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University of Copenhagen Faculty of Humanities Department of Media, Cognition and Communication Course: Digital Effects and Cinematic Storytelling Module: Film/television history and analysis Curriculum: Film Studies (2008) Instructor: Casper Tybjerg Winter 2012-13

DIGITAL CINEMA AND THE PARADOX OF REALISM:

AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY WITH THE HOBBIT

Antonio Monachello (fcb642) curriculum: Media Studies (M.A.) 2008 mob.: 50146326

Digital cinema and the paradox of realism:

an unexpected journey with The Hobbit

1. Introduction

The discussions made upon the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey enter the continuous fray about the future of cinema. Shot with digital cameras at 48fps, it was released by Warner Bros Pictures in December 2012 in several different formats, including 2D, 3D, IMAX, IMAX 3D and HFR 3D (high frame rate). 1 It received mixed to positive reviews from critics, while the audience appreciation seems to be higher. 2 3 In response to this movie there were raised a lot of questions about the much debated digital cinema (as any movie coming with some, debatable, new conventions), when considering for example the possibilities for the use of a different frame rate in capture and projection in cinema, and also about the reasons for the different experiences and the distinction of quality in digital cinema.

This paper will question the nature of digital cinema between the concepts of realism, unrealism and hyperrealism, its relationship to analogue film-making, and the relationships to the viewers and their supposed suspension of disbelief. It will assess the discussion on both our look at the object and our look at the experience, on how and why higher frame rate could be felt differently by spectators, while we witness the progress at a steady rate of digital modes of projection in theatres.

This paper will try to delineate the paradoxical explanations about this apparent shift in the discourse of cinema: from the “real” film to the “unreal” bits, based on the differences in capture and projection, and at the same time, from the “unreal” magic of analog cinema to the “real” clarity and sharpness of digital cinema. In this I would like to avoid simplifying statements about the aesthetics in the digital techniques, used in a everchanging reality to transmit subjective aesthetic experiences, while stressing the importance of continuity when discussing them. Nevertheless, as we will see, one perspective is also irreversibly influenced by the other. Thus, the task is quite difficult if we look more to the “matter” of movies or to the “experience” of movies, and if we try to use in a precise way the expression “digital

1 thehobbit.com (2012). The Hobbit FAQ http://www.thehobbit.com/hfr3d/faq.html Accessed on Dec 14, 2012

2 Rottentomatoes.com The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_hobbit_an_unexpected_journey Accessed on Dec 14, 2012

cinema”, which is a complex concept and surrounded by misconceptions. Therefore, in the first part there will be a presentation of theories and concepts on indexicality. I aim to explore the use of digital techniques and the notions of analog and digital cinema between the realist and the formalist approaches, while making an attempt to summarise the trends provoked by the “new” medium. The second part will be more about the phenomenology, and it will drawn the usual comparison of digital movies (be them also 3D or using higher frame rate) to television and video games serving as prime examples.

I will try to avoid what Gunning (2004) fears, i.e. ignoring the complexities that visual media presented in their history, thus reificating photochemical and analog media or electronic and digital ones. Something shared by Chandler (1996), which warns us about the technological determinism in both the pessimistic and the optimistic form and the “very broad use of the terms, [which makes McLuhan's] famous claim that "the medium is the message" even more dramatic. Such broad claims are open to the criticism of "reification" (treating the referent as if it were a single, undifferentiated object).” 4 The paper will therefore address the perceived dichotomies between spectacle and narrative, and between the old and new generations in the suspension of disbelief, focusing instead on the concept of familiarity. Lastly, an analysis of The Hobbit, not forgetting the history of cinema and the continuity from its origin.

2. Scope and motivations

Previous exams focused on digital distribution in film organisations and institutions, a discussion declined along the perceived dichotomy of Hollywood vs Europe, entertainment vs art; 5 then on the production level, with the writing of a film script adapted from a video game. 6 Here the aesthetic experiences in digital cinema gain the main stage.

3. Methodology and limitations

The discussion will analyse the discourses beginning from realist theories and focusing on the experimental nature of cinema and technologies before the spread in uses of conventions and standards. Assuming the role of an almost timeless flâneur 7 , I will try to avoid the observer

4 Chandler, D. (1996). The Tone of Technological Determinism. http://www.december.com/cmc/mag/1996/feb/chantone.html Accessed on Dec 15, 2012

7 Chandler, D., & Munday, R. (2011). observer bias. In Oxford University Press, A Dictionary of Media and

bias 8 to present a more comprehensive look, with e.g. a tentative inclusion of engineering and neuroscientific aspects, since ultimately every audiovisual experience in the whole history of cinema was and can be better explained by including other disciplines. It will nonetheless suffer from a sort of Western-Centrism, while the analysis of The Hobbit will mostly include film critics reviews and comments made before or shortly after the release.

