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A case for slower frame rates


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#1 Tom Chabbat

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Posted 28 January 2016 - 09:15 AM

In this 1975 issue of American Cinematographer, page 1290, there's a good case for filming at 18 fps while recording sound for Super 8 shooters.

 

To summarize quickly, it mentions that when movies with sync sound came, standard frame rate was changed from 16 fps to 24 fps because higher speed permitted better quality in the optical audio track. But with the advent of magnetic sound recording, good audio quality was possible at lower frame rates so one could make his Super 8 sound films at 18 fps.

 

While reading it, I wondered : with today's digital workflow, audio quality being totally independent of projected frame rate, why not going back to "roots" and shoot 16 or 18 fps ? Why not pushing for a new, slower sync sound standard ?

 

I'm thinking of this because the reduced frame rates would equal money and energy savings. Cameras would require less power, we would need less storage capacity, less CPU requirements for manipulating the workflow (not to mention time savings in calculations), and so on.

 

For celluloid fans like me, benefits would be huge too as it would directly reduce the price per minute of the whole chain, film stock, processing, printing and/or scanning. In today's context with film prices always going up, a little disount would me more than welcome ! And for sound engineers, running at a lower speed would made the cameras quieter.

 

The only problem I can see has to deal with HMI lightings. Unless you use some expensive flicker free ballast, being able to shoot at 16 or 18 fps with 50 or 60 Hz HMI would require some pretty weird shutter openings to get 1/50th and 1/60th exact speeds. To solve this, I thought adopting a 20 fps standard would be a good compromise. With this frame rate, you can use 50 and 60Hz HMIs with 144° and 120° shutter openings respectively. Being more than 16% slower than 24 fps it would mean at least 16% savings in film stock, which is quite important for most productions. I'm beginning to like the idea of 20 fps, it's round, decimal and it's right in the middle between 16 and 24 fps...

 

The cost of adopting this kind of new standard would be negligible. A little firmware update for most digital cameras. MagicLantern's firmware already makes it possible. Modern 35mm and 16mm cameras can readily shoot this way, as their quartz regulation works at all speeds (only older designs prior to the 1990's may need some adaptation, but nothing too expensive I think). And at last an update for DCP standards. All we need to do is to join forces to push the whole cinema community towards it. It could really benefit to anyone.

 

I'm aware I'm going here against recent trends in our trade to do always more. Trends pushed by Cameron or Jackson to shoot 48 fps. To use 4K, soon 8K resolutions. And a little 3D on top of it, just to double everything in case we haven't enough yet. And please use the biggest sensor possible of course ! The industry is so pleased we need always more new products... While I'm not sure these trends really make a better cinema, I'm sure slowing down would at least help the world to go a little better.

 

In a context of environmental and energy crisis, isn't time for us too cinematographers to push for slower, more eco friendly standards ?

 

I know standards are created by people. This could only work if a good part of us, including the most influent ones, goes for it. So tell me, would you consider shooting slower ?


Edited by Tom Chabbat, 28 January 2016 - 09:17 AM.

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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 28 January 2016 - 09:55 AM

16 fps has a poor temporal resolution, if anything the current trend is towards higher frame rates. When I was shooting 8mm I moved to 24 fps because the action was much smoother than at the silent frame rate. In practice the frame rate used on early films could be a bit higher than 16fps.

 

I notice that the announced Kodak Super 8 has  18, 24 and 25 fps with crystal sync, so in theory you should be able to use 18 fps. You could convert that to play at video frame rates.


Edited by Brian Drysdale, 28 January 2016 - 09:57 AM.

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#3 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 28 January 2016 - 10:55 AM

Yea, the problem at 16/18fps with digital is that the frames stay on much longer then 24, so it has more of a stutter effect then 18fps projected through a projector where your cutting off the light between frames. 18fps actually doesn't look bad projected, but with digital it looks wrong. I guess you could blur the frames together, which is what 18 to 24 conversions do, that looks more pleasing, but now you're dealing with blurring and the crispness of each frame is kinda of lost.

