Monday, December 10, 2012

The Hobbit - Some Unexpected Visual Effects

The Hobbit is in cinemas from Thursday
Film producer and friend of FLIP Bob Thompson went to a private screening of The Hobbit - an Unexpected Journey in London on Sunday, followed by a Q&A with the director. We invited Bob to share with us some of his thoughts about the film, and especially some technical notes on the highly unusual way in which it was made.

FLIP: So how was The Hobbit?

Bob: I got to see The Hobbit early and first off lets be clear - I thoroughly enjoyed it. But there are some odd "look" issues with the film.

FLIP: What do you mean by that?

Bob: I am not entirely sure exactly why it looks so odd. The Hobbit was shot at 48 Frames per second, but this may not be the issue so much as the rather odd 3D compositing choices. The last CGI film I worked on had a budget below £5m (less than the tea and coffee budget for the Hobbit) but we saw a lot of the same compositing issues. We ended up re-compositing much of the film with a narrow depth of field and 'dirtied up' the image with film grain to hide this.

This issue seems to be cropping up in a lot of 3D features, so I called up a friend who is 3D TD (Technical Director) last night. We discussed the issue and have come up with some possible reasons, but nothing conclusive and thought it would be interesting to put the question out to a few friends in the community to see what knowledge we could collectively gleen.

Possible issues:

1. To get lots of 3d depth directors are using unnaturally long depth of focus to push the illusion but the end result feels less cinematic.

2. Filming at 48 fps and 4k allows the eye to see that the focal depth is unnaturally long - when previously subtle errors were hidden from naked eye.

3. Compositing software is not letting artists see preview layers in enough detail before hitting render - so artists are having to guestimate and the waiting time on renders is so long and expensive that the director/dop cant keep pushing retake enough times and still make schedule. Especially now that 4k + 48fps projection is exposing even very tiny miscalculations and render times are increasing by a factor of 4 or 8 times where they were 2 years ago.

4. Artists and software might need to re-examine the accuracy of their calculations regarding DaVinci principle of blue/grey compensation over distance when mastering for higher frame rates and resolutions.

5. We have a generation (artists and viewers) who have become accustomed to the look of video game graphics and see moving image in a different way from those of us who grew up on film.

I thought it would be interesting to get some feedback.

(Editor's Note: You can also read our review of The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey, here:)

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