4. Cinema and the analogue and digital reality

What is cinema? Nothing. What does cinema want? Everything. What can cinema do? Something. — Jean-Luc Godard, Histoire(s) du cinéma (quoted in Silverman, 2002)

What is cinema? Theorists, professionals and fans asked themselves this question throughout the last 120 years without concurring on an answer. Today this medium is gaining an apparent new virtual life, more and more as digital projection in movie theatres gains prominence. Is cinema changing? According to the latest statistics “the growth that led Europe to start 2012 with over half its screens converted to the new technologies is thus continuing.” Digital projection reached 60.5.% in the first half of 2012 in the 35 European countries monitored, with 3D screens are estimated to be between 50 and 60% of the digital screens. 9

The replacement of film stocks in the movie exhibition sector goes up to the experiments and public demonstrations in the 1920s and 1930s, reaching its limited success in 1939 with the British cinema television, installed in five theatres, and in early 1952 in the U.S.A., with 102 electronic theatres. Starting from the 1960s, the electronic cinema would be associated with media activists and video art, but video and film, as Willis (2008) reminds, reprising Binkley, did not have fluid boundaries even then. In the following decades the efforts were limited to the uses of electronic production (especially in television) and post-production tools, along

Communication.

9780199568758-e-1000 Accessed on Dec 14, 2012

8 Chandler, D., & Munday, R. (2011). observer bias. ibid.

9780199568758-e-1902 Accessed on Dec 14, 2012

9 MEDIA SALLES (2012) MEDIA Salles presents the new statistics at the Venice Film Festival. Europe’s digital screens grow by 17% in the first six months of 2012 http://www.mediasalles.it/meet/venezia_pr.htm Accessed on Dec 18, 2012

with new multi-channel sound systems, while in recent years we witnessed the beginning of screenings in digital cinemas across the world.

Debates on the nature of the digital aspect in cinema and on both the similarities and the differences with its analog form have been largely considered in contemporary film theory in an ontological perspective, with also the acknowledgement of the emergence of digital technologies at every different level of film-making, with the uses of digital tools in capture and projection considered often as the cheapest solution. Now, as film prints slowly “disappear”, the discussion becomes more complicated. As Trifonova (2011:1) notes, the most important strand in the debates are the critical revival of Bazin and Kracauer amongst others, and the interest to the relation of cinema with photography, which brought back “questions of indexicality” and “a rethinking of medium specificity away from the idea of medium as a material or physical support.”

Moreover, the digital practices in cinema have often been seen by critics as being detrimental to the storytelling, especially in blockbusters from Hollywood, as Lavik (2009) and McClean (2007) exemplify in the introductions, or as enabler of a more democratic landscape in media (Willis, 2008).

4.1 The unrealism in digital capture and projection

“As we will see, theory has construed realism solely as a matter of reference rather than as a matter of perception as well. It has neglected what I will term in this essay "perceptual realism." This neglect has prevented theory from understanding some of the fundamental ways in which cinema works and is judged credible by viewers.” — Stephen Prince (1996:2)

Following Prince's advice, the discussion will try to recognise the interplay between theoretical-ontological and sociological factors in the different perspectives offered in film theory about the photographic and cinematographic indexicality. Chandler provides a framework upon which we can place those perspectives, around the concepts of technological determinism. 10 Gunning (2007) openly writes about “the nonsense that has been generated specifically about

10 see note 4.

the indexicality of digital media (which, due to its digital nature, has been claimed to be nonindexical—as if the indexical and the analog were somehow identical)” (p. 3) and that “parallels between aspects of Bazin’s theory of cinematic realism and the index do exist, even if they cannot explain the totality of his theory of cinematic realism.” (p. 5)

Prince's stance is met also by exponents of what can be called realist film theory, such as Rodowick (2007), which investigates this interplay. He follows Bazin's (The ontology of the photographic image) and Wollen's ideas along the realism film theory path, explaining the ontological link between film grain and reality, with the light captured and impressed on the celluloid with no transformation, stemming a sort of directness in this “automatic analogical causation”. Willis (2008:5) reminds us, though, that even in the analog video the camera transmits an analogue signal, “composed of continuously varying waveforms”, and how both video and film share the generational loss through duplication. When going digital, instead, such link is thought to be broken. While he speaks about the virtuality of cinema as it was, Rodowick argues about the fundamental difference between analog and digital cinema trying to answer to Mongolte's negative question by personally looking at the matter in sight.

The negation in the question, though, reflects a reification similar to the position of scholars such as Manovich, in that digital, instead of analog, brings light and image into the “computer cosmogony”, transformed into “numerical abstracts”, not letting it “communicate duration” or, for Manovich, that a digital film is a function, that “time becomes spatialized” or that animation gains prominence compared to film and movies.

Can a question like “Why the digital image cannot transmit duration?” become “Why can't I grasp duration? When/when was/am I?”, without stressing the importance of the material form of the medium? Before moving away from the index, it's worth take a look at the reality in a slightly different way, maybe a bit (pun intended) away from film theory.

4.2 Indexicality and reality thresholds

Still reprising Prince (1996), “film theory needs now closer attention to what viewers see on the screen, how they see it, and the relation of these processes to the larger issue of how viewers see.”

