High Frame Rate Movies: Does HFR Have A Place In Cinema?


For most audiences, high frame rate movies are off-putting and hyper-realistic. The high frame rate disrupts the immersion of the cinematic experience but why is this? Why doesn’t high frame rate look cinematic and why is 24fps the cinema standard? In this blog post, we answer all of these questions along with the most important question, does high frame rate have a place in cinema?


History Of Frame Rate: Why We Use 24fps

There are many stories as to why 24fps was chosen as the cinema standard. It’s similar to an urban legend in that you will hear many stories and reasonings surrounding the need for the 24fps standard. A popular reasoning for the 24fps standard is about saving money. Film was expensive in the early 20th century and many believe to save money, the film industry set a standard that required filmmakers to use the lowest possible frame rate where the human eye could still perceive motion smoothly. Another story you might hear has to do with audio. The story goes that 24fps was set as the standard because it was the slowest frame rate where audio would still sound decent in the 1930s.

As none of us today were in the room when 24fps was made the standard, no one can really say how true or untrue these stories are but one thing is for sure, 24fps was made a standard because of the introduction of sound in cinema. According to television historian Mark Schubin, the first sound system that was successfully implemented in the film industry was the Vitaphone system. The Vitaphone was a sound-on-disc system where movie soundtracks could be played off a phonographic disk, separate from the film itself. There was no connection between the sound system speed and the film speed so Warner Bros. decided there needed to be a standard speed to keep the sound and film synchronized. Since movie theaters at the time would project films anywhere from 80 feet per minute (21.5fps) to 100 feet per minute (27fps), they decided to compromise on 90 feet per minute (24fps). It’s important to understand that our aversion to HFR comes from our acclimation to using 24fps since the 1930s.


The Benefits of Using a High Frame Rate

High frame rates are great for sports, reality TV, soap operas, but they are not good for film. However, there are benefits to using high frame rates, even in film. High frame rates have…

  • Smooth motion
  • Fine detail
  • Higher degree of resolution and color

In fact, many viewers have stated that HFR works the best during action sequences where you can see all of the detail but in scenes that are more still, the movie begins to look like a soap opera. 


Ang Lee is one of many directors who has spearheaded the use of HFR in films. His last movie, Gemini Man, made many headlines for being filmed in 4K, 3D, and 120fps which is 5 times the 24fps standard. Unfortunately, both critics and audiences eviscerated the film because of the generic plot and the distractingly high frame rate. Lee believes HFR is the future of cinema and has stuck by that notion.


James Cameron, on the other hand, doesn’t see HFR as the future to replace 24fps but instead as a tool to use with 3D. Cameron believes the jittery motion in 24fps disrupts the immersion of a 3D experience but with 120fps the footage and motion are both incredibly smooth. Cameron has stated that he has used 120fps for his Avatar sequels but only for 3D. 


“They are trying to make digital look like film. It’s a different media with different perception, different requirements. Digital doesn’t want to be film, it wants to be something else. I think we need to get past that and discover what it is.”

Ang Lee


Summary

For Ang Lee, HFR movies embrace digital media. Whereas the requirement of 24fps limits the true potential of what digital media is capable of. If HFR is ever accepted into the film industry and among audiences worldwide, then the whole way we create films will have to change. Acting, designing, set decoration, makeup, and even directing would all have to change to accommodate the extremely high-quality HFR movies would bring. So, does HFR have a place in cinema? Not yet but with the advancement of technology, the application of HFR will surely find its place.


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