Next Generation Cinema - Enjoy Modern HFR Movies

Speaking of HFR (high frame rate), we need to first know about frame rate. As we all know that a video consists of consecutive images, and frame rate, in general terms, is the frequency at which consecutive images appear on a display. It is measured in frames per second or FPS. A higher frame rate will give a much smoother image with more information and details.

Gold Standard 24 FPS

Most films around the world are produced and projected at 24 FPS, a gold standard created by early animators and filmmakers through trial and error. In the beginning, films were shot at various frame rates, including 16 FPS, 20 FPS, and even 40 FPS shot by Edison. With continuous practices, the standard frame rate was set to 24 FPS. The standard, on the one hand, is the minimum frame rate that human eyes can accept, as a frame rate lower than the standard will lead to choppy, unsmooth playback.

It, on the other hand, helps control production costs. 24 FPS is the standard for film production today, but back when everything was shot on films, movies with higher frame rate required higher film cost, a large sum of money for production. Even in the days when digital films prevail, a higher frame rate creates great pressure on storage, post-processing, and even screen monitoring. If a film at 24 FPS is converted into 48 FPS, the size of frames and rendering time required for post-production will double, an impossible option for most commercial movies.

The Pursuit of The Hobbit

But what does a film look like with a frame rate higher than 24 FPS? In fact, some filmmakers have been finding the answer. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey directed by Peter Jackson in 2012 was shot in 48 FPS and met with a mixed response. Some criticized that the film looked too real like games or oil paintings and lost the charm of traditional films created by flicker and motion blur. Due to technical limitations in domestic cinemas, Chinese viewers had no access to the 48 FPS version, which was rarely seen even in overseas markets. Fortunately, the box office was immune from the mixed response.

Ang Lee’s Ambition

Film director Ang Lee has experimented with HFR, filming some scenes in his film Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk at 120 FPS combined with 4K and 3D implementation. While most filmmakers try 48 FPS and 60 FPS, Ang Lee has made a great breakthrough to the limit of modern filming technology. Yet the experiment produced many technological challenges. With his good reputation over the years and the unique selling point of 120 FPS, Ang Lee easily found willing investors. Shot not in traditional approaches, high frame rate content provides much clearer and smoother images. In the Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, we can see many extreme long shots and different blurred backgrounds.

Yet greater challenges come in projection equipment. Since only a few cinemas are properly equipped for 120 FPS films, the 120 FPS version was projected in certain sessions at specific cinemas. In China, the version was only available in some cinemas in Beijing and Shanghai, with their projection equipment borrowed. What about the effect of 120 FPS? Just like 48 FPS in The Hobbit, a super-high frame rate makes images too real, with all facial details plainly visible to audiences. It was also criticized as losing the film look. A maximum frame rate that human eyes can accept, however, gives viewers a feeling of actually being there and helps them empathize with the characters. That’s why Ang Lee experimented with such a story of humanity.

The movie or even image production technologies are bound to develop toward high definition, wide color gamut, and high frame rate. We, either for production or projection, need to keep up with the times and feel the pulse of the films.


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