Where are bits? One might ask. Are they in space and/or in time? Why is Rodowick afraid of imagining pictures as containing numbers? or information? Are there numbers in the film grain? (p. 119) Sadly, there can be. McMullan (2011) presents a particular point of view which follows Gunning (2004) in the explanation on how digital matter possesses indexicality. He draws insight from contemporary theories of science, still remembering their limits and lack of staticity. A way that stresses not just, e.g. the importance of scientific research in the technical aspects of capture, but is followed also within theory, as it has tentatively been done by the cognitive film theory branch, so that he “encourage(s) a closer inspection of the similarities between digital and analog photographs, instead of focusing primarily on accentuating their differences.” He writes that “Peirce in no way excluded the format of storage of indexicality when defining it; it needed merely possess a direct connection to the signified.” His position about the “indexicality [being] actually quite removed from cinema altogether” even if only “in the sense that the index as experienced by the audience in the cinema has a direct connection with the reality that was before the camera during image capture”, seems on the other hand too radical.

Discussing about the capacity of the human mind, we can consider that we were and are able

to count with a slide-rule or an abacus, as Shores (2009) does: “we compute numerical values on a slide rule by sliding one rule (ruler) past another and then relating their (logarithmic)

In contrast, an abacus does not have a continuous scale of values, but

The abacus is digital and the slide-rule is analog; yet, the

precise criteria for distinguishing these types of computation has been a matter of debate.”

rather discrete counting-markers [

scales to each other. [

]

]

Moreover, film theory has usually given prominence to the visual aspect, while the auditory system has maybe been privileged by music theory, leaving behind the auditory system and a more comprehensive understanding about how we analyse space, time, light and sound, with the aspect of sync also not being analysed thoroughly. When speaking about the possibilities of an analog or a digital camera in space and time, we can turn our attention to science, which is as usual going beyond the human threshold. Film capture is of course not limited to 24 frames per second, so even on film it was possible to shoot with high speed cameras at speeds approaching several million frames per second, with e.g. the experiments conducted by

Harold Hedgerton. 11 These inspired the digital ones, now going up to one trillion frames per second. 12 Interestingly, Orrom (1954) talks about impossible shots comparing cinema to theatre, in a way similar to how McClean (2007) writes about digital shots, impossible for a film camera.

Deleuze (cited in Shores, 2009) talks also about the digital and analog mode of communication in art. We could and should distinguish between different uses of the words, but we could argue that painting with computers relates more to the, following Deleuze, employed by Francis Bacon than to any other (more) analog one, even if only to note that the structure surfaced more in those by Bacon, to a certain extent which always varies. Images and statues, for example, were constructed using formulas. But what about the degrade, the death of digital?

4.3 After-images?

Digital copies have no degrade in quality? It may be, but still they share a fate similar to that of analog ones. In recent times, especially after the problem of the preservation of films has been addressed, the same problem emerged in its digital form. 13 Growth and change have been observed even on digital displays. Different qualities of digital have been witnessed and now video has reached a quality deemed equivalent to that of analog projection in cinemas (Prince,

2006).

While the focus on the apparent differences of digital and analog cinema was mostly first declined by looking at the indexicality and the spectacle of an digital unreality, now eve the digital, apart from a explanation considering ideological and social aspects, is sometimes considered real. Sometimes maybe too real, with its detailed bright reality often compared to what we see by watching television and playing video games. McMullan (2011:11) borrowing from Allen and Bolter, defines transparency as the moment “when, in the viewer’s experience, the medium is effectively erased and the technologies and techniques that support it effaced.

11 tonyrogers.com (nd) Harold Edgerton A High-Speed Motion Photography Expert and Pioneer http://www.tonyrogers.com/weapons/images/high_speed_photos Accessed on Dec 30, 2012

12 Ted Talk (2012) Ramesh Raskar: Imaging at a trillion frames per second http://www.ted.com/talks/ramesh_raskar_a_camera_that_takes_one_trillion_frames_per_second.html Accessed on Dec 30, 2012

13 Inderscience (2010, November 23) Saving our data from digital decay. ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101116072749.htm Accessed on Dec 30, 2012

With regard to moving images it can be defined as how “realistic” or “authentic” the image appears.” We will return to this later. Now, let's move.

5. (Hyper)realism in digital cinema: perception of movement and narrative

“Le cinéma est l’art du mouvement et de la lumière” [Cinema is the art of movement and light].” — Dulac, G. (nd:394) Aesthetics, Obstacles, Integral Cinegraphie. Trans. Stuart Liebman (quoted in Gunning, 2007)

In his attempt to move away from discussion upon indexicality of the image, Gunning stresses the importance of the concept of movement in cinema, which has always been associated with the 24 frame per second convention, especially from the dawn of sound cinema. He covers the issue about the physical (and at the same time mental, we might specify) reactions created by watching motion and “considering [that] this sensation of kinesthesia avoids the exclusive visual and ideological emphasis of most theories of spectatorship and acknowledges instead that film spectators are embodied beings rather than simply eyes and minds somehow suspended before the screen.” (p. 11)

This view clashes with the one proposed by Rodowick (2007:177). He writes about the digital image bearing an inseparability from the (interactive) screen, expressive of a “temporal state that draws us toward the future rather than engaging us in the past. Here the spectator is no longer a passive viewer yielding to the ineluctable flow of time, but rather alternates between looking and reading as well as immersive viewing and active controlling.”