Also... I don't think shooting a compromised 20fps will make that much of a difference for "eco" friendliness. We're talking 4 frames less per second? Converting cinema to 20fps would probably be the final nail in the coffin for theaters. With modern televisions that make content look like it's running at 48fps, people are so accustom to that smooth picture. If you give them something that looks looks staccato at the cinema, they just won't go anymore. Digital cinema actually removed the flicker, but there would for sure be an odd look to 20fps.

If there was something to change that WOULD make a difference, it's broadcasting frame rates world-wide being changed to 24. Almost all of the digital gear can work with 24fps. Most single camera shows are 24fps, but they still run 3:2 pulldown in order to get 30 out of them. Why can't we just switch over to 24fps world wide? HD uses the same color standards throughout the world, so why not the same frame rate? Now that would save a lot of man hours and probably a decent amount of space as well.
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#4 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 28 January 2016 - 11:33 AM

On Super 8 projectors there's a 3 bladed shutter, which may assist in making it more acceptable. The nearest equivalent in video may be the two fields that make up the interlaced frame (although that's not quite the same, but Psf may be)


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#5 Tom Chabbat

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Posted 28 January 2016 - 01:31 PM

16 fps has a poor temporal resolution, if anything the current trend is towards higher frame rates.

 

I agree 16 fps may be too low, but a lot of people were quite pleased with 18 fps. But that's not my point. Of course with higher frame rates you'll have higher temporal resolution. But while we can always go higher, do we really need to do so ? Do we really need 30, 48 or 60 fps ? When people see a movie, do they think "aah, this was shot at 48 fps, it really made the film great" ? I think this trend to always go higher will cost us much in the long term. There's no valable reason to me to use higher frame rates than 24 fps. But I think going lower could help a little...

 

Also... I don't think shooting a compromised 20fps will make that much of a difference for "eco" friendliness. We're talking 4 frames less per second?

 

Well, per second, 4 frames is not much. But over a whole feature film, it begins to be much. And over a lot of movies, well... 4 frames less is equal to 16% savings on everything.

 

With modern televisions that make content look like it's running at 48fps, people are so accustom to that smooth picture. If you give them something that looks looks staccato at the cinema, they just won't go anymore.

 

So when people are accustomed to something, we can't change it ? A generation ago we were all well accustomed to slower frame rates, and yet we changed it. So why can't we change it back ? I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking television's smooth pictures look crappy...


Edited by Tom Chabbat, 28 January 2016 - 01:32 PM.

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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 28 January 2016 - 03:05 PM

For sport and various other TV programmes you either need 25fps or 30 fps interlaced or 50p or 60p for smooth action. Audiences are used to this mow and you can't go back.

 

Television was never less than 25 fps and film hasn't been less than 24fps less the silent days, except for home movies. Even 8mm looks better at 24 fps.


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#7 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 28 January 2016 - 11:45 PM

I think this is a problem of meeting a modern audience's expectations. Once we become used to more visual information, wether it be temporal resolution, spatial resolution, or color resolution, it's hard to remove that expectation.

For example, it is now difficult for a lot of young people who are used to modern visual media to stay engaged while watching black and white films. It's even hard for older people who are now used to HD televisions to go back to standard definition programming. I think once the brain has been conditioned to expect a higher level of stimulation, it becomes desensitized to lower levels and quickly becomes frustrated.

That said, I think that less stimulus can in fact be more emotionally engaging if the content is interesting. It's easier to focus on content when your brain is not being constantly bombarded with new information. And if that content is more intellectually, emotionally, or ethically challenging then you have more time to reflect because your visual senses are not working as hard. That's why you'll often pick up more on minute character details, symbols, references, and thematic elements of a film the second time you see it - your brain no longer needs to actively decipher the visuals, plot, story, and character relationships so it has time to explore, imagine, and invent.

