Avatar Sequels and why HFR might not work (Film v Digital) and My Stuff…

I am literally writing this blog at 12.27 AM (IST) on 12 June 2016, Sunday.

I was trying and dying to write this blog for more than a month. After a brief discussion with a couple of my friends I now have the courage to write this stuff.

Let me just start by saying that I am a huge Cameron fan. I am dying to see what he is going to do in his sequels. James Cameron announced that he is going to shoot Avatar sequels in HFR (High Frame Rate) in 48 or 60 FPS.

Cameron talks about moving from 24fps to 48fps or 60fps.

What I am trying to do in this blog is to tell you step by step why it’s not possible to shoot. And how it can be possible to shoot in Higher Frame Rates.

There are many videos and articles available on the internet about HFR, Film, Digital, Shutter etc. I am going to use them to explain my research on HFR and explain you all the necessary details.

I spent my last 5 years working on a script and on HFR. What you are about to read is my initial conclusion on HFR, Film vs Digital and Script I developed over the years.

Avatar and The Hobbit
In 2009 Avatar was released with groundbreaking VFX. James Cameron originally wanted to shoot Avatar in 2007 at Higher Frame Rates.

Three years later in 2012 Peter Jackson released ‘The Hobit: An Unexpected Journey’ in 48fps. Though I was not able to see first two films in HFR but I saw the last one ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ in HFR 3D. It was a brilliant experience, but also raised concerns the way motion in a movie felt like. Many people, including me felt like cinematic look was lost in HFR.

Why it did not work?
Before we go deep into technical things of HFR, let’s just look at the format. It was Digital. I am not saying that I hate Digital Cameras. I love the way Roger Deakins shoots with Arri Alexa. But problem with digital cameras is its image capturing mechanism.

In traditional film camera you have a magazine which is loaded into a camera. The shutter opens and closes normally at 180 degrees. In digital cameras this doesn’t happen. Whatever happens, happens in sensor including the shutter movement. Also, when cameras are recording, they have their limitations in terms of resolution and even if you are shooting in RAW, it still doesn’t have the same quality as film. Whatever result is produced in the end, it’s an algorithm. Also, there are always firmware updates for different image processing issues.

Problem is rolling shutter…

Source: Zacuto

Only few digital cameras don’t have rolling shutter issues. The Hobbit trilogy was shot on RED Epic at 4K.

Very few digital cameras can produce steady motion, but film is still solid. The thing is digital cameras are still improving. They are trying to mimic the aesthetics of 35mm film which they are still failing to achieve. Kodak 5219 really has much higher resolution than any film stock ever produced.

Shutter Speed…

The Hobbit Trilogy was shot at 270 to 280 degree shutter angle. Though Peter Jackson was right in terms of increasing the shutter angle from 180 to 270, but that’s not enough to cover the cinematic experience.

Now take a look at the article Publish in ‘American Cinematographer’ in July 2010, 2 years before The Hobbits release. Christopher Nolan and his cinematographer Wally Pfiter did few a test in large format ‘Super Dimension 70’.

Here is what article said,

“In their quest to find the most suitable large format for Inception, the filmmakers met with industry legend Douglas Trumbull and took a look at Showscan’s latest iteration. They also examined Super Dimension 70, a system devised by Robert Weisgerber that allows shooting and projecting at 48 fps. “Strangely, Super Dimension 70 images have an almost hyper-HD quality, despite the phenomenal resolution,” says Pfister. “We just couldn’t get around that.” They also screened a presentation created by ASC members Bill Bennett and Kees van Oostrum that mixed wide shots captured on 65mm with closer shots made on 35mm. “We saw that the 35mm and 65mm footage cut together well,” says Pfister. “They got great detail and resolution on the wide shots, where objects in the frame appear smaller. Seeing that encouraged us to use that model.” The filmmakers eventually decided to add both 65mm and VistaVision 8-perf 35mm to the mix for Inception. (VistaVision was used for aerial cinematography, shot by Hans Bjerno.)”

Source: American Cinematographer

Now take at look at this…
Now when Peter Jackson released The Hobbit, he also released Q and A about HFR.