This duality might come from the different choice in what we think is at the basis of the cinematic experience. It was thought to be based on the persistence of vision theory, but for

Nichols and Lederman (1980, quoted in Herbert, nd), “virtually every

account of the

perception of movement in film texts [is] wrong. The impression of movement is not due to persistence of vision. The very persistence with which this "explanation" has been recited says

more about the hermetic and impressionistic world of some film scholarship than it does

This fusion occurs regardless of whether motion is

about the actual mechanisms involved [

perceived or not. The appearance of a continuously visible series of images, in other words, is a phenomenon distinct from the appearance of motion. "

]

Anderson and Anderson (1993) clarify about the myth of the persistence of vision, “an inaccurate and inadequate explanation of the apparent motion found in a motion picture” (p. 1), rehabilitating Wertheimer's work on the beta movement, in the range between 30 and 60 Hz, and the phi phenomenon, occurring at speeds between 60 and 200 Hz, and their work (that had little effect) done in 1978.

Herbert traces the acknowledgement of the problems with the persistence of vision theory to film engineers almost one hundred years ago: “In his opinion the continuity of the cinematographic vision is due to no such physiological phenomenon as persistence, but is purely an illusion. It is psychological, and not physiological at all." ((Cinema Notes, Amateur Photographer, 3 March 1913), quoted in Herbert (nd))

Reprising the transparency concept, digital has then been considered also as being both more real, in a good, credible, way, e.g. in Dogma 95 films (“hoping idealistically for some way to connect with the authentic”, Willis, 2008:29), or in a bad, cheap way, mostly in television (reality and soap) and video games. But to what extent then can we talk about the perception of reality without considering the “movements”, or why “new” media seems “more real” or “worst” at telling stories? Some scholars such as Murray and Ouellette (2008) try to trace some similarities between reality TV and neorealism in cinema, a proposal surely met with more than just one raised brow. Lastly then, borrowing the question from Lavik (2009) about attractions and narrative: “Is it possible – and reasonable – to construct an historical argument out of these differences?” The differences of the ideal positions between “organic” and “mechanistic” narratives are, according to him, “deeply ingrained in our culture”, and very hard to disregard. (p. 14)

Still, McMullan (2011:15) “believe[s] that in some ways video technology has always been more transparent than film, such as in representing movement more accurately, possessing an increased depth-of-field, and exhibiting instantaneity of distribution.” What differentiates (and in the end connect with) his view from the one by Rodowick is the motivation for this belief, being “not because I feel it has any increased power over, or direct connection with, anything “real” or “true to life””, but only because of nostalgia.

The discussion will then go through the concepts hyperreal and uncanny and how do we react to them and to the movement perceived from moving pictures while we're following narrative structures. Somehow, sometimes images become in a way too real, but it ultimately depends on the subject. Something similar may apply to our cognitive grasp on the narrative and on the technical display.

5.1 Digital effects and narrative

“People love great stories. They love to get into a world and have an experience. And how they get there — it doesn’t really matter.” — David Lynch, in Side by side (2012)

In recent time the long lasting discussion about spectacle and excess in film gained prominence in light of the digital technologies used. Lavik (2008), citing Gunning, stresses “that the emergence of narrative did not cause the cinema of attractions to disappear, but rather to live on as a kind of energizing element in narrative and certain avant-garde films.” Nonetheless there has been a trend, especially in film critics reviews, that claims about digital effects being detrimental to storytelling (McClean:1-14). We will avoid those broad critiques and focus instead on the uses of spectacular (digital) effects and/in narrative.

Musser (1994) explains that “if we think of “attractions” as non-narrative aspects of cinema that create curiosity or supply pleasure, attractions of some kind can be found in virtually all narrative films (in fact in all cinema). More specifically, Hollywood cinema and its uses of cinematic form cannot be explained by its efforts simply to tell stories.” Do we really then speak cinema that differently in Europe? Or did we? According to North (2007:3) we can find more about “the origins of filmic special effects [in] the practice of theatrical illusions in nineteenth-century magic shows, partly as a way of exploring the legacy of pre-cinematic techniques of illusion and partly as the result of a need to situate the work of Georges Méliès more effectively within that history.”

Keating (2006) with his alternation model considers “attractions [as] more than just interruptions. Narrative more than just an organizing structure” and that “rather than theorizing the relationship between narrative and attractions as one of struggle, we can recognize [they] can often cooperate to create an intensified emotional response.”

Such approach is replicated by Lavik (2009): he delineates a dichotomy highlighting the key differences in film-making, placing them in caricatured positions: on the left we have “Large- scale attraction, Mechanistic, Springboard for a story, The point of the narrative, Plotting Filmmaking-by-committee, Lowest-common-denominator attraction, Commercial/compromised”, on the right: “Small-scale attraction, Organic, Springboard for the story, Interesting starting point, “Real creation”, Gifted individual, Mysterious/indefinable attraction, Artistic/uncompromised.” While, as he writes, it's “relatively easier to talk about films like Magnolia and American Beauty using words and phrases from the column on the right hand side”, still, as he recognises, “some of the criteria are rather fuzzy, and sometimes they overlap; some tie into other large and unwieldy issues that I haven’t touched upon here, such as authorial intentionalism.” (p. 9) While proposing his framework, he also advices about the ambiguity of the notions, and the bias we might have in presence of critical consensus on earlier film, when “comparing the best of the past with the current average.” (p. 15), reminding us also that Méliès said to construct scenario as a pretext for the “stage effects”, the “tricks”.

