A piece of Luke Letellier’s HFR conversion process: “A SplineWarp node at work. Pink dots represent a point’s position on the first master frame, blue dots represent where those points moved to on the second master frame.”
As the creator of the first 48 fps interpolated version of the trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Luke Letellier is responsible for many hundreds of thousands of people’s first glimpse of HFR content. Leading up to the release of The Hobbit Luke’s video made the rounds all over the internet as people wondered what 48 fps would look like.
Luke’s technique (which utilizes Nuke, Kronos, After Effects and custom Python code) allows for a great deal of control over the creation and insertion of new frames. Check out this article on Luke’s website for a very detailed run down of how it was accomplished, and the strengths and weaknesses of the technique.
I asked Luke about the reaction to his video:
In regards to my own conversion – the response was quite mild for a while. When I initially uploaded it in May, I sent it off to quite a few places – thinking that people would be intrigued and that it might even do the rounds on all the big film blogs, but no responses were received and my forum posts never got a reply. I think people just assumed it was a hoax of some sort, and I wondered if I had completely misjudged my work from the beginning.
And then, about a week later, I received my very first comment on it – an email from Mike Seymour (co-founder of fxguide) wanting to do an interview. Considering that Mike has had correspondence with just about every big name in the VFX world, this meant quite a bit, and assured me that I wasn’t completely crazy in taking this project on.
The article they ran generated a bit of discussion, but it seems to have stayed within the circle of vfx workers who frequent their site.
Everything remained quiet until mid-November, when it began to travel around Spain and Eastern Europe. It was quite interesting, as I had never expected to see Polish and Slovenian film enthusiasts discussing my work.
It finally went mainstream in December, generating at least 120K hits in about a three week span – quite a few copies were circulating on other websites such as yours, so it wouldn’t surprise if the actual number was much more.
I got quite the range of reactions, as is expected – some loved it, some hated it, many didn’t care. But overall, it was a very rewarding experience, and it makes me all the more eager to see the real thing in 2D… if that should ever exist.
I think the basic principles found in a few of the techniques I presented may have some use in the industry – mainly because it’s a manual process with a large amount of artist control. The VFX industry is one that absolute adores manual control – they don’t drive automatics. So if they’re going to post-convert a movie into a different frame-rate, they’ll use all the manual controls they can get their hands on in order to do it properly.
I also asked for his thoughts on the public and critical response to The Hobbit’s 48 fps 3D, and where he thinks HFR technology might/should go from here:
A disclaimer to start off – I was unfortunately unable to see the Hobbit in 48fps. My brain can’t process stereoscopic images (3D movies) correctly, and HFR was only presented in stereoscopic – so I had to settle for 2D 24fps. (I’m hoping they release a 2D 48fps version with the Extended Edition, otherwise I don’t know how I’m going to view it.)
However, this hasn’t stopped me from reading every blog article I can find on the topic.
All of the negative feedback I’ve seen can be grouped into two categories: (1) issues of technology and film technique and (2) issues of aesthetics. These are very different issues and need to be addressed separately – unfortunately, they rarely are.
The first category – issues of film craft and technology – (“the sets looked fake”, “the VFX looked poor and were easy to spot”, “the camera shake was very noticeable”) – are all issues that can be easily remedied with time and experience.
When sound films first arrived on scene, problems abounded. Microphones were of such poor quality that the actors had to stay standing in very specific places on set just to be heard at all, resulting in very wooden performances. The cameras were making so much noise that they had to be encased in cumbersome soundproof containers to prevent being heard by the microphones, which drastically reduced any kind of camera movement.
The sound was recorded and played back on a separate system from the picture, resulting in the two being unsynchronized. Even when they were in synch, the sound systems weren’t powerful enough to deliver the audio at a desirable volume or in a comforting tone.
In addition, a large amount of the famous silent film stars had atrocious voices, so they were now out of a job. Story and dialogue increased in importance, so time and money now had to be spent in developing scripts at the beginning of production and editing audio at the end.
All of these issues resulted in skeptical critics who considered the whole thing a gimmick. But eventually, technology developed to create better microphones and better sound quality, and the artists refined their craft to work around these new production needs.
And so it will most likely be with HFR. Audiences will adapt, technology will develop, and artists will refine.
Peter Jackson and his crew have already been doing this to some degree – they discovered in pre-production that the RED Epics were producing images that were losing more color then they liked, so they compensated by greatly over-saturating both the sets and the make-up (this was discussed in one of the Hobbit’s video blogs).
In other words: a problem with the new technology was discovered, and standard techniques were altered in order to compensate.
However, once all of these technical issues are remedied, there’s still the aesthetics to deal with. Put plainly, HFR is something that’s completely different from the traditional look and feel that we’ve fallen in love with over the last 70 years.
But again, we need to remember that HFR is still in its infancy, and how it looks ascetically right now probably isn’t how it will look forever.
Douglas Trumbull has been developing what I believe to be the future: Variable Frame Rate technology – a series of digital tools that will allow filmmakers to integrate multiple frame rates within the same film – and even the same shot.
For example, when Gandalf and Galadriel talk at Rivendell, many people felt that the sharpness and clarity of the HFR water distracted from the conversation. With VFR technology, the filmmakers could have the water play back at 24 fps while the human characters play back at 48 fps. In other conversation scenes the reverse effect may be needed, resulting in a human conversation played at 24 fps and the background elements played at 48fps.
While this may seem incredibly far-fetched and distracting, a similar effect already occurs with lens focus in virtually every film and television show: two characters having a conversation are in sharp focus while the background elements are completely blurred out.
Integrating this technology into a standard visual effects pipeline is quite simple once the code has been written, so it won’t result in a dramatic increase in work time.
Thanks to Luke for the above, and for producing that excellent 48 fps Hobbit trailer in the first place!
Luke Letellier is a computer graphics artist who lives and works in the woods of Maine.