One example of this idea that I find fascinating is sports programming in various media. For example, I think that the game of baseball works best when presented on the radio. TV is fine too, but when the game is reduced to an audio only format with a great storyteller in the broadcasting booth, then it can suggest to your mind the smell of the grass, the roar of the crowd, the taste of hot dogs and garlic fries, the summer heat, the cries of circling seagulls overhead chasing empty paper wrappers riding on the wind - it brings you there better than television can.

This is probably because baseball came of age in the era of radio and the telegraph and hasn't changed too much since. It's a pastoral game, progressing at a leisurely pace with no clock and frequent breaks. Until very recently, arguments over judgement calls by the umpires still were not reviewable - while the television audience was privy to the absolute reality of right or wrong by the magic of HD slow motion cameras, the players and coaches on the field had to abide by the infallible judgement of a single umpire. Hence all the arguing, gesticulating, hat-tossing, and dirt kicking that now seems so quaint and old-fashioned but is unquestionably a part of the game just as much as bat, and ball, and glove.

On the other hand, American football came of age with television and really has become tailor-made for the HD big-screen audience. What would Sunday afternoons be without the pre-game pontificating pundits, the highly orchestrated camerawork grabbing close-ups, reaction shots, slow-motion replays complete with diagrams and graphics, the half-time show, the cheerleaders, and the commercials? It would really be quite dull.

So I don't think the less-is-more approach is wrong, often it is exactly right. But in many ways you are fighting against the tide of history and human nature so if you're hoping to start a movement, know that it's unlikely to succeed.
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#8 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 02:09 PM

Well, per second, 4 frames is not much. But over a whole feature film, it begins to be much. And over a lot of movies, well... 4 frames less is equal to 16% savings on everything.


I mean we do have 2 perf 35mm, which saves 50% over 4 perf and 16mm is half the price already. Saving money on film is all about shooting ratio's, rather then simply knocking 16% off the top. I don't think anyone working on film would shoot at a lower frame rate then the current film standard to save 16%. For digital shooting, we already have higher compression standard which knock the data rate down substantially, whilst retaining quality. So if you are hard up for storage space, a few seconds in the camera menu solves those problems. You could argue that it would even be smaller at 20fps, but I argue, people on big features could care less on saving a few dollars in storage cost.

In terms of camera processors... well, that wouldn't change at all. Since most cameras have over-cranking, it's become more and more imperative to have decent processors. You may note, the smaller cameras that shoot camera raw to SD cards, struggle for bandwidth and can't do over cranking. The bigger cameras that use SSD cards and have faster processors, don't have those problems. So the idea of 20fps being a "lighter weight" system, doesn't really work. The difference in bandwidth is negligible in the long run. Example would be Pro Res XQ which is 1697Mbps @ 4k and 24p. Shooting at 20fps is 1440Mbps. So we're not talking a huge savings to drop down to 20fps.

So when people are accustomed to something, we can't change it ? A generation ago we were all well accustomed to slower frame rates, and yet we changed it. So why can't we change it back ? I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking television's smooth pictures look crappy...


Now I know it's just a theoretical conversation, but if you look at cinema history, there were really only 30 years of 16 and 18fps films shown in theaters. We've been shooting and presenting in 24fps for roughly 75 years! Our whole industry's workflow is setup for 24fps. The new 48fps standard was a complete failure, not just because it looked like broadcast TV, but also because it was not a normal workflow. People want to work with standards and changing those standards takes decades, as we learned with the whole SD to HD thing.

So why can't we change it back? Because nobody cares! LOL :)
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#9 Peter Bitic

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 02:43 PM

My first compact digital stills camera from 2003 had an option of shooting 640x480 video at 18 fps, and I shot a lot of random stuff on it (mostly me and my friends joking around). I have to say, the motion doesn't look bad (it helps that those things didn't have rolling shutter), I didn't even realize there is something non-standard with the way it shoots until I familiarized myself with frame rates and stuff. Now, I of course notice the difference, but it's not a "bad kind of difference", ie. it doesn't make video hard to watch or anything. I would prefer shooting at 24 fps, but I wouldn't mind doing it at 18 fps either.