Moreover, the framework for the narrative use of digital visual effects in film by McClean (2007) also does not offer a categorisation of film themselves, since usually more than just one category apply to a film. She lists “eight categories of effects usage: Documentary, Invisible, Seamless, Exaggerated, Fantastical, Surrealist, New Traditionalist, and HyperRealist.” (p. 73). The authorial intentionalism is touched on a more professional level.

5.2 (Hyper)realism in digital cinema: CGI

The lack of clarity in the aforementioned frameworks arises especially when considering the the effect we might have when watching “perceptually realistic works [in which the makers used] animation techniques.” (McClean, 2007:99) The basis for the analysis is as usual occupied by the Uncanny valley theory 14 . The more than unclear categorisation would be better seen as a heterogeneous group of phenomena, since it does not include for example any consideration upon the familiarity and, if present, the narrative of such representations. McClean (2007:102) underlines the importance of taking into consideration the contextual

14 Mori, M. (2012). on Ieee Spectrum's blog. The Uncanny Valley. http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/the-uncanny-valley Accessed on Dec 30, 2012

relationship of the digital effects to the story, and “assertions about spectacularity of DVFx 15 in films also needs to be provided the context of specific instances in order to clarify the nature of the spectacularity.”

Moreover, the practice of motion capture alone seems to hold more than what has been said, such as questions covering not just the perception of uncanny sensations in relation to robot or CGI. We could turn our attention to the acting performance or to the perception of movement and meaning: we watch movies by using both our visual and auditory systems, and even within science, it's still not completely clear how the humans perceive and make meaning of the world around them. Some research has been done. 16 But what about speech then, e.g. the McGurk effect? The perceptual phenomenon indicating an interaction between hearing and vision in speech perception, which, Boersma (2006) notes, “is less strong for people who are used to watching dubbed movies and have therefore learned to ignore visual cues to some extent.”

5.3 A digital suspension of disbelief?

“Any serious attempt to understand cognition, emotions and language, devoid of a ‘global perspective’, appears to be doomed to failure.” — Gallese, 2003

To what extent we can then say digital cinema is more “real” or more “unreal”? When did we begin to grasp reality from a screen? North (2007) historically links cinema to magic: “the spectator is enjoying both a diegetic event and a display of mechanical virtuosity in which the viewer’s scopic acuity is pitted against the film-maker’s deft elision of the traces of technical contrivances. This bifurcated mode of viewing, focused as it is on both the illusion and its manufacture, can be seen as an effective way to conceptualise the principles upon which magic performance relies.” Going further back, Coleridge called this phenomenon the “willing suspension of disbelief” while justifying his writing about fantastic characters. 17 Surely we could go further, but we will stop here. Holland (2008) focuses on the control we have: “psychological experiments show, however,

15 Digital Visual Effects.

16 Group Sigma (2011). What influence does music in visual content have on human reaction/behavior?. A qualitative research using EEG. http://staff.science.uva.nl/~ghebreab/ICC2011/Sigma.pdf Accessed on Dec 30, 2012

17 cited in Holland, N. N. (2008).

that during our experience of any narrative, we do not suspend disbelief. We believe, and then we partly disbelieve. Our brains link reality-testing to action and the possibility of action to change what we are perceiving. If we cannot change it, our brains need not test its reality, and they don't. When responding to works of art, Kant and other aestheticians point out, we are

'disinterested'.” Still, while writing that “we do not plan to act in relation to the literary work”, nonetheless, while “reading a book of poems, we are boss. We can put the book down any

this fundamental difference in control that leads to the wholly

time we feel like it. [

different ‘feel’ of television from movies, even when the television program simply shows a movie. We can switch channels with television, not with a movie or a play”, with the exception being the interactive book.

]

How could it be that only movies and books correctly suspend our disbelief? How has it gained so importance? Do we really think that only a continuous stream of 24 fps is magical and oniric, while if we are watching a DVD we are over-critic? What about movies in television? Or is it just a matter of our predisposition to the experience? It is worth to draw insight from other fields: Voisen (2010:32) in his experimental thesis tests the artificial intelligence capacity to narrate stories, finding out that those tests were “not characterized as a binary pass or no-pass situation, but instead measure[d] on a continuous, and subjective, spectrum. The effectiveness of a piece to invoke an emotional response may fluctuate from interaction to interaction and from person to person. What draws one viewer to suspend his or her disbelief may irritate the next and destroy any potential for the illusion.”

