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Following up on yesterday’s post about higher frame rates in movies, there’s another question looming. If high frame rates catch on industry-wide, what will it mean for animators?

We won’t really know for sure until the movies start coming out. But we can guess. There are televisions on the market that will play movies at 120fps regardless of how the movie was shot. They do this by creating the inbetween frames automatically, in real time. (How exactly it’s done, I’m not sure, but it’s probably some sort of optical flow technique, like Twixtor.) When you see this done to a live action movie shot at 24fps, the effect is impressive: movement really does feel incredibly smooth, and the strobing/juddering problem is minimal. But if you watch an animated movie on one of these TVs, the results are not good. Timing that felt snappy at 24fps feels mushy at 120. Eyes look bizarre during blinks. And don’t get me started on smear frames.

Of course, this is just a machine trying its best to interpolate frames according to some fixed set of rules. Animators will be able to make more intelligent choices, which of course it’s our job to do. But that’s where it gets interesting. How many frames should a blink take at 120fps? What’s the upper limit on how snappy a move can be, if you can potentially get from one pose to another in a mere 8 milliseconds? It could open up new creative possibilities too. Take staggers for example: at 24fps, if you want something to vibrate really quickly, your only option is to do it “on ones” (that is, alternating single frames). But at 120fps, you could potentially have staggers vibrating on anything from ones to fives. How will those different speeds feel to the audience?

One thing seems pretty certain: animating at 120fps would be a lot more work. For animators who agonize over every frame, it will mean five times the agony. It will certainly mean more reliance on computer assistance: more spline interpolation, fewer hand-crafted inbetweens, and forget about hand-drawing every frame! I look forward to hearing animators’ stories from the trenches on Hobbit. Will they find 48fps twice as hard, or more, or less? What tricks will they have to invent to make their job manageable?

Flickr photo courtesy of purplemattfish

Flickr photo courtesy of purplemattfish

There’s been some discussion brewing among certain filmmakers about the impact of making movies that play faster than the current standard of 24 frames per second. Peter Jackson is shooting The Hobbit at 48fps, and others are reportedly experimenting with rates like 60 or even 120.

Mixed into the discussion are some really deep misconceptions about how vision and perception actually work. People are saying things like “the human eye perceives at 60fps”. This is simply not true. You can’t quantify the “frame rate” of the human eye, because perception doesn’t work that way. It’s not discrete, it’s continuous. There is, literally, no frame rate that is fast enough to match our experience of reality. All we can do, in frame-by-frame media, is to try to get closer.

The problem is that our eyes, unlike cameras, don’t stay put. They’re active, not passive. They move around in direct response to what they are seeing. If you watch an object moving past you, your eyes will rotate smoothly to match the speed of the thing you’re looking at. If what you’re looking at is real, you will perceive a sharp, clear image of that thing. But if it’s a movie made of a series of discrete frames, you will perceive a stuttering, ghosted mess. This is because, while your eyes move smoothly, each frame of what you’re watching is standing still, leaving a blurry streak across your retina as your eyes move past it, which is then replaced by another blurry streak in a slightly different spot, and so on. This vibrating effect is known as “strobing” or “judder”.

Applying camera-based effects like motion blur only makes the mess look worse. Now, your stuttering ghosted multiple image becomes a stuttering, ghosted blurry multiple image. (The emphasis on motion blur is particularly bad in VFX-heavy action movies, which is why I try to sit near the back.)


Click the image to see a demonstration of the "judder" effect. This is what your eyes actually see when you watch an object moving back and forth on a movie screen. Even with motion blur, you can see that there's a distracting sawtooth vibration to the ball that can be reduced, but not eliminated, by increasing the frame rate.

Filmmakers tend to work around this problem by using the camera itself as a surrogate for our wandering eye: tracking what’s important so that it effectively stays put (and therefore sharp) in screen space. But you can’t track everything at once, and a movie where nothing ever moves would be very dull indeed.

I am pretty sure there is no frame rate fast enough to completely solve this problem. However, the faster the frame rate, the less blurring and strobing you’ll experience as your eyes track moving objects across the screen. So I am extremely curious to see what Jackson’s Hobbit looks like at 48fps.