Edited by Peter Bitic, 29 January 2016 - 02:47 PM.

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#10 Carl Looper

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 04:18 PM

I've shot at 16 fps and the effect is quite beautiful. Even 12 fps looks amazing. Movements exhibit more motion blur, and poses become more accentuated. There is a stutter of sorts but it's very different from that which drop frame step printing from a higher rate would do. There is no need to do any blending as there is a natural compensation going on in which the amount of motion blur in the signal is inversely proportional to the frame rate selected. In other words it naturally blends. Shorter intervals during pull down would help to amplify this effect.

 

However it is an effect. And effects seem to work best as an exception to the rule, rather than as a rule. As a special effect.

 

Or one could indeed employ it as a rule in a sustained work to fustrate the opposite rule.

 

Interesting would be how one might otherwise reconstruct a higher frame rate from work shot at a lower rate. I've done experiments along these lines - using motion vector analysis, applied it to Muybridge sequences. Hallucinatory results.

 

C


Edited by Carl Looper, 29 January 2016 - 04:25 PM.

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#11 Freya Black

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Posted 29 January 2016 - 05:04 PM

My favourite frame rate is 12fps. A lot of silent movies were apparently cranked at about 12fps and I feel it has a beautiful feel to it.  It also has the edge over 16 and 18fps because it is a straightforward doubling of frames to step print to 24 so there are no cadence issues making it smoother. Probably easier to run through twixtor at that rate too.


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#12 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 30 January 2016 - 04:44 AM

Here's a video on frame rates.

 


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#13 Carl Looper

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Posted 30 January 2016 - 04:55 PM

The illusion of movement.

 

Lets establish a basic truth about film. Nothing in the movies is real. The sets are fake. The actors are pretending, reciting lines written for them. Even the very essence of moving pictures is a lie. There's nothing moving. It's all an optical illusion.

 

 

This is, of course, the dominant philosophy informing the technology of film.

 

When we look at a strip of film, held in our hands, the individual frames we see can be regarded as the reality and what is there up on the screen as an illusion.

 

But we can equally regard the individual frames as consitituting a decomposition of movement. A conversion of what is there on the screen into a sequence of still frames. When the film is otherwise projected the movement is recomposed. It is reconstructed. When we watch a film we are watching movement. Real movement, or what film means by this word "movement". There is nothing fake about it at all. Even in animation.

 

If we otherwise speak of movement in terms of space and time, or in terms of mathematics, or any other way of speaking about movement, we are encoding movement - none of which are necessarily any better or worse than encoding movement in terms of a strip of film. The individual frames of the film constitute an encoding of movement, created by a camera, or an animator, or any other means of encoding movement.

 

The projector, on the other hand, becomes the means by which that movement is then decoded.

 

Whether this philosophy is any more bollocks than the one which asserts that moving pictures are a lie, doesn't really matter. It is not a question of truth or false here, but a question of what is an effective philosophy.

 

And the idea that film is "really" just a strip of still frames, is not a very effective philosophy. Be it for a filmmaker, or a technician on film.

 

What is important is what one means by movement. And what film means by movement is what it puts up on the screen: a moving picture. Not, as Muybridge did, a set of still frames.

 

C


Edited by Carl Looper, 30 January 2016 - 04:57 PM.

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#14 Carl Looper

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Posted 30 January 2016 - 06:42 PM

Here's a video on frame rates.

 

 

Apart from my philosophical opposition to the introduction, this is a great summary on the history of frame rates.

 

I wonder if there is something more that can be elaborated with respect to the difference between 24 and 48 mentioned at the conclusion. Is there something other than cultural memory which determines an appreciation of 24 over 48. Is there something other than childhood memory (or 24 fps movies) which plays a role here.

 

My suspicion/intuition is that a sense of space is better created, the slower the frame rate is to zero. At zero one arrives at a still photograph, and in the photograph (as much as in painting) it becomes a sense of space that is amplified. We can say that the photograph, as much as painting, sacrifices movement and time, for a better appreciation of space. In this context, movement and time will become mythological or illusory.

