The History of Frame Rate for Film – FilmmakerIQ (2015)

This is a great breakdown of seemingly arbitrary and highly variable frame rates we experience today. Until the incorporation of sound which arrived as a superbly egalitarian/standardizing factor into the film, the frame rates were rather floppy.

This lecture by FilmmakerIQ is a part of the Technical Notes series by Nature Documentaries aiming to compile useful technical, theoretical and practical knowledge for documentary filmmakers. The compact episode introduces the historical transitions from hand-cranked cinematographic cameras into television and later to digital video.

The limits of Human visual perception and the economics of cinematographic reels required a compromise. Phi Phenomenon described by psychologist Max Wertheimer in 1912 set the foundation of the frame rate as 10-12 frames per second. Thomas Edison elevated the frame rate into 46 fps. Through a series of historical technical developments 24 fps is now seen as the norm for films. This is not a cast on stone standard however. Peter Jackson’s Hobbit for instance was shot on 48 frames per second. Veteran special effects creator and the director of the cult environmental sci-fi movie Silent Running (1972) Douglas Trumbull has been advocating for his Showscan filming using 70mm film at 60fps.

In 2011, James Cameron announced plans to film his next 3D feature in a digital version of Showscan. Cameron has been pushing for higher frame-rates to maintain the 3D effect during fast action scenes such as explosions. At 24 frames per second the 3D effect breaks down, while at 48 or 60 frames per second it is maintained. Recording at 60 frames per second using a digital camera is possible with high end digital cinema cameras with large sensors such as Red.

Digital video and high memory storage now enables ultra high frame rate filming which is particularly useful in visualizing fast events such as running cheetahs.



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