6. A really open analysis of The Hobbit: An unexpected journey (2012)

“THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SET CAMERA SPEED” — 1915 projectionist's handbook (quoted in Brownlow, 1980)

As stated above, the movie spawned a series of complaints which reflect those made about digital and 3D movies, especially the one about being commercially-driven. Directed by Peter Jackson, it was released in three different versions: 2D, 3D and 3D High frame rate. This particular choice was met with praise and criticism, positive and negative expectations, as normal. Only a gimmick or finally an experiment? Can it be both?

While the public seems to enjoy it more, the reviews were more mixed. One of the complaints

was about the frame rate: there was “too much detail in every frame that the magical filter of cinema that makes most 24 fps film so pleasing to the eye is gone; every prop on a set too clear, and even a performance by someone like the very fine Ian McKellen looks embarrassingly, unnaturally theatrical. Moving images, especially walking Hobbits and dwarves - not as much the CG creatures, for what it's worth - flit at odd speeds that just never look right.” 18

Someone had to write afterthoughts about the differences in reception and watched again and liked better the movie in the 24 fps 2D version. 19 Nonetheless, even reviewers try sometimes to find about the others and our experience as it could be described “objectively”. Laforet is interested in “finding (unusually respectful) dissent – with people finding they feel the exact opposite. Or didn’t notice the effect at all. While others couldn’t agree more.” He spots two unscientific gathered trends, one about young people being more receptive, the other about the “people that went to the film without knowing about HFR [which] seem to have reacted much more positively than people who went in there to specifically see the new HFR technique.” 20

The other major point of interest is the length. While the previous three movies were adapted from one novel divided in three volumes, The Lord of the Rings, now they are preparing three movies from one novel, a children's book with less epic tones. Again it could be viewed as a way to sell, in a bad or good way, more story, while Thompson (2012) writes that “perhaps [she] will be disappointed upon seeing the film, but all the evidence so far indicates that the writers have been inventive and careful in expanding the project. Moreover, the trailers suggest that the technology used to create Gollum and to manipulate the sizes of the actors has improved since LOTR.”

According to McClean (2007:144), Gollum in The Lord of the Rings “has elevated the degree of acceptance of fully digital characters, and the morph of his transformation from hobbit (portrayed by an actor) to corrupted lost soul assists in audience acceptance of the CG

18 Yamato, J. (2012). 'The Hobbit' At 48 FPS: A High Frame Rate Fiasco? http://movieline.com/2012/12/04/hobbit-48-fps-frame-rate-fiasco-review-peter-jackson Accessed on Jan 2,

2013

Accessed on Jan 2, 2013

20 Laforet, V. (2012). The Hobbit: An Unexpected Masterclass in Why HFR fails, and a reaffirmation of what makes cinema magical http://blog.vincentlaforet.com/2012/12/19/the-hobbit-an-unexpected-masterclass-in- why-hfr-fails-and-a-reaffirmation-of-what-makes-cinema-magical Accessed on Jan 2, 2013

performance. Further, he is beautifully realized using motion capture, animation, and, in most shots, verisimilitudinous compositing.” Converging the focus on his personalities, can he be hyperreal as an acceptable “hybrid” and at the same time as an unacceptable “fast moving” character? Or does it depend on more ineffable variables?

Which category then, can we borrow from the frameworks of the uses of digital effects in narrative? To what extent do we know them only by analysing the interplay between effects and narrative? Writing about the first trilogy and adaptation, McClean (2007:147) notes that “Jackson demonstrates both the ability to get to the heart of the story and its deepest themes and also complete awareness of how to use DVFx to meet narrative drive.” Unfortunately, including the (literary) adaptation theory and fidelity would have enlarged too much the scope of this paper, and moreover, a complete comparative analysis between the novel and the movies would have to wait the next two. Still, judgement on the running time can be done and it is found in the reviews: the length of scenes is felt sometimes as too long or that there is too much “telling”. Nonetheless, under an authorial point of view, it is worth noting that, compared to the other films, there is the same director, almost the same people in the production, recurring characters are played by the same actors (except of course for the “young” protagonist of the adventure), and sometimes the same music. 21 But in the end, are they authors or “simple” workers?

So, reprising the suspension of disbelief, if someone does not “believe” in this movie or any other movie, must it be only for the high frame rate? Or because his/her mind thinks it can or should act, and why? In the cinema we cannot act, yet we can think and focus our attention on something, especially if it is annoying.

This feeling of hyperreal could come from the comparation of the quality of the images we watch, what is being communicated in that “form”, and also our particular frame. So when someone watches a moving image without film grain, highly detailed and “fast-moving”, the brain might prepare itself to experience a content it is been familiar to receive in one way, i.e. someone might expect Peter Jackson to pop up from the screen and talk about the beauty of New Zealand. Therefore we could have had different experiences which in turn produce

21 Barron, N. (2012). 6 Gripes About The Hobbit That Aren’t About the 48 fps http://www.wired.com/geekmom/2012/12/6-gripes-hobbit Accessed on Dec 30, 2012

different expectations. I always try to watch movies at home (or playing video games that also tell a story) with a suspension of disbelief coming from the silence around and the willingness to not suspend the “play”. Similar to that in cinema theatres, but without any phone ringing nor displays browsed, nor comments, nor smell of pop corn, nor movement, like a kick in the chair, coming from the people around, which on the other hand, could be better appreciated by others. Some may feel more emotional while watching news told with a dramatic soundtrack, which in turn I despise. I am more familiar with my particular way, but does it stay the same? Can this predisposition change only in a few minutes?

