking amazing!

Anonymous said...

I remember when "All inthe Family" hit. It was the first prime-time sitcom I could recall that was video (which is 60i) rather than film (24p, like "Gilligan's Island"). I didn't understand why at the time but it sure looked cheap, like a daytime soap.

"Film look" has an air of quality to it that will be tough to abandon.

Kevin Geiger said...

Cameron is talking about advancement, not abandonment.

Anonymous said...

The point being made was a higher rate for 3D movies not 2D. 3D is more real because of the extra dimension but the side effect is to notice the 'unreal' flicker of 24fps. Same goes for Imax. The scale really shows up the flicker.

Having said that the main 3D flicker with digital projectors is caused by 24fps as much as the sequential nature of the projection LRLRLR combined with 24fps. The two independent artifacts, when combned, make the experience worse than we would prefer.

If , for 3D movies, I had to choose between higher resolution (4k) of 48fps I would take the 48fps...probably

phil mcnally

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree that 24 fps gives things that "film" look that we associate with quality. Higher frame rates (customarily 30 fps) make things look like video, soap operas, as someone above said. Maybe some people don't perceive this, but I certainly do, and I think most do, at least subconciously.

If I had to watch a feature film that was shot at 30 fps or higher, I wouldn't take the movie seriously. Actually, I already have had that experience, as the British often film their TV dramas at 30 fps. The effect is silly and amateurish.

Anonymous said...

British never have and never will shoot any of their dramas nor other programming in 30 fps.

All of Europe uses the PAL (or SECAM) system and their descendant HDTV versions, and all of them use either 50 interlaced fields per second or 25 progressive frames per second. There would be no point in shooting anything commercial in Europe using 30 fps.

Anonymous said...

"Coraline," the first stop-motion animated film to be conceived and shot in 3-D, is visually dazzling, as you'd expect - but strangely joyless.

Benjamin "Reticuli" Goulart said...

24fps looks unsatisfactory in 2D with motion, and like dogshit in 3D. For CGI and shooting with cameras, there's ZERO additional work for higher rates. The cameras just need more light or more sensitive stock/CCDs. Hand drawn is different, but for the rest it's a non-issue. As previously stated, most hand-drawn isn't done in full 24fps anyway.

I really think if we're going digital, then we ought to just say screw it and go 60fps. 2k 60p cameras are already available to consumers for less than US$500 from Sanyo, and for just over a grand if you need pro image stabilization from Canon.

They can always drop frames to film out from the digital interpositve at 24fps without needing to worry about skip printing from a film internegative, but high-end LCOS projectors and Blueray are already 60p capable. 48fps is nice for Maxivision and backwards compatibility, but not necessary if we're going to digital. And then there's the potential for 4k 60p, which would be the 70mm of digital for special releases.

The cited SMPTE research about 48fps was not concerning fast motion or massive detail, either. Real brain research done by the academic community and the military has shown it's at or above around 60fps where the brain literally forgets what it's seeing is not real, especially in man-machine interfaces like flight simulators where there is fine hand-eye coordination and interaction.

I think Cameron is overstating the whole bandwidth issue. They can easily data-pack the stream and send it over broadband to turnkey systems for ANY concievable format no matter the immense file size. Not a problem. Even 60fps 4k stereoscopic is definitely doable. I think he's underestimating things due to what he's been told is already out there installed.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that CGI animated films will just lower detail in what we see on screen for now to save money on rendering. There shouldn't be any real problems with 2D animation, the Japanese style has never had 24 fully animated frames yet alone 48 or 60.

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