The Hobbit - Exhibition Technology HFR 3D via the RealD 3D System - Steve Friendship Blog

The Hobbit - Exhibition Technology HFR 3D via the RealD 3D System
Tue, Jan 1, 2013

The Hobbit: An unexpected journey in HFR 3D – HFR being High Frame Rate of 48 frames per second (double the usual 24), with the RealD 3D system.

 

The Hobbit is screening at my local multiplex, which is not my usual cinema of choice. Visiting it is something of a guilty pleasure; though more expensive it has comfy full-backed seats which you can rock back in, excellent sight lines to the screen and projections in glorious 4K. Watching in 4K is a real treat; the picture seems sharper, the colour more precise and subtle, and any differences in focus are easier to read. My local is cheaper, friendlier and shows more of the films I want to watch (Support your local Indie!!), however, it isn’t screening the Hobbit, and I wanted to check out the new theatrical technology of 3D 48 fps. I was genuinely excited about going to the movies. 

 

 

Notes on 3D

 

I have seen 3D screenings before, though these have been with the XpanD 3D system. This is the system where you wear chunky red glasses that have to be returned at the end. As a daily glasses wearer, I have to put the XpanD glasses over the top of my existing glasses and they never really sit that comfortably on my nose. I also feel the lens area should be larger as seem to constantly catch the edge of the frames. Beyond the glasses, which never seem to be really clean, I have never been satisfied with this 3D system. The glasses are occluded and opened alternately to sync with the picture.  My problem with this system is that by end of the movie rather than adjusting, my eyes and brain are baffled and exhausted. This system becomes more baffling when there is a lot of movement on screen, and when there are passages of quick edits – my eyes can’t get a fix on the images and my brain rebels and tunes out.

 

For the Hobbit, the projection was using the RealD system, which differently polarises images for the left and right eye, these are projected at the same time and resolved using disposable glasses with each lens polarised differently. The first positive was the glasses were sealed in plastic were clean and smear free. They were easy to wear, and bit by bit I became acclimatised to them and the system, and by the end of the film my brain had accepted the reality of this new world and was to happy to be there.

 

As I said, I have seen 3D films before, and in each of these cases I don’t think the filmmakers have been particularly sympathetic to the viewers. It takes a while for eyes and brains to acclimatise – I don’t watch 3D material everyday. I felt that Peter Jackson had understood the technology and how it works (or I am giving him credit for his personal style?), anyway, it seemed to me that for the most part he avoided shots that cause 3D confusion; large movements within a frame, quickly cut sequences and more importantly took positive steps to work with the technology, with camera movements that are subtle and motivated, with track and pushes used to the exclusion of pans – for some reason it is easier to read these in 3D.

 

So, as a viewer of story, it is easy to criticise the long opening section in the Shire as a queue of dwarves are introduced, however, as a 3D viewer it is a great way to acclimatise to the technology and settle in to the film – even if dwarf songs are painful, under any viewing system!

 

The 3D & HFR viewing experience of The Hobbit breaks down into two sections: the first half hour and the remaining 150 minutes. In terms of the technology there is something not quite right about the first half hour. I have heard arguments about the new reality of 48fps makes the viewing experience less mediated, so it feels as if you are really there, but I don’t buy it. Why doesn’t this continue in the remaining 150 minutes. The early scenes in Bilbo’s house have an artificial quality about them that can only be described as Daytime Drama meets Viewmaster (70’s 3D stills viewers) porno. There is something ‘so real’ about the footage that it feels stagey and somehow inauthentic, more than this there is an inconsistency between shots; the 3D ‘style’ seems to alter throughout the opening half hour, changing the feel of the film in each sub section. I don’t know if the opening scenes of the film were shot first and the crew learnt from their mistakes or whether there was some technical problem (shutter speed? 3D separation?), however the result isn’t satisfactory or consistent.

 

In addition, the film colour in the Shire seems to have an over saturated feel, with the greens seemingly unrealistically vivid. Which contributes to the video / daytime TV feel of this section. This is repeated in the reveal of Rivendell, giving the shot a CGI kitsch feel. 

 

This ‘problem’ seems to only afflict the first half hour or so. Now the answer could be my acclimatisation to the 3D system, but I am more inclined to guess that the remainder is shot differently. What is different I cannot definitively say, though the viewing experience the moment the film leaves the Shire is more coherent and filmic.

 

Whilst the evolving conventions of 2D filmmaking and viewing are well established, 3D conventions are in the process of tentative first steps; filmmakers are experimenting and audiences learning. Some of the conventions from 2D are used in 3D and I am yet to be convinced that they are the right techniques to use. In 2D filmmaking cinematographers often use a narrow depth of field – the subject or character in focus and background out of focus – to direct audience attention to the character and their dialogue. This has always troubled me in 3D; our eyes naturally explore a space, pulling focus in fractions of second alighting on any object of interest. If a filmmaker or artist is creating a 3D space why use a shallow depth of field? Let the viewer find what is of interest to them (usually the brightest object or an object in motion). I realise that Directors want to direct, and that this is a very simple statement of a more complex emerging of conventions (and compromise, given that the film is to be released in 2D & 3D), however, the shots of Gandalf talking to Bilbo at their first meeting illustrate the problem. In one shot Gandalf is in composed in a fairly tight Medium Close Up and the background is out of focus. Instead of my attention being drawn to Gandalf I am suddenly aware that the film is no longer in full 3D, but seems to consist of two flat planes of moving image, one in front of the other. The out of focus background resolves into flattened plane, and by optical illusion, it causes my brain to flatten the apparently closer in focus portion of Gandalf. My point is that not all 2D cinema conventions work in 3D, and this shot occurs in the problematic section of the film, drawing attention to the way the film was made, rather than keeping attention on the story.

                 

 

2D viewing

 

Intrigued by some the issues the 3D viewing showed, I went to the same cinema and watched the film in 2D at 24 fps.

 

The 2D version removed all the issues I had with the quality of the image, scenes in the Shire lost their sickly surface, and it had a conventional film look – though the opening dwarf introduction did now seem long!  The depth of field issues didn’t seem problematic and the grade (colour correction) seemed much more subtle (except the first view of Rivendell that still looked a bit schlocky). So it appears that 2D is good and 3D is something of a cheap trick, the conventional wisdom of the Cineaste filmgoer is proved correct.

 

Except it isn’t that simple! There were losses as well as gains. The first thing that I noticed was that I missed, in a big way, the 48 fps. Even at 4K the screen seemed to have lost resolution and felt flatter and duller. 48 fps had added resolution – in a good way – making the film sharper. Near the beginning in the opening montage there is a moving shot from a kite, and I noticed Jitter! Jitter happens when the camera moves quickly and there aren’t enough frames per second to make the motion smooth – I have never really seen Jitter as an issue in the cinema before! I have been spoilt, in one showing, by 48fps! It is early days, but I feel that 48 fps is here to stay, and it won’t be long before features are routinely shot and distributed at this frame rate.  

 

I have not been a fan of 3D, however, in this case the 3D projection added to the feeling of spectacle and an event movie opening. At the moment I am not sure I can extend my feelings to a more general case of all movies should be made in 3D, though in this particular instance, a movie in the fantasy genre, an event movie and a big opening weekend, I really enjoyed the experience of watching The Hobbit in 3D, with all the image flaws, and the 2D version felt somewhat lifeless in comparison.

 

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