Moreover, how can we talk objectively about our experiences? What about our retelling of the experience or the mirror neurons? Is it “uncanny” or “real” even/only for me/you? Chandler (1998) for example cites James Elkins' (1996, 38-9) “ten different ways of looking at a figurative painting in a gallery”. Couldry (2004), after reminding that a link between sociology and media theory has been established in regards to television, suggests “to think about how people’s cognitive and emotive frameworks are shaped by the underlying features of the networks in which they are situated.” But this theory of systems “between human and non-human actors, has very little to say about processes that come after the establishment of networks: what comes after – the acts of interpretation and attachment – becomes mysterious because, by definition, it cannot be encompassed in an account of how the broad infrastructures of actors and objects (on which, to be sure, it depends) have emerged.” This could be linked to the metaphor of the sun by Plato, “when [the soul] inclines to that region which is mingled with darkness, the world of becoming and passing away, it opines only and its edge is blunted, and it shifts its opinions hither and thither, and again seems as if it lacked reason.” 22

The larger the dataset of what we could say (maybe with some machine learning 23 ) about our feelings towards movies is, the less seems to be easy to speak about those in general terms. Still we can say something more about them.

22 Greek Texts & Translations. Plato, Republic (English) http://perseus.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/citequery3.pl? dbname=GreekTexts&getid=1&query=Pl.%20Resp.%20509a Accessed on Jan 2, 2013

23 LSE Research: The Mathematics of Machine Learning http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0rKHh1l7Ts Accessed on Jan 2, 2013

6.1 Audiovisual simplicity (standard/convention) and Familiarity (look/ feel)

“The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein (2001,§ 129)

Only 24 frames per second gives a cinematic look? Or is it “just” a standard? Is high frame rate only digital? 48 fps was reached even on film, e.g. in experiments by Douglas Trumbull, but it was never used extensively. 24 Discussion on the cinematic look then should not consist of solely a debate between 24, 48 or 60 fps, but include everything we can say at least about the movement of the camera, the movement in the frame, the shutter, the frame rate in capture and in conversion (if any), and in projection. “The Hobbit was shot at 48p, but with a shutter angle of 270°. This translates to a shutter speed of 1/64 of a second. The traditional “film

look” rule for film is that the shutter speed should be twice the frame rate. For 24p, the shutter

One source said the shutter angle for The Hobbit was chosen

speed is usually 1/48. [

specifically to work with 24p, though if that were the case, why not shoot at 1/48? Either way, the higher shutter speed will also contribute to a different look to the film, even when viewed at 24p.” 25

]

Sound too was important, for the introduction of the industry standard in the 1920s, after the mechanization of cameras. A constant speed was set, so that the frame rate would be the same for everyone, a slow and cheap speed which allowed for sufficient sound quality and smooth movement. Therefore, an implication arises: silent films were not “cinematic” because they were shot and or projected at a lower frame rate and had a large depth of field? 26 What about those that changed frame rate between capture and projection, intentionally or not?

What can tell us yet again Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show shot in 1902 at 16 fps? The “filming of the old gag of a country rube confusing projected movies with real life [which] was possibly a remake of an earlier film by Robert Paul, The Countryman's First Sight of the Animated Pictures, which substituted Edison scenes for the films-within-a-film.” 27 Adams

24 PBSQualityGroup Great Frame Rate Debate. http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL654AA84922E2246F Accessed on Dec 31, 2012

25 Murie, M. (2012) The Hobbit Arrives with a High Frame Rate, and New Sony Camera Prices Filmmaker magazine. http://filmmakermagazine.com/60811-the-hobbit-arrives-with-a-high-frame-rate-and-new-sony- camera-prices Accessed on Jan 2, 2013

26 Brownlow (1980).

27 Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show http://lcweb2.loc.gov:8081/ammem/edhtml/ujmps.html Accessed on Jan 2, 2013

(1991) notes that when transferring silent films to be viewed on another support, “better results can be achieved with less trouble when transferring to videotape. In fact, some of the best versions we have of the old silents (that is, that most closely approximate the way they were meant to be seen) are those specially prepared for TV. The old silents weren't necessarily meant to move at the same speed as today. In some old silents, comedies in particular, things were supposed to be speeded up, the better to enhance the comic effect. Chase scenes in the Keystone Kops flicks, for example, were often shot at 8-12 fps but projected maybe twice as fast. Today the frantic action in these films strikes us as hilarious--but people thought the same thing in 1915.” 28

Generalising, in analog television we had the different standards of PAL (50 Hz) and NTSC (60 Hz), with the latter having a slightly greater discrepancy between live television and films. Nonetheless, we should not forget that thanks to the telecine process, movies were aired on television with a frame rate almost equal to that used in the cinema venues. Our perception of what we are watching was influenced by the standards of 24 fps in analog cinema (or self- characterised serious audiovisual storytelling) and the 50/60 fields per second in analog television which, thanks to the digital are maybe becoming less and less important. Directors could use different frame rate for different genres, or in the same move or scenes, e.g. in the capture of action sequence (not just action movies) and the amount of motion blur applied will be taken more into consideration. While there is cost saving by not shooting on film indeed, it still costs more to create motion blur than only “perfect” images.