In this article Peter Jackson said that,

“Science tells us that the human eye stops seeing individual pictures at about 55 fps. Therefore, shooting at 48 fps gives you much more of an illusion of real life. The reduced motion blur on each frame increases sharpness and gives the movie the look of having been shot in 65mm or IMAX.”

Source : http://www.thehobbit.com/hfr3d/qa.html

We normally shoot at 24fps with shutter speed 48 to 50 shutter speed, i.e. at Shutter angles 180 degrees and 172.8 degrees respectively.

Then at 270 degree shutter angle and that means at 1/64 shutter speed at 48fps why hobbit failed to produce a cinematic look?

So what’s wrong with higher shutter speed. More shutter speed means more clarity. The answer is no. If human eye can see at maximum 55 fps, then say its shutter speed must be 1/55 and below. As we don’t have any mechanism like 180 degree shutter. We get the complete 360 degree exposure. Our eyes are exposed for the entire time. Technically speaking.

Another thing I did in last seven years when I was watching movies like crazy, I also played lots of video games like Cally of Duty series, Need for Speed series, Tom Clancy Series, Crysis, Gear of Wars etc.

When I am playing games on my computer screen is vibrating at Refresh Rate of 60Hz. Which is a most common frequency for computer monitor.

Now imagine my 60Hz monitor is acting like a shutter speed of 1/60. And the games I am playing can mostly go up to 60fps.

That is 60 fps at 1/60 of the second. Normal shutter speed in movies we watch are 1/48 and 1/50 at 24 fps.

What normally happens is when we shoot at any frame rate, shutter speed is half of that frame rate due to 180 degree shutter. That means at 48 fps shutter speed is 1/96 of a second, which is too many details for a human eye to consume.

If you ever watched a Jason Statham film, the action sequences in it are shot at higher shutter speed. Though it looks great for the action sequences, it won’t be comfortable to watch it if the entire movie is shot like that.

We can consume shutter up to 1/55th of a second. So that is why video games which are 60 fps at refresh rate 60hz or 1/60 works. It is still close to 1/55 shutter speed.

Check out these links for Shutter Speed, Monitor & TV Refresh Rates and Fake Refresh Rate for more info.

Now why I researched it for my script?
Why I want to shoot in HFR so badly is because of Roger Ebert and the article he wrote.


Maxivision. A format developed by Academy Award Nominated Editor Dean Goodhill to shoot in HFR. I emailed Dean couple of years ago and asked him about the Maxivision format and he wrote me back.

Fullscreen capture 6122016 44429 sssAM

I made a few changes. The idea was to develop a format which can add organic quality to achieve better visuals. Without making a fuss about it. Though we can’t use Maxivision, Film is not entirely dead. We can still project HFR digitally.

If there is going to be a movie in HFR, one need to shoot it on Film, with a mechanical shutter, on or below 1/55 shutter speed.

My Stuff…

Well, I am lazy now. Let me just say that out loud. All those years spent researching the facts and playing video games are now paying off.

So what is this blog specifically about.

Over the years, starting from 2008 to now 2016 and even before that I have seen many superhero films came out in the theaters.  I was excited that finally these films are coming to life from Comics to Television Animation to Live Action films.

When I started writing my first script, it was crap. There was a lot of chutiyapa. I was writing it for 4 and half years, which is now complete.

My story revolves around the life of two brothers. Who are super human. Super humans, not superheroes. I took the same elements from the superhero films that they are orphans, there is a girl, they are not rich but they do have some money. And injected them into real life situations and experimented with it. But unlike superheroes, our characters won’t go and beat up guys and get superhero costume at the end of the story. I kept it as realistic as possible.

While I was writing the script, I found many films inspiring. Especially ‘Let the Right One In (2008)’ directed by Tomas Alfredson. It is a story of a vampire trying to live a normal life. Just like my characters.

I want to do HFR tests on Super 16mm or 16mm anamorphic first, so I will get the idea of shooting in HFR. Also, it will save a lot of money on early shutter configurations, shooting, scanning, editing and DI in HFR. May be will even scan it in HDR (High Dynamic Range).

Also, I am thinking about starting a Kickstarter.com campaign. Let’s hope I will find the right producer by that time. And the film will get funding.