The hi-tech cameras used to create The Hobbit could change cinema forever

Rob Waugh

The hugely anticipated release of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ marks the return of one of cinema's technological innovators, director Peter Jackson - and the film could change the way we watch movies forever.

The movie has been filmed on Epic Red cameras which shoot at 48 frames per second.

At twice the speed of current cinema cameras these new machines are designed to make the film look smoother and more realistic.

Jackson, who introduced one of the first 'digital' characters, Gollum, in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, is breaking new ground with the 'HFR' - high frame rate - cameras.  The director likens the technological ‘leap forward’ to music’s move from vinyl record to CD.

[The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Meet the Dwarves]
[The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Watch the trailer]

Shooting largely against green screen with a whopping 48 of these new cameras (each costing well over £12,000) the 3D film is among the first to showcase the technology.

It wasn’t just a simple ‘point and shoot’ situation either.

Jackson had to build his own camera rigs with one Epic Red camera pointed at a mirror in order to capture 3D images. In addition, designers had to over-colour costumes and make-up to compensate for the cameras' tendency to desaturate images.

The makers of the cameras claim that the high-frame-rate technology is a natural evolution for cinema, and that until now, film-makers have been held back by the expense of shooting on film, rather than digital.

"It is the advent of digital cameras such as the EPIC which has enabled cinema to take advantage of HFR (High Frame Rate) presentation," says Alan Piper, Operations Manager of Red Europe.

"It would be prohibitively expensive with film. The RED EPIC has a large (35mm format) sensor with 5K resolution, capable of recording raw images up to 96 frames per second at that resolution,” says Piper.  

"As digital cinemas (and TV Screens) progress to full 4K display, EPIC can provide the original resolution necessary to fulfill that medium.

“Yes, viewers will see the difference."

The 'doubled' speed is a break with eight decades of Hollywood tradition and has already caused controversy.

Viewers at a preview at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, said that the ultra-fast frame rate actually made images look harsh and were more akin to the cameras used in 1970s TV shows.

Jackson responded by saying, "It does take you a while to get used to. Ten minutes is marginal, it probably needed a little bit more."

He also claimed that the increased frame rate actually removes blur and strobing and that the negative responses were due to the audience getting used to the 'smoother' 48-frame-per-second film.

Other types of entertainment, such as video games, already use frame rates far higher than the ‘traditional’ 24 frames per second.

“For every second you watch, twice as many single frames will flash past your eyes,” says Tom Wiggins, deputy editor of Stuff Magazine.

He explains that the increased frame rate makes the presentation “incredibly realistic and smooth”. However, Wiggins admits that detractors think some of the film-like ambience is lost; the images looking ‘too real’ and more like hi-res TV.

Wiggins goes on to reveal that perhaps UK audiences shouldn’t worry too much about the dispute seeing as “only about 35 cinemas in the UK are capable of showing 48fps footage”.

He seemed skeptical whether this new technology would become the norm claimingthat “it is more likely to become an option for film makers who want to use it rather than an industry-wide format.”

However, if we take a look at the future of television, the prospect of this technology changing our lives becomes very real.

The Epic Red cameras also shoot in 5K 'Ultra HD' with resolutions far above the 'Full HD' shown on current flat screen TVs.

The ‘Ultra-HD’ resolution of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ will coincide with a new wave of televisions capable of dealing with images four or more times sharper than today’s HD sets.

Sony has released an 84-inch ‘Ultra-HD’ set this Christmas, priced at a hefty £26,000. Prices will eventually fall, though, as the technology becomes more mainstream.

The BBC has already investigated shooting in ‘Ultra-HD’, and other manufacturers such as LG are making their own sets.

It looks like Peter Jackson might just be at the forefront of yet another giant leap in technology.

Click on the 5 rings to collect 5 letters from 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' themed pages across Yahoo! for the chance to win 4 tickets to the UK Premiere. Click here for more info.

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' is released in the UK on 13 December.

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