There’s a second problem here, which is cultural. My entire generation was raised on high quality feature films at 24 frames, and poorer-quality television (soap operas, local news) at 60 fields per second. As a result, we tend to associate the slower frame rate with quality. Commercial and TV directors caught on to this decades ago, and started shooting at 24fps to try to get the “film look”. How will we perceive a movie that’s shot at 48fps? Will it still feel “cheap” to us? And what about the next generation, raised on video games that play at much higher frame rates? What cultural baggage will they bring into the theater with them?

Well that was fun! A bunch of us won an award from the Visual Effects Society for our work on the character of Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon. Go Toothless!

And here’s an uncut video of the award ceremony. Our part starts around 11 minutes in (and at about 14:40, you can see Raquel in the audience looking very chic!)

The “How to Make a Baby” festival tour continues, starting this coming Saturday with the first annual Stop Motion Film Festival in Los Angeles. This is the first festival I’ve heard of that’s dedicated entirely to stop motion animation. It’s in a tiny venue (55 seats!) in Echo Park, so if you’re in LA and love the medium, be sure to get there early! Here’s the whole schedule for the next few months:

As always, you can see the rest of the schedule on the festivals page.

We received our first official film festival rejection letter this morning via email. It was kind and gracious and encouraging, and beautifully written. I was so touched by the letter, in fact, that I wrote back with a quick note thanking them for the courtesy of letting us know.* I wasn’t expecting a response, it just felt like the right thing to do. Minutes later, I got an answer back from the festival director. They had sent me the wrong letter by mistake. Our film was accepted after all!


That festival was the Nevada City Film Festival, where How to Make a Baby will play in late August. Over the next two months it’ll also screen in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and New York City. It looks like the festival organizers have put together some amazing programs, so if you live near any of those cities, I highly recommend checking them out in person. You can click the images above for the dates and details, and as always, see our festivals page for the whole list of events.

*Many festivals don’t bother to inform filmmakers that their films have been rejected: you have to wait ’til they release the list of accepted films, and then search for your film in the list, a rather heartbreaking process if you were hoping to get in and didn’t!

“The Music Scene” from Anthony Francisco Schepperd on Vimeo.

I swear I’ve experienced things exactly like this during hypnagogic moments (those naturally occurring dreamlike hallucinations that sometimes happen as you’re falling asleep) as a teenager. But this guy actually spent five months in front of Flash with a tablet and stylus, making it real for the rest of us. This is what animation is all about. (via Cartoon Brew).

If you liked this video, you might also want to go back and watch Mathieu Labaye’s Orgesticulanismus one more time. That link takes you to a high-quality version I just found, with subtitles, which clarifies the intent of the film and makes the slow part just as enjoyable as the fast part… give it a look!

Two more festivals will be screening How to Make a Baby next Saturday night (May 22nd) in two different cities. The Santa Fe Reporter’s 3 Minute Film Festival (at the Lensic Performing Arts Centre, 211 W. San Francisco St., Santa Fe, New Mexico), and a reprise screening of the Santa Barbara Minute Film Festival (at Samy’s Camera, 614 Chapala Street in Santa Barbara, California). Apparently last week’s SBMFF was so popular that they sold out the entire theater, so they’ve scheduled a second screening for everyone who was turned away at the door the first time.

The film has also brought home some accolades: it earned an Honorable Mention from the Disposable Film Fest, and was voted in the Top Five by the jury at the SBMFF. We’ve submitted it to a bunch of other festivals, so stay tuned for updates. If you want to keep track of the all film’s screenings and awards, you can find the whole list on the
project’s festival page.

The DFF was such an overwhelmingly fun experience, it got us completely hooked on the film festival buzz. So over the past month I’ve been submitting “How to Make a Baby” to various festivals, and we’re starting to hear back from some of them. One of them, the Santa Barbara Minute Film Festival, is right around the corner! It’s happening on Saturday, May 1st at 8pm at the Faulkner Gallery (40 East Anapamu Street) in Santa Barbara, California. I won’t be able to make it to the event in person, unfortunately, but if you happen to be in the area, stop by the screening and let me know how it goes!