Speaking about fantasy and illusion, how do we react to repeated illusion coming from

literary works? Tolkien (2001) himself wrote that “it is at any rate essential to a genuine fairy- story, as distinct from the employment of this form for lesser or debased purposes, that it

should be presented as 'true.'

any frame or machinery suggesting that the whole framework in which they occur is a figment or illusion.” “Whereas previous studies focused primarily on the cultural selection of discrete supernatural concepts”, Norenzayan et al. (2006) “examined the cultural selection of lists of ideas and

narratives that contain counterintuitive elements and often act as a coherent unit of

But

since the fairy-story deals with 'marvels,' it cannot tolerate

28 Adams, C. (1991) Why is the action in old silent movies so fast?

transmission across minds.” They posit that they were “likely culturally selected because they successfully exploited the already existing cognitive architecture of the human memory system, which was naturally selected to solve adaptive problems that were quite unrelated to

the propagation and cultural stabilization of counterintuitive narratives. Thus, memorability is

the

necessary, but not sufficient in the cultural selection of such narratives. [

convergence of cognitive and motivational vectors that determine the overwhelming presence

and resilience of supernatural narratives in cultures around the world.”

]

It

is

How much control does the author have then, if confronting an always demanding and

mysterious audience? What does the spectator before spectating? Ferri (2007:70) imagines a “previewing stage”, i.e. the “'placebo effect', or the expectations of the viewer, [which] is

One might expect that entering the movie theater itself would be

triggered in some way. [

an important stimulus. There is early field evidence of demonstrable behaviour from movie

Would not such untrained, or "novice",

theaters at the beginning of the twentieth century [ viewers be more susceptible to high expectancies?”

]

]

Could some spectators have then expected the epicness present in Lord of the Rings or impatient to know/feel if the higher frame rate was really like watching television? Since sound had a part in this standard and has still in movies, could there be a familiarity in image quality similar to what happens when we listen to music?

For Huron, “expectations can arise from general-purpose schemata or from episodic memories. Sometimes these two memory systems 29 predict different outcomes, accounting for such phenomena as the "surprise" of a deceptive cadence that is otherwise entirely expected. In addition, expectations can adapt dynamically as events unfold. Four sources of expectation- related emotion are distinguished: pre-outcome imaginative and tension responses, and post- outcome appraisal of the outcome, and appraisal of the expectation. Using these resources, musicians have become adept at crafting specific emotional effects.”

29 In his “Summary of Principal Research Findings”: “The fast and slow brain responses reflect a basic neuro- evolutionary understanding of brain functioning. Specifically, the cortex often functions to suppress or inhibit otherwise automatic responses (reflexes). The effect of inhibition is evident in the difference between hearing an unexpected door slamming, and watching the door about to slam. The former case evokes a full-fledged startle response, whereas the latter produces an attenuated startle response. The slow (conscious or thinking) brain is also able to generate emotions without external stimuli. Rumination can therefore evoke emotional responses.” http://csml.som.ohio-state.edu/Music829D/Notes/Summary.html

Chion (1994:222) defines “Audiovisual contract as a sort of symbolic pact to which the audio- spectator agrees when she or he considers the elements of sound and image to be participating in one and the same entity or world.” He believes that “the consequence for film is that sound, much more than the image, can become an insidious means of affective and semantic manipulation. On one hand, sound works on us directly, physiologically (breathing noises in a film can directly affect our own respiration). On the other, sound has an influence on perception: through the phenomenon of added value, it interprets the meaning of the image, and makes us see in the image what we would not otherwise see, or would see differently. And so we see that sound is not at all invested and localized in the same way as the image.”

(p.34)

7. Conclusion

While reminding the importance of context when shifting frame, at every level, I tried to testimony that the modes of representation and analysis, in regards to digital cinema and cinema as a whole, have (and could) become more complex but they will be always around the same concepts. A comprehensive understanding of what changes and what will become is nevertheless not easy. We can argue that ultimately bits are, in maybe different ways, real. and that exploring the sociological realities should not be detrimental to the explanations of the subjective experiences. Cinema theatres may not be (and surely were not) the only home for the 24 fps movies.

The future of cinema is not at 48 frame per second; it can be, as experiences of digital film enter and are accepted in our world (be it more or less personal). A return to freedom, with possible different frame rates, but standardised. Paradoxically digital systems could feed our brains of more light per second, more illusion and more reality, which nonetheless was possible on film, and ultimately is, maybe, at the basis of our perception comprising its vast cognitive limits. Our understanding of time and space came probably from counting the things we could frame in our grasp to reality. We will always hope or worry that someone will always find a “better” way to tell this entanglement of reality and imagination. Would he still try to emphasise more the frame or the content? We will see and decide by ourselves.

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