Cameron & Jackson are right – 60p and 3D are how our eyes see reality

This is a response to Stu Maschwitz / who wrote this ProLost blog a very well articulated piece on James Cameron and Peter Jackson’s plans to abandon 24p.

Together, Cameron and Jackson are the most commercially successful and influential filmmakers of the current era.

Avatar’s box office alone is partially responsible for why you can no longer watch a blockbuster without wearing goggles.

ProLost’s blog concerns his dislike for the aesthetics of two old technologies – 60p, the TV news aesthetic and 3D via glasses from the 1960’s. Both have reappeared recently, both in cinemas and with the latest TV sets which have 3D and overscan modes capable of up to 120hz and beyond. They are old technologies refined and sexed up, and they fail because they’re trying to jazz up what is essentially still a 2D image shot with 2D cameras.

I agree with Stu on one essential point – that 2D cinema as we know it looks ridiculous at 60p, or 120hz, or in 3D. The next generation of 3D technology isn’t ready yet both on the display and camera side. The reason we have 3D now is for box-office and TV sales reasons only. In short, it’s a gimmick to make money.

Avatar was a success regardless of 3D. A good film by all accounts. A ginormous worldwide marketing campaign with a budget almost as big as the film itself also helped, and the fact that Avatar was James Cameron’s return to filmmaking after a long hiatus of experimenting with robots under water.

So will Avatar 2 and The Hobbit at 60p and 48p respectively look like TV news?

This is where I have to disagree with Stu that the loss of 24p is a bad thing.

Stu is applying a 2D cinematic mindset to a completely different game here. What suits 2D is not what suits 3D, and visa-versa.

I strongly believe the trick is to get cinema as close to the reality of human vision as possible, and in actual fact we see at 60p in 3D.

We don’t see in 2D at 24p. 24p just happens to be the frame-rate which works best for 2D cinema.

The depth effect of 3D looks poor in 24p because the effect breaks down at the slower frame rate and stuttering is more noticeable and distracting. The smooth motion provided by 60p is distracting in 2D because of eye fatigue, and the fact that such a smooth moving image draws attention to both the 2D camera and 2D screen. So it looks artificial, electronic, and removed.

Now 60p in the 3D world enhances the immersion of the effect, drawing attention to the right things, not the wrong aspects of the screen. In 2D it draws attention to the screen itself, in 3D it draws attention to the image.

The smoothness suits 3D not just because it removes the flaws of shooting 3D at lower frame rates like 24p but because it enhances the kinetic energy in the effect and transmits the effect in a more realistic way to our brains.

Both The Hobbit and Avatar 2 will be helmed by filmmakers of the highest order who will use the effect skilfully and judiciously – only to enhance each scene and moment where appropriate rather than blanketing the effect indiscriminately on everything. Both films are shot on next generation 3D cameras and not converted in post, so this adds another more pleasing aesthetic to the production.

Avatar used 3D skilfully and a technologically advanced rig but the technology had major flaws – 24p harmed the effect (it degrades 3D, but enhances a 2D image) and the glasses were of poor quality and reduced the impact of the effect, and the brightness of the image. We need to get rid of glasses and improve the cameras.

As human beings we have depth perception, we can tell the difference between 24p and 60p. Any faster than 60p and our eyes don’t resolve it.

I am not a scientist but that is how I see my life unfolding with my own eyes – in 3D, at 60p. Its emotionally satisfying in real life, so why can’t we simulate it with cinema? In time, we can.

If 3D is to succeed and improve as a convincing effect, it needs the leading lights of the film world to take the technology in the right direction, throw away the glasses, and if the two best directors of the current era both agree that 48p and 60p is the answer then we’d better have a good reason as to why we disagree. 24p is just not right for the future of 3D.

Saying that because 60p does not work for 2D cinema is not the right argument. It works as beautifully in 3D as it does for human vision in real life.