After 'Billy Lynn,' High Frame Rate Experiments Continue

Flamenco Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of RealD

Marking the latest experiment in high frame rates (HFR), Flamenco, a new short film about dance, was unveiled this week for members of the American Society of Cinematographers.

Flamenco takes a unique approach to HFR. It was shot at 120 frames per second in 3D, as well as in 192 fps in 2D for additional testing. Then, after some clever image processing with the RealD TrueMotion system, it was finished and projected in 3D at today’s standard 24 fps. For further testing, a 60 fps 3D version is now in postproduction.

The goal of the project, produced by RealD, is to further explore the possibilities of creating a variety of looks with creative use of frame rates for production and/or exhibition.

Flamenco was directed by Demetri Portelli, a leading stereo supervisor who oversaw the 3D on such films as Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Jean Pierre-Jeunet’s The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet and most recently Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

“The concept is the more frames the better, to start with,” Portelli tells The Hollywood Reporter of the thinking behind the experiment. “Then we could create ‘better’ 24 fps images with the post processing, meaning that we could make it more comfortable to watch without the judder [i.e. shaking] and motion artifacts, while preserving the aesthetics of 24 fps.”

It can also be used for select portions of an image in order to, for instance, get rid of the so-called wagon-wheel effect (the illusion that a wheel is rotating in the opposite direction that it is actually moving in).

Incorporating True Motion processing could also be used to prep images for HFR projection (an early version of the True Motion system was used for portions of Billy Lynn, to simulate the look of 60 fps).

Flamenco was lensed by director of photography Bill Bennett, using Arri Alexa XT cameras on Cameron Pace 3D rigs. For the 2D, he used an Alexa Mini. The production also incorporated Arri Master anamorphic lenses — rarely tested for native 3D up to this point — and Master Primes. Ben Gervais, technical supervisor on Billy Lynn, consulted on the 3D. Arri provided the cameras.

HFR films such as Billy Lynn and Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy have polarized audiences, with detractors saying the process creates an unpleasing "video look." But there's also a camp of filmmakers who are anxious to learn more about the potential of creative use of frame rates and who also believe that it will greatly improve the 3D viewing experience.

One of them is James Cameron, who has said that he wants to incorporate the use of HFR and 3D for his Avatar sequels. Lee hasn’t yet stated his plans for his next film, Gemini Man, which Paramount has given an Oct. 4, 2019, release date.

Where HFR projection is concerned, a key issue has been the availability of projectors. There are certain projector versions that can handle up to 60 fps. For 120 fps, the Billy Lynn release had only a handful of installed projectors, since only the Christie Mirage projection system could handle this format. More recently, Sony and Samsung introduced LED walls for cinema, as a proposed replacement for traditional projection. The Samsung system can accommodate up to 60 fps and Sony claims its system can play 120 fps.

Home entertainment is also exploring frame rates. The Ultra HD Blu-Ray technical blueprint can support up to 60 fps, and Billy Lynn was the first commercial release in the U.S. to go out in 60 fps and at 4K resolution.