Friday, April 27, 2012

The Hobbit and the Fruit Bowl

Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings movies, is not one to let the grass grow under his technological feet. (Hair on top, I'm not sure about.) We already know this, based on the extraordinarily impressive effects in his trilogy. But now, it seems, he has screened parts of the upcoming movie The Hobbit at 48 frames-per-second, twice the speed of the traditional 24 frames-per-second and the reactions were mixed. It seems some people thought the movie just looked too real.

Isn't that interesting? What is even more interesting is that we seem to be sort of alluding to an old debate about art. Is this the new objection to "representational art"? Is Jackson giving us echoes of the perfectly and photographically-rendered bowl of fruit? (As you probably know, many fine artists think photographic-looking art is not art -- that the art comes out of the interpretation of the image. For one example, you might think of the impressionists.) We'll have to see.

My illustrator brother-in-law and I went back and forth in a few emails about this. Here's part of what he said:

I don’t know how analogous motion picture quality would be to painting, but  high detail, even if correct, often kills the illusion of reality, whereas leaving bits at varying degrees of resolution can heighten it. That's how impressionism works. I can see where the HD film just has way too much info it's communicating and overwhelms the viewer.  
"High detail...often kills reality." Indeed. Sounds oxymoronic, but I think we can all see that it is nothing of the kind.

Of course, there is a lot more to a film than its image quality. But at least some of the people in that audience don't want their films to be too real.

I wonder what happens when 3D movies get made at 48 frames-per-second. We shall have to see, I suppose.

Could it be that all of this will force screenwriters into coming up with better stories for films? I mean, a beautifully-rendered bowl of fruit is cool, but no one wants to stare at it for two hours.

I'll be watching this carefully as a story-teller. Very compelling...


  1. The Uncanny Valley is full of fruit bowls. Fruit bowls held by dead-eyed hyper-realistic children.

    This is a problem the video game industry has been trying to deal with for years, with greater or lesser success. World of Warcraft (most successful MMO in the short history of MMOs) is often criticised for its "cartoonish" artwork, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the "cartoonish" quality may be one of the reasons why WoW has been so successful. I don't feel creeped out by the graphics when I'm playing it (no comment on some of my fellow players!) as I have in some other MMO games.

    I am not sure if the encroachment of the Uncanny Valley into Hollywood will produce better stories in movies (it hasn't always in games) but I'm not especially optimistic. No one wants to look at a fruit bowl for two hours, sure, but what about giant exploding robots delivered in loving, 48-fps, hyper-realistic detail?

    1. 'nora -- sadly, I think you're right; I don't really think it will cause story to come back to life in movies. Alas. And realism is, I suppose the enemy of glorious escapism.

    2. The good news, of course, is that people still LIKE stories, most appreciate good ones, and all are generally pretty creeped out by hyper-realism (see above re: Uncanny Valley).

      So there's a market for good stories, and good storytelling. It may not be in Hollywood, but it's there. And where there's market demand, someone will provide (for a price, of course).