 

The cinema can be regarded as a way of restoring a sense of movement again. Restoring a sense of time as something other than eternal, infinite or illusory. Movement and time become understood - not as something ambiguous or unsaid, but as expressible, with all sorts of attributes that can be exploited. But it's possible that thoughtless amplification of movement and time can risk the opposite problem: a sacrifice of space, where space no longer opposes movement and time, and becomes at best subserviant to it. At worst, completely lost.

 

In other words one can end up feeling a lack of space. A loss of a larger landscape. One can feel trapped in some sort of studio space. The distant horizon is no longer distant, becoming a backdrop, or wallpaper, instead. The setting sun on the horizon no longer speaks of what might lie beyond that horizon.

 

C


Edited by Carl Looper, 30 January 2016 - 06:52 PM.

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#15 Carl Looper

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Posted 30 January 2016 - 07:07 PM

hobbit_desolation_of_smaug_3.jpg


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#16 Tom Chabbat

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Posted 30 January 2016 - 08:57 PM

Even 12 fps looks amazing. Movements exhibit more motion blur, and poses become more accentuated. There is a stutter of sorts but it's very different from that which drop frame step printing from a higher rate would do. There is no need to do any blending as there is a natural compensation going on in which the amount of motion blur in the signal is inversely proportional to the frame rate selected. In other words it naturally blends. Shorter intervals during pull down would help to amplify this effect.

My favourite frame rate is 12fps. 

 

You got my attention there... Do you have footage you shot at this frame rate ? I'd really be curious to see it. I don't think I ever saw something shot at 12 fps. I only suspect some shots of the 1977 japanese film "Hausu" (House) to have this frame rate, but can't confirm.

 

Anyway I'm glad I'm not the only one terrified about going under 24... I just wish we could have more choice for the screenings, DCP standards. I mean, it's all about the possibility of going slower. I'm not saying everyone should use les than 24 fps but it would be great if those who actually want could.


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#17 Freya Black

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Posted 31 January 2016 - 05:33 AM

 

You got my attention there... Do you have footage you shot at this frame rate ? I'd really be curious to see it. I don't think I ever saw something shot at 12 fps. I only suspect some shots of the 1977 japanese film "Hausu" (House) to have this frame rate, but can't confirm.

 

Anyway I'm glad I'm not the only one terrified about going under 24... I just wish we could have more choice for the screenings, DCP standards. I mean, it's all about the possibility of going slower. I'm not saying everyone should use les than 24 fps but it would be great if those who actually want could.

 

Got tempted into saying a bit too much for sure.

 

I don't have anything of mine I can share right now as I have limited access to internet/electricity at the mo.

However here is a short from someone else with large sections shot at 12fps:

 

http://eduardoagarcia.com/film/angel

 

All the underground dancing stuff was shot at 12fps as they didn't have enough light for 24 but it looks really nice the way it is.

If you have seen much silent cinema you will have seen more 12 than you realise. All that D.W. Griffith stuff for starters is about 12 (hand cranked)

 

Good frame rates for this stuff. 6fpsx4=24 8fpsx3=24 12fpsx2=24.

Depends on the kind of content however...They all have very different looks.

 

6fps:

 


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#18 Freya Black

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Posted 31 January 2016 - 05:37 AM

Anyway I'm glad I'm not the only one terrified about going under 24... I just wish we could have more choice for the screenings, DCP standards. I mean, it's all about the possibility of going slower. I'm not saying everyone should use les than 24 fps but it would be great if those who actually want could.

 

 

Terrified? I thought you were suggesting people should try it! :)


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#19 Freya Black

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Posted 31 January 2016 - 05:56 AM

If people want to use lower frame rates they can, nobody is stopping them and people do do it.

It's one of those subjects that people talk a lot of nonsense about however.

 

It does require more care than when working at 24 or higher as you need to take more care about achieving